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Dances With Words

Experiments in "information choreography."

Non-virtual Communities

Competing visions of post-suburban life give new meaning to the "global village."

Gothic Gardening

Martha Stewart it's not.

Pay Day

Slate's big gamble.

Banking on Bright Ideas

What do lost-pet ads, dentist-office ceilings, and in-flight recordings have in common?


Techno-savvy kids.

Mapping Cyberspace

Is there a "there" there?


Sometimes the Web can be its own best antidote.


Investigating rumors of a vast conspiracy.

For more, see the complete Web Citations Index.
April 8, 1998

Y? Despite our best efforts to transcend racial, sexual, and cultural differences, we are still largely a nation of strangers. Scott, for example -- a white male from Michigan -- wonders if black women smell different from white women. R.J. in Cleveland wants to know if "coming out" is frightening for homosexuals. Nikki, a black woman from Milwaukee, asks why white women pour so much money into artificial tanning. These are but a smattering of the questions that one encounters upon visiting The National Forum on People's Differences Home Page, also known as the Y? forum. The site is the brainchild of Phillip J. Milano, an editor at the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, who seeks to "give readers a way to ask people from other ethnic or cultural backgrounds the questions they've always been too embarrassed or uncomfortable to ask." different people

The Y? forum has been effective for two reasons. First is the Internet, which allows people to broach sensitive questions anonymously. Second is the Y? forum's editorial policy. Milano reviews all the questions and answers posted to the site for readability and length -- and he often paraphrases reader questions in order to get to their essence. They are then placed in the appropriate archive depending on subject matter; combative, hate-mongering questions and answers are deleted. The result is a space where readers can safely follow a dialogue on sensitive topics without having to wade through racist attacks, foul language, or "flame wars."

The topics addressed in the Y? forum certainly don't count as the big issues of the day, and the site even stipulates that questions on affirmative action, welfare, and abortion be avoided. Rather, the queries on Milano's site are, as the Miami Herald's columnist Leonard Pitts has put it, "the ones that get asked in the quiet moments, when we gaze across our divisions of race, sex, religion, culture, and wonder about small things that might tell us who those other people really are." It's an intriguing idea, and if the early response to the Y? forum is any indication, it's one that many people are willing to put to the test.

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