What content and functionality makes a useful website for young people?
November 7, 2005 11:53 PM   Subscribe

What websites do you(more specifically undergrads/20 somethings) find the most helpful, use the most frequently, and are most likely to share with your friends?

I'm starting a website geared towards undergrads/recent grads, with entertaining and informative content, news, and helpful articles, tools and guides. Not looking to make a collegehumor.com, or fastweb.com, or something like that. More like a how to guide for young adults, from the perspectives of people who are/have been there.

So basically, I'd like like some input as to how I should design the page...
Simplistic(Google) vs functional(Yahoo)
Visual(fark.com) vs textual?(Technocrat.net)

The intended structure will be similar to Slashdot's, except subdomains will have hosted content and tools in addition to news links. Subdomains will also be more visually engaging and rich.

Finally, what content, news, and functionality would appeal to you? Note that I am not going to attempt to make a new social network that emulates anything facebook or myspace already does. If any type of social network comes out of it, it will be unique in some way.
posted by mhuckaba to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Even though you say you're not trying to make another facebook, I think that you could look at it as a good example of something simple that satisfies us undergrad folks. We don't need flashy graphics to keep us entertained, and personally, I find them distracting most of the time. I'd vote for Simplistic and Textual in your above examples (which I think facebook is, more the latter than the former, I guess).

I guess I don't really understand what kind of site this will be, then. Is it sort of like Lifehacker? I think that a blog-type format would be the most useful, with articles linked from places like 43 Folders that'd be helpful in offering advice to college students.

Maybe I'm missing the point completely.
posted by rossination at 12:33 AM on November 8, 2005

I would not suggest not thinking about design. Thats the same as trying to build a house before you draw out a master plan. you have to figure out exactly what you want in the site.

If the site is going to work, you have to know what you are doing with it or else it will sputter out. Although, even if it sputters out it isnt a waste as long as you learn stuff about designing websites.

I should also state here, you say:

Finally, what content, news, and functionality would appeal to you?

Im sorry but a huge portion of the website is undergrad guys. And we all have different tastes.

You cant just choose a subject you are going to give inciteful articles and links etc on. You have to have inciteful knowledge. If you have other people who know specialize in writing certain articles it could work.

College undergrads isnt much to go on when it comes to a target audience.

Personally, I read political books, and online, political news articles, political newsletters, etc. Philosophy. I like reading up on technology. Im an artist, so i like to read various art websites, etc. While i rarely play videogames,, the technlogy behind them absolutely fascinates me, so I read alot of stuff on that. Obviously from my list, you can see I do a fair share of reading online, most of it is factual information, so anothing thing I like is websites where I can research facts of all sorts, so google, wikipedia, etc.

Im not sure what else to say, But basically im saying i think you would recive more and better suggestions with more specific objectives given.
posted by JokingClown at 12:44 AM on November 8, 2005

[snark] A place to trade files [/snark]

Joking clown really nailed it on the first sentence. A lot of failed websites were built on design than information.
posted by Dean Keaton at 1:10 AM on November 8, 2005

Good luck, we're a finicky bunch.

In college, I read lots of websites which had only tangential relationships to my assignments/classes/jobs/life, but which thereby became more enriching because they were different. Specific examples might include me reading foreign newspapers every day to get a handle on the news but also to hunt for fodder for an upcoming essay, or tooling around AskMeFi looking for responses to questions that I was asking myself. Even though it was much more a browsing than an active seeking-out, as a strategy for exposure to new stuff and synthesizing different strands of information, it worked quite well, especially as an antidote to the overgeneralizing and simplistic questioning I experienced in some of my classes.

The how-to/guides section is a great idea. If my interests became neat, Googleable realms (iron-ons, teaching English abroad), I sought out detailed how-tos, journals, blogs, and guides. I'd throw away whole weekends that could have been spent doing other work in the name of developing my new interest, and share that info with my friends - who also had their own personal quests for extracurricular education. Knowing I wasn't the only one spending three hours on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon indoors reading about my secret passion was reassuring, and Made Learning Fun. (But maybe I just had cool, nerdy friends.)

Specific how-tos in lifehacking/personal organization and personal finance would have been useful, in hindsight.

The keys to remember, I think, are:

1) making your content (or the content you aggregate from elsewhere) rich enough to pull others in, but not so overly detailed or technical as to limit a potential audience for lack of skill (in the book world, this might be characterized by the recent flood of books designed for the general audience on previously obscure topics),

2) providing specific info on what certain college students/young folks have done to work through issues many of us might face (police breaking up parties, pimping a resume, dealing with school bureaucracy),

3) keeping the technology/computer/geekery talk to a dull background noise, present but not overwhelming, and

4) avoiding co-opting yourself by embracing one particular worldview of college - not every young person in college lives on campus and goes to school full-time.

Hope this helps.

On preview: JokingClown and I are together on keeping it factual, with links or pathways to better, more detailed info. I'm also glad I'm not the only one who spends hours reading random stuff I dig online.
posted by mdonley at 1:12 AM on November 8, 2005

I feel like I should be your target audience, and I have no conception of what your site is supposed to be. Therefore, I will be very unlikely to read your site. The question of "what content, news, and functionality would appeal to you?" indicates you haven't thought about the site's purpose enough (or I'm just misreading your post, which is entirely possible). The description of "entertaining and informative content, news, and helpful articles, tools and guides" is also generic and vague.

My advice? Do as JokingClown says and forget about the design for now. Figure out why you want to reach undergrads/recent grads, figure out what it is they want, and find a way to give it to them. If it's specifically "advice about the real world," as the term "how-to guide for young adults" implies, then shape that further. Is it going to be a forum? A blog? Are you going to have writers who write articles on particular subjects? What kinds of subjects will you cover? Sex? Careers? Politics? Money? Why your site versus the millions of others that purport to give advice on these various issues? I mean, why would I go to your site versus, say, SoYouWanna.com (other than the fact that it's horribly old and probably no longer maintained)? What's different about your site that undergrads would notice and find appealing?
posted by chrominance at 1:23 AM on November 8, 2005

Was JokingClown saying "don't think about design"? I read the opposite.

However you proceed, I would start simple, get it working, and then build on from there. Complex systems that work never start out as complex systems. They start out as simple systems that work, and they expand from there.
posted by Alt F4 at 3:55 AM on November 8, 2005

I'm a 20-something, out of college for a few years now. Every day I go to ask.metafilter, metafilter, washingtonpost.com, nytimes.com, my livejournal friends list, a professional group discussion board for people in my field, several career-related blogs, several craigslist discussion boards, and several job search engines.

I love bankrate.com for money stuff. I like it better than fool.com, because bankrate doesn't require my e-mail address.

I regularly check out getcrafty.com and craftster.org to talk about knitting, crafts, sewing, etc., and look at other people's projects.

Anytime I plan to cook something, I go to allrecipes.com, or just head to google.

A lot of my friends are really into Martha Stewart's web site, too, though not me.

I think most of my peers are similar to me, in that we have far-ranging interests that are difficult to pigeonhole.

Good luck with trying to pigeonhole us.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:47 AM on November 8, 2005

Response by poster: Not trying to pigeonhole anyone, or make something that is specifically useful only to a select group. I know that knitting and sewing information probably does not interest a large percentage of people, but the site would have an appropriate section to host any guides, diagrams, articles or whathaveyou on various crafts, if there was a talented and insightful person who wanted to create that project.

I was asking for ideas because while I already have a list of projects for various topics I am always open to more ideas and completely new tangents to explore (because I'm trying to lay the general foundation for something that is comprehensive, adaptable and useful).

I found many of your responses helpful. Thank you.
posted by mhuckaba at 10:06 AM on November 8, 2005

I'm starting a website geared towards undergrads/recent grads

My advice? Pick one of the above. Or start two websites. They're two completely different markets.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:37 PM on November 8, 2005

Was JokingClown saying "don't think about design"? I read the opposite

My first sentence. :)

But What im referring to as far as design is template for the website, color scheme, plus, tools for the website. Tools like a search function etc. Figure out exactly what your website is going to be focused on. In fact write up a mission statement and a FAQ before you make the website.

Once you have the, design and program the website around that. add only design elements that make navigating the website easier, or more comfortable. even if something seems cool to have, if it isnt really useful to a large number of users, it clutters up the website and makes it more confusing.

You seem to want to make the website about a large number of things, pretty much anything that college guys would like. Without alot of staff on the website, with some money and dedication, thats a quite hard way to start off. The solution is to start off small. Google first made their search engine, but moved added other things as they went along. They didnt just say "we want to be the ultimate search engine and have the ultimate chat program, etc"

If you spread yourself to then, first of all everything is going to be mediocre because nothing gets enough attention, and second, since everything is mediocre, knowone will be interested. But if you have the resources, this shouldnt be too big of a problem.

One last thing. It is important to write up a mission statement or a manifesto of sorts. If you dont know exactly what you want from your site, no one else will either. When A person clicks on a website, they stay there for about 10 to 30 seconds looking for an indication of what exactly the site does. If they dont see a link to an about page, or a explantion of some sort, or they see too many ads, or the website is too cluttered, theyll leave.

So basically, know what the website is going to be, so you can design it in a logical way, and so you can effectively sell or market it to others.
posted by JokingClown at 3:01 PM on November 10, 2005

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