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  Building An IT Community for Young People?
I want to set up an IT educational community for young Arabs in the age group 12-16. What should be my most important considerations?

Thank you so much for your question.

There are several things that need to be considered when building community, especially when you are targeting an audience of predominantly young people. The first, and possibly most important, consideration is user safety. Since you are dealing with a young but rather varied age group, ensuring their safety is crucial. It is important to ask yourself the following questions:

1) What information will I require from my users? (Demographical information)
2) How will that information be used? (For site internal use)
3) How will I maintain my users' privacy? (Not allowing personal data to be shared publicly)
4) What methods will I have in place to ensure safety? (Moderation, Terms of Service)

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission developed guidelines to ensure a child's online safety (COPPA or The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act; which you may wish to visit, as it has some very helpful information that your site may need to comply with.

Other key issues to consider could be as follows:

1) It is crucial to consider the type of content you wish to provide. It is very important that the content you provide is dynamic and provides value to your visitors, thus encouraging them to continue to visit your site. It is also important that the language of your content is geared toward your audience. For example, using technical terminology and/or a dry writing style may not be appropriate for the audience you are trying to reach. For the younger audience, especially teens, a more upbeat, fun style is more fitting and will certainly be crucial in setting the right atmosphere for your community.

2) Make the site engaging with interactive features. If there is a way for your users to interact with the site, as well as one another, this will help ensure multiple return visits. Interaction can take many forms, from polls to chat rooms. However, ensure that your interactive features tie into your more static features, such as articles or help documents. This way you are inviting your community participants to do exactly that - participate. Remember, too, that a youth audience almost expects to be entertained with interactive, visually dynamic sites and in order to meet those expectations you will need to provide at least some form of engaging content and presentation. This is as true for an educational community as it would be for a more straightforward entertainment site.

3) Ask your target audience for their input. One of the best ways to develop a site that is worth repeat visits is to consult your target audience either formally or informally to ask them what they would wish to see and how you can develop a site that would be well utilized by them. Ask simple questions such as "What sites do you visit and why?", "What do you like and dislike about the web sites you visit?" and "What makes you visit a site repeatedly". Make sure you listen to your audience and try to incorporate as many of their suggestions as is practical for you. Such research is crucial to ensure that you will hit the mark with your audience.

4) Easy to use and consistent navigation. If your site is hard to navigate and main features hard to find then your site will not be well used. A good rule of thumb is; if your users need to spend more than one minute searching your site for the information or services they need than your site is not easy to navigate. In addition, do ensure that there is consistency in your navigation. Once users begin to expect your site to function in a certain way and are comfortable with that, then you are building the possibility for loyalty, trust and growth in participation.

5) User friendly tools that are intuitive to use. When providing community tools, be sure that those tools are easy to use, and do not require much expertise from the user. It is important that all users be able to access your community with ease and be able to jump in and participate without having to jump through hoops in order to do so. In particular, don't overload your site with community tools until you are sure that they can be supported by the community. For example, a message board requires a certain critical mass of visitors in order to attract more visitors. An empty or infrequently visited message board is an instant turn-off to new visitors.

6) Trained and vetted individuals to moderate. It's very important for the safety and comfort of your participants that your site has well-trained, well-versed and visible ambassadors. These individuals will not only ensure that your terms of service are upheld, but they will also serve as a point of initial contact for new visitors and a guide to those requiring assistance.

You may also find the past Community Answers responses of use:

Community Tools and Patronage?
What Makes A Successful Community?
Technology and the Virtual Community?
Moderating Forums?

We do hope this is of assistance to you, and wish you the best of luck with your community. If we can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.

- Jon Nix and Pam Thomas
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