Lifestyle

'Safe' site trying to attract Web-savvy teens

By DAN BEEKMAN

Staff writer

According to creator Kelly Maloney, RedStarHS.com is safe, educational and fun. Which is perfect –– if you’re out to impress a teenager’s parents.

High school students in Federal Way have mostly ignored the teen-targeted Web site since it hit the Interet in February. Maloney is confident kids will eventually warm to her message. But despite a background in marketing, the parent of a Todd Beamer High student has struggled to attract teenage Internet surfers and advertisers.

“The concept is to provide a safe on-line destination for high school students,” Maloney said. “The site is designed to connect high school students with each other and allow them to exchange information.”

Redstarhs.com features a message board and an on-line student news magazine. Decatur, Truman, Thomas Jefferson, Beamer and Federal Way high school, plus Bellermine Prep in Tacoma, are all represented on the site and each school has been provided with its own message board. Maloney envisioned the boards as convenient places to share information about high school dances, sporting events and teen issues.

The news magazine was intended to encourage, assist and reward students who submit articles. Although Maloney edits each article for content, no subject is out of bounds, and the site includes a long list of suggested topics ranging from teenage dating to sports. Maloney pays students $25 per article.

“I feel strongly about the educational component of the site,” she said. “I allow students a way to get their work published. They can use the articles they write for the site to strengthen their college portfolios, improve their resumes and they get real-time editing from me.”

The chance to earn money may be RedStarhs.com’s most appealing feature, according to a number of students that frequent who frequent The Commons at Federal Way each weekend. Only one teen interviewed at the mall had heard of the Web site, but almost all were intrigued when they learned how the news magazine works.

“It sounds really interesting,” Jefferson student Athena Valenzuela said. “I would definitely write something if I got paid.”

Maloney knows she can’t go on sponsoring all of Federal Way’s young writers on her own. As of June 23, RedStarhs.com had attracted only one advertiser. And while Maloney originally hoped to expand nationwide, she has found it difficult to get kids excited about the Web site in Federal Way alone.

“I was naïve to think people would be as excited about this as I was,” she said. “It seems people are too used to fly-by-night things on the Internet. I think it’s wonderful that our one advertiser sees the value in rewarding students for their work.”

Just four messages have been posted on RedStarhs.com’s bulletin boards since their inception, and the site claims only four registered users. However, students now become eligible to win $100 just by registering. Maloney has added a number of contests to the site in an effort to draw more traffic.

RedStarhs.com partnered with Seattle Models Guild (SMG) in March for an oline model call. The contest encourages students to send in photos and promises a small photo shoot for the winner. An opportunity to work with SMG is suggested but not guaranteed.

The Web site is also supporting a battle of the bands competition.

“We’re looking for everyday teens,” Maloney said. “We want kids who represent kids.”

While RedStarhs.com hasn’t achieved much success, the plan may not have been totally misguided. The Internet is an integral part of many teens’ lives. For instance, Beamer sophomore Markiese Short is navigates the Web to shop and do research.

“I look at cars on Ebay,” he said. “I look at shoes, use ‘Instant Messenger’ and write e-mail. I know people who are on ‘MySpace,’ too.”

Web sites like “MySpace.com,” “Hi5” and “FaceBook” have seen their popularity surge this year. They allow teens to create profiles, share music, form groups according to their interests and make new friends. Many teens would rather send a friend an instant message over the Internet than call them on the phone.

“I’m on the web 24/7,” Federal Way’s Alisha Jones said, laughing. “I use it for homework, shopping and ‘Instant Messenger,’ although that was more eighth-grade.”

Jones and her friends are receptive to the idea of a new site for Federal Way high schoolers. Many go to different schools and would like more ways to stay connected.

Maloney herself sensed a need for something like RedStarhs.com after watching her daughter at home on the Internet.

“My daughter is a real smart and savvy kid, but I want to make sure sure she has safe options on-line,” Maloney said.

Jefferson’s Brandee LaHue is also concerned about on-line safety. She uses the Internet for homework, instant-messaging and has a profile on “MySpace” but has recently heard disturbing things about Internet posting. LaHue said sites like RedStarhs.com may cause more problems than they solve.

Maloney, however, believes that students, not just parents, will come to appreciate a site committed to safety and positive fun.

“We’re going to keep plugging away,” she said.

News intern Dan Beekman: 925-5565, editor@fedwaymirror.com

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