Web Informant #159, 21 June 1999:
A teen-eyed view of Moneyopolis

http://www.strom.com/awards/159.html

Certainly one of the biggest success stories of the web has been the growing number of financial sites. The news this past month about Merrill Lynch finally taking the dive into online trading was expected, given that all of their competitors offer this.

But one of the things I like about covering the web is the many lesser-known stories. A friend of mine pointed me towards a site his colleagues at Ernst and Young have developed, called Moneyopolis.com. It is a site designed to teach teens about money, general finance issues, and the like while they play a game hosted on the site.

The teen audience is an important one. Jupiter Communications predicts that the number of online teens will double in three years, to more than 16 million users. And according to other studies, almost half of them use their home computers to access the Internet, which is about double the general adult population.

I asked two local teens (the first one is in high school, the second one is in middle school) to take a look at the site and write reviews. Here are their thoughts, pro and con.

I liked Moneyopolis

by Christina Kim

I found the site to be very interesting and educational at the same time. It is designed for a better understanding of money, and to help students to set up a financial plan.

The instructions to the game are very easy to understand and the included examples will help students easily understand basic concepts. For example, I liked how the game showed three same choices for three different questions, so students can decide the right answer by comparing each choices with questions -- rather than throw them many different choices, which would be more confusing. Also, the explanations to some new vocabularies were very good - such as assets and liabilities. Overall, the designers of this site put a lot of effort to make it as comprehensible as possible.

This site deals not only with math, but also social studies as well as some real-life experiences, which is necessary in math too. In high school math there will be a lot of questions related to logarithms and exponents and these usually deal with real-life questions. This site will be a very good way of starting many new experiences for students.

However, the very front page of the site bothered me a little. I can see that the page used three separate frames (up, middle part and the bottom.) The frame at the top is a little too big, and takes up too much space, which makes viewers have to scroll more when viewing the middle part which is the REAL content. The index page graphics are too big (file size wise) and take too long to load. Pastel colors are always good, because they are less stressful to eyes, but light green was a poor choice. Also, yellow, light green and blue really do not match! How about using one tones of color, and adjust between them? If you want to use blue color, use light blue, blue, navy blue, or purple. Also, at the right column of the middle section, the icons are nice and noticeable, but there is some more extra space at the very right part of the page, which should be removed. Otherwise, background graphics are very light and look nice.

After I registered, I played the game and had some fun. However, when I clicked to see my score card, it did not show any of the information I put it. The chart was blank. I think that should be checked too. Overall, I think kids will love Moneyopolis!

I hated Moneyopolis

by Perri Mogul

Moneyopolis! Do you think you would be interested in this site if you were fourteen years old? I wasn't, but I gave it a chance anyway. And personally, I wasn't thrilled.

To start, I could not get the calculator to work through the America Online browser. My dad figured out that we had to switch to Internet Explorer for the calculator to work correctly. Even with Internet Explorer, every time I figured out a problem on the calculator, it would go away when I clicked back to the question. This was annoying because if I forgot the answer, I would have to calculate it all over again!

My first thought was, "This is directed at young teenagers, it looks more like it's for my six year old sister." The colors and illustrations definitely turned me off. They were so cartoon-like that I thought I was four again.

I didn't like that I was asked to give the name of my town, state, school, and teacher. I did not feel comfortable giving this information to a web site that I knew almost nothing about when I was asked to fill this part out.

The definition questions were way too easy for two reasons: the answer was in the same order as the definitions and in the same order as the choices. And if you were to answer the questions wrong, you would still get to answer the question until it is correct. And don't worry about losing points, because it doesn't take any away. Nothing is fun without a challenge.

The math challenges and bonus questions are also too easy. At least for these questions, you only get three chances. But if you were to run out of chances on the math challenges you have to start over. And the dumbest part is that it gives you the same exact questions as the first time around!

The jobs that you get to choose from are not very interesting. I wasn't too excited to pick one! I mean, who wants to be a window washer? Not me, that's for sure! Some of the questions, such as the Moneyopolis Gazette, had too much useless information that just made it boring to read. I wanted to quit a lot of times!

I could not answer the math challenge questions that came after the Gazette Questions. First, it said to "use the information in the table above". However, when I looked "above" there was no table. And you couldn't even scroll up so I had no idea what they were talking about. And, when I typed in a guess I got some "Microsoft VBScript compilation error '800a0400'"!!

At this point, I was fed up. I stopped playing and exited the site. I was not at all thrilled with this site and I suggest to the makers of it to either change it so that it is meant for younger children or just simply START FROM SCRATCH!!!

Strom comments

When I asked these two girls to write a review, I had no idea what I was getting into. I think both have good points of view, and both point out weaknesses of the site design in ways that I hope the designers will take into consideration. It shows you that it helps to consider your audience carefully, especially one as opinionated and diverse as teenagers.

But more importantly, Perri and Christina show you that it doesn't take a high-priced focus group to figure out what works and what doesn't with your average web site. It just takes clear thinking by smart people, some of whom can be under 18 years old. Thanks girls for the insights.

Introducing our new managing editor

These essays have been a labor of love for many years, and it is time to start treating them a bit more professionally. Accordingly, I have hired Jackie Gavron as managing editor. Jackie and I first met when I had to do a mammoth feature for her at Windows Sources magazine and have since become fast friends. She is one of the best editors I have worked for, and it is a pleasure to continue that relationship. She is V.P. Content Manager at Citibank.

Self-promotions and site-keeping dep't

My latest Network World article is an op/ed piece entitled, When will Microsoft get clustering right?.

Web Informant will be taking a much-needed vacation until mid July. I wish you all well in the duration, take care.

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