Gates Helps Revitalize Africana Website

A new incarnation of Africana.com, the Web site cofounded by DuBois Professor of the Humanities Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr., went live yesterday at 6 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.

The Cambridge-based site, which focuses on the history and culture of African peoples throughout the world, now features expanded content, improved navigation, better methods to count site visitors and a “complete aesthetic redesign,” according to CEO Kenneth L. Turner.

Gates, former Carswell Professor of Philosophy K. Anthony Appiah and software entrepreneur Harry M. Lasker III ’66 founded Africana.com in January 1999.

Africana.com joined the AOL Time Warner media network in 2000, after budget problems forced the company to seek a new owner.

Black Entertainment Television also expressed interest in purchasing the company at the time, Turner said.

After the merger, Gates and Appiah became consultants to AOL’s corporate headquarters on the site’s development.

Though the relaunch was “not predicated on financial issues,” Turner said it is an opportunity to move Africana in a profit-generating direction by strengthening its audience base and attracting advertisers.

“The bottom line is, nobody else does what we do,” he said in a discussion with Harvard’s Black Men’s Forum last week, noting that other popular Afrocentric sites focus mainly on entertainment or relationships.

Though Turner said he intends to preserve Africana.com’s academic roots, he said that the redesign makes it “more of a current issue-based, commentary kind of media platform.”

In addition to the online version of Encarta’s Africana encyclopedia and articles by academics and journalists, the new version of the site includes an “Open Source” feature that allows users to modify the site’s contents with links to other sites they find interesting.

“I wanted the site to really become a medium through which we can communicate with our audience, and through which they can communicate with each other,” said Turner.

Though he called the new version a “radical redesign,” Turner said that he doesn’t “think that you have to pit one [version] against the other,” since the site’s focus remains essentially the same.

“We will always position ourselves as a central resource for all things Africana,” he said.

The launch was originally slated for last Wednesday, but a “technical glitch” in uploading the new version to AOL’s servers in Dulles, Va. caused the delay, Turner said.

—Staff writer Divya A. Mani can be reached at mani@fas.harvard.edu.