Banking on web wisdom and webbish geography

You may remember Dan Jacobs from his “A Sensitive Guy on the Road: Fifty Dates Across the States” project in 2004. The L.A. native and son of a rabbi is back again with a new whimsical idea: (pronounced avenue). It’s what he calls the world’s first “community wisdom bank.”

Developed with his friend, a 33-year-old Web maven known as Wilford Sage, Jacobs is attempting to provide people with answers — 100 million of them. And the start-up is hoping to gather that number within 100 days of its May 23 launch.

The site works by allowing people to ask questions of people who fit into specific demographics. If you want to know what fat men over 40 think about Twinkies, this is your site.

With Avanoo, Jacobs and Wilford are creating a community forum of advice, content, information and, of course, “wisdom.” Users either deposit wisdom by answering questions that interest them, access wisdom by getting answers from the site’s diverse communities, spread wisdom by sharing comments with others or seek wisdom by posting questions.’s version of wisdom is the knowledge of specific communities rather than individual experts. The idea for the site came from James Surowiecki’s book, “The Wisdom of Crowds,” which argues that under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent and often smarter than the smartest people in them.

“What’s exciting about Avanoo’s community wisdom bank, in contrast to banks that store money, is that the accumulated wisdom can be accessed by anyone and can never be depleted. Thus, in return for a single wisdom deposit, people get access to a vast wealth of wisdom,” Jacobs said.

— Merissa Nathan Gerson, Contributing Writer

Web site taps ‘Jewish geography’

First there was Internet dating. Then there was JDate and a whole other slew of Web sites just for Jews.Now comes, a MySpace-style site just for the self-described “chosen people.”

ChosenNet’s site functions much like MySpace, with pictures, profiles, testimonials and links to friends, friends’ friends, friends’ friends and friends (whew!). For example: If Benbo has 37 friends, and one of them is Aaron, you can look up Aaron’s 317 friends and connect to them. You can e-mail them, instant message them or add them to your own connection. ChosenNet currently has some 6,000 members, many of whom seem to be on the West Coast.

The site was founded in 2004 by WhoNew LLC, which also operates a Mormon and Christian social networking site.

Not that this is the first social networking Web site for Jews. Other burgeoning Web sites include (“Jewish Social Network”) and (“Connect, re-connect, stay connected”), but ChosenNet seems to tap into the zeitgeist of Jewish geography — that informal “game” where two Jews who meet each other question every detail about each other’s life until they find they know someone in common. In addition to listing schools and jobs, favorite music, TV and hobbies, it has a slot for summer camps, youth groups and year in Israel.

Like MySpace, ChosenNet hosts forums, but ones such as “Jews of the Right/Left,” “Aliyah Now,” “Black Jews Unite” and “Vegetarian Jews.” Discussion board threads include everything from people starting social groups to searching for a nail salon to “Favorite Hebrew Hammer Lines,” referring to the Adam Goldberg blaxploitation spoof well known in Jewish circles.

Do Jews need yet another forum to connect them to more Jews? Or will they be happier in more open and diverse forums like MySpace? Like all things on the Web, only time will tell.

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor