Teen computer maven starts online forum for local youth

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

She calls Cyber Youth "basically an area where kids from the Bay Area can just hang out."

Digital City SF, which offers local news, information, chat rooms and message boards, debuted Thursday. It offers on the local level many of the same services AOL offers on a national level to 6.2 million subscribers.

Designed to attract Bay Area young people aged 10 to 18, Cyber Youth offers a 24-hour chat room, a message board, online pen pals, book and movie reviews, software downloads, "cool web links" and suggestions for offline activities. Once fall classes start, she said, the site will include articles from local school newspapers.

The message board explores topics such as homework and dating. Klein also plans to offer "lots" of scheduled chat-room topics.

"It gets more people in there," she said.

Suggested activities in San Francisco, reviewed with a distinctly youthful voice, include visiting Golden Gate Park, Pier 39 and the Exploratorium.

"They disect [sic] cows at certain times," the entry for the hands-on science museum reads. "If you're there while they're disecting, go right up to the table and watch it because it is not to be missed!"

The forum can be reached on AOL via keyword Cyber Youth.

Young netsurfers will control and write all the forum's text, though so far the vast majority of material has been created by Klein.

Youths can discuss almost any subject, even controversial ones such as alcohol, drugs or birth control. Still, Klein said, the forum will try to maintain a "G-rated" atmosphere. Anytime someone goes too far, such as promoting drug use, their entry will be deleted.

Though the forum won't necessarily include any religious material, Klein herself is a committed Reform Jew.

She is a member of Alameda's Reform Temple Israel and a student in the after-school Berkeley Midrasha. She is the daughter of Sandy and Marc Klein. He is the publisher of both the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California and of AOL's Jewish Community forum.

The teen began playing on computers at age 5 and tapped into cyberspace at age 12 when she became the youngest publisher for Apple Computer's eWorld. Klein ran Girls Online, which she said became one of eWorld's top 10 sites.

Right now, she is Cyber Youth's only paid employee. Her income is based on the number of hours that youths log on to her area.

She expects to work three to four hours each night on the forum. But the straight-A student, who will be a freshman this fall at Head-Royce School in Oakland, isn't concerned about her grades slipping.

"I did this before," she said. "It worked."