We Are the World

n2geo takes phrase "worldwide Web" literally

Years ago, The Spike went to Haiti. En route, The Spike met Sammy From Miami, who owned both a wig factory and a large villa in Port-au-Prince.

Sammy was well-known in the casino at the Royal Haitian Hotel, an oasis of jet-setting opulence in the midst of a city of terrible poverty. Sammy introduced The Spike to two of his friends, Moe and Bud, who were in Haiti to evade a federal grand jury subpoena stemming from irregularities with the sale of some large equipment to a school district in New Jersey. Happily, Uncle Moe and Uncle Bud, as The Spike came to call them, financed The Spike's gambling ventures for the week with hundred-dollar bills peeled from the large wads of cash (undoubtedly from public school coffers) they kept in the pockets of their Sansabelt slacks.

Now that's The Spike's kind of trip. The Spike learned a lot about gambling, enough about organized crime in Cherry Hill to get indicted, but, sadly, very little about Haiti.

But The Spike may get another chance to explore this island nation, this time without having to actually go there. A new Internet project aims to take The Spike, schoolchildren and whoever else has a really fast Web connection along on a virtual tour of 193 countries in three years.

n2geo hopes to mount an expedition to every country in the world and send back studious — although necessarily short — reports that will be available on the group's new and very nice Web site, n2geo.org.

First, though, they should look up Uncle Moe and Uncle Bud. The n2geo gang is trying to raise $4 million to finance the expedition, although, as one of the group's founders, Hunter Weeks, recently told The Spike, "it could be done with $1 million."

n2geo — which is derived from "into the world," as in getting people out into the world — is a nonprofit organization dreamed up by Gen Xers, including Weeks, who met a few years ago at Principia College, a Christian Science school in Illinois.

Weeks grew up in Phoenix, graduated from Camelback High and now works for a software company in Scottsdale. He says the venture is not some sort of Christian Science mission — voyagers will even have insurance in case they get hurt, he says — and The Spike has no reason to doubt a guy with this much enthusiasm.

Instead, the project will teach people about the world through reports on geography, politics, economics and history. The target audience is primarily schools. Weeks envisions a scene where kids would be so excited to follow the expedition that they'll run eagerly to school each day, power up their computers and exclaim: "Let's see where n2geo's at today!" (He actually said this.)

This will happen because n2geo is not, say, Encyclopaedia Britannica, which also has a Web site where The Spike would think students could more easily find term-paper material.

Nope, n2geo has "rich media," where satellite-fed sound and pictures "stream" in over your computer in a more engaging way — animal cries, jungle drums, screaming natives, that sort of thing. The stuff streaming in would include real-time reports on a major world event, live interviews, travel footage.

The site also is expected to be interactive, so kids could presumably talk to people in other countries and participate in the expedition via their keyboards.

"We'll keep things constantly moving and exciting," Weeks says. "Hopefully we'll generate a lot of buzz out there."

The Spike loved another section of the n2geo site that includes basic textbook information on countries. The Spike recently visited the United States and made it through all nine paragraphs of history on this country in less than a minute — way better than the many years The Spike was forced to study U.S history in school.

"In order to be successful on the Internet, you have to be fast, fun and free," Weeks says.

And, he notes, when you're visiting nearly 200 countries in about a thousand days, that works out to only about five days per country. Talk about jet lag.

The expedition hopes to launch in January with three n2geo members as the permanent team. The Web site is currently soliciting "rotational" members ("i.e. astronomers, journalists, artists") to submit a short pitch on what they could contribute to the adventure.

But Weeks tells The Spike that real-world expenses will limit the group to probably the three n2geo folks and an occasional rotational expert.

The first trip Weeks is taking is to Washington, D.C. This week, he and other n2geo members are meeting with the Discovery Channel, he says, in hopes of scoring the cable show as a major partner.

Weeks doesn't want to say how much money the group has raised so far or which corporate benefactors have shown an interest. "We definitely have a way to go," he says.

Indeed. Quite a ways, if they're ever to live up to this description of the project on the n2geo Web site:

"The expedition is anticipated to have great historical significance — so significant that we predict 1000 years into the future, people will talk about n2geo, Marco Polo, and Jacques Cousteau in the same sentence."

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