Wilton High student launches alternative social network site

About four or five years ago, Julianna Yee came up with the idea of creating ThePortalz, an efficient and privacy-oriented social networking website.

“A decision to bring the concept to reality was reached two years ago,” said Julianna, who is now a 16-year-old student at Wilton High School.

“This would not have been possible without research, planning, steadfast dedication, the support of my family and the assistance of my father, who is also a co-founder of the organization.”

Julianna and her father, Bill Yee, officially launched ThePortalz.com at the end of April.

“We currently have hundreds of users and the lists grows daily,” said Julianna.

“ThePortalz’s distinctive method and approach is the result and answer to questions raised and inferences made about improving a social network.”

Julianna said ThePortalz was “conceived” about four or five years ago after talking with her parents about Facebook.

“I wanted to create an account and my parents allowed this with supervision, but being able to keep it would be based on being able to provide an understanding of what was important — the pros and cons of social networking,” she said.

“I ended up keeping the Facebook account and after a few months of further discussion with my parents, they suggested that an outline be drafted, capturing my observations about what I thought was useful in a social network and what improvements could be made to the current model.”

As Julianna did some research to draft the outline, she said, she tried to answer the following questions:

  • Is there a more efficient way to share information with better controls for privacy?
  • Who should have access to a social network?
  • What changes could be provided to increase safeguards for all members?

“I presupposed, with agreement from my parents, that topics of discussion between peers and friends were different than what may be communicated with family members,” said Julianna.

Considering this, she said, greater privacy would be desired in a social networking website.

“Businesses or groups may communicate in a way that may also require privacy, but with emphasis on cooperation and collaboration in meeting objectives and tasks,” she said.

What’s different?

Julianna said ThePortalz sets itself apart from other social network websites in that individuals are not allowed to directly sign up for user accounts.

Instead, she said, adults are given the responsibility to create user accounts on behalf of other people.

“Adults who desire this kind of control would have to sign up for an administrative account, where they will be given access to a special administrative panel to create user accounts,” explained Julianna.

“This process is quite different than most social networking sites that would allow just anyone to directly sign up and immediately begin interacting.”

In order to “better enhance a user’s interactions,” Julianna said, ThePortalz consists of three different age-based social networking communities — tween, teen and adult.

“We believe that understanding information may have much to do with having shared or similar experiences or points of view,” she said.

When a user account is made on ThePortalz, said Julianna, each user must be assigned to a specific age-based community by the administrator.

“Individuals assigned to one community cannot communicate with someone from another community unless they are a part of the same ‘Private Social Network,’” explained Julianna.

Improved privacy and collaboration is not only evidenced through ThePortalz’s three age-based communities, said Julianna, but also through its private social networks, one-on-one instant messaging and applications with individual privacy settings.

“Sharing information with a community of peers and friends is separate from sharing information with members of [whom] belong to a private social network, which is different from sharing information with combined members of linked private social networks,” said Julianna.

“ThePortalz’s technical capability allows targeting of information to particular audiences and elevates privacy and collaboration overall.”

Features

Each age-based community has its own set of core applications, said Julianna, like albums, forums, groups, events and polls.

“The Adult Community has additional applications suited for organizations,” she said. “Companies can make interactive business pages, post jobs and classified market items, and create banner-advertising campaigns.”

Julianna said every aspect of ThePortalz, as well as its design, aims to reinforce responsibility, privacy, collaboration, and safe socialization.

“Responsibility is promoted by giving adults ownership and administrative rights to create and manage their set of user accounts on behalf of others,” said Julianna.

“We have site rules that need to be followed because they were written to give guidance and outline what is considered proper or improper behavior.”

Julianna said she sees exercising online responsibility and safety as “flip sides of the same coin.”

Challenge

Turning a four- to five-year-old drafted outline into an actual website came with many challenges, said Julianna.

“Time moved forward, as well as my understanding of this medium of Internet socialization. I reviewed the plan ... and determined that the original concerns brought up years before were still credible and the idea was still valid,” she said.

“My father took an active role in implementing and agreed that my concerns had merit, and it was decided that all free time would be dedicated in trying to bring ThePortalz to life.”

Julianna said the creation of ThePortalz took faith, patience and perseverance, and it resulted in a social network alternative that addresses uneasiness people may have when it comes to social network websites.

“Social networking sites have proven to change the landscape of communications as we know it, and I believe this to be a necessary change. In recent times, questions have been brought up regarding privacy, safety, and responsibility,” said Julianna.

“For those who may have similar concerns regarding participation in online socialization, ThePortalz social network is an alternative to the usual social networking model and is able to address these areas of apprehension.”

Julianna said she trusts that individuals, families and businesses will find ThePortalz beneficial.

“If ThePortalz can successfully bring people closer together in a manner that also raises awareness in understanding that communication is powerful but requires responsibility and consideration, then a very big part of our company’s mission will be achieved,” she said.

While ThePortalz encompasses many features found on other social networking sites, said Julianna, it has innovative and new features designed to better an individual’s online experience.

“There is currently no eye-to-eye comparison. ThePortalz is a one-of-a-kind social network,” she said.

“I anticipate that many who have Facebook or LinkedIn accounts may also find interest in ThePortalz.”