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Webzine is 11-year-old's creation

September 03, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Kristin Hiser has never seen most of the people who read the magazine she publishes.

The same goes for her writers.

It used to be that a publisher needed an expensive printing press to publish a mass media product. In the information age, all you need is a computer and a modem.

Even if you're only 11.

Kristin, a student at Western Heights Middle School, began publishing an online magazine - or "Webzine" - last year when she was 10 years old.

Kristin is one of a growing number of people who produce online magazines. But her mother, Danette Hiser, said she believed few are as young as her daughter.

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"It's amazing what you can do with a computer," Hiser said.

Kristin said she decided to start her magazine, which she named "Friends Forever" after reading publications produced by other people.

For each issue, Kristin posts assignments, and people across the country write on topics that range from the Spice Girls to Hanson. Beanie Babies have been a hot topic.

The magazine includes regular features on music and cooking, as well as interviews, surveys and contests.

"Anything of interest to kids that age," said Hiser, who lives in Maugansville.

Kristin said she has convinced companies that do business on the Internet to sponsor contests and put up prizes like T-shirts.

After she collects the articles from her young free-lance writers, Kristin said she puts them together and decorates them with colorful designs.

The words are printed in different colors.

"I alternate colors - yellow, green and orange - between every article," Kristin said. "I was trying a bunch of different colors and I liked them, so I kept them."

After she puts the finishing touches on the magazine, Kristin e-mails the final product one-by-one to her 380 subscribers, who range in age from 7 to 15 and hail from faraway places like England and California.

Her readers are Net surfers whom she has met in online chat rooms or other cyberspace connections. Most are girls.

"Very few of the people are around here," Hiser said. "There's probably not many people in her school that know about it."

That's not to say she doesn't know them. Kristin said she has developed friendships with her online correspondents and keeps a list of their e-mail addresses on her computer.

"I know most of the people on the list. It's not anybody I've never heard of," she said.

Hiser said she, too, has met friends on the Internet in the two years since she bought the computer. She said she has become particularly close to a woman from New York that she met in an "Opera" chat room. The two families met at Hershey Park last year and plan a beach vacation together next summer.

"It's hard for people to understand how you can make friends on the computer, but you do," she said.

Kristin said she enjoys producing the magazine and has taken satisfaction from watching the subscriber list grow from the initial group of 28. She said she is on the lookout for ways to make the product better.

"I've been trying to think of new (categories) that nobody else has to make it different," she said.

Because her mother works and her twin brothers often are out, Kristin often finds the house empty. When used properly, the computer offers a great outlet, Hiser said.

"If she's on there doing creative stuff, it's probably better than TV - as long as her homework is done," she said.

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