comments

Blabtree encourages teenagers to post positive messages

Website founder Nikolas Woods, 19, wants to counteract cyber-bullying
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
-A +A

Imagine a website where teenagers post anonymous comments about their peers — for the purpose of brightening up one another’s lives.

That’s what Sacramento native Nikolas Woods, 19, envisioned shortly after launching a website originally intended as a platform for high school students to post questions and answers. But there was a problem: The posts on that first site weren’t so nice.

“I actually saw a lot of negative postings and I didn’t want the site to end up something bad,” Woods said. “I had to rethink what I wanted it to be.”

After only two weeks, Woods took down his site, revamped it and re-launched it in fall 2010. On the new website, called Blabtree, teenagers create a page, or “tree,” for their school and then fill out a “leaf,” or post, with the name of the intended subject of their message.

“There’s not really a way for students to be able to say something positive about another student,” Woods said. “Facebook is too direct. It’s exciting to see if your name’s going to be posted and that keeps students come back.”

Posts include comments praising a classmate for their hard work on the speech and debate team, remarking on how good someone plays the drums and offering words of encouragement for getting over a broken heart.

Students from four schools actively post. Woodcreek High School in Roseville has about 30 members out of 80 total.

Sophomore Andreya Lagrutta, 15, posts a leaf a few times a week about her friends and teachers — saying thanks, expressing why she appreciates them or just making nice comments.

“It’s a really good thing to help against cyber-bullying or bullying in general,” Lagrutta said. “It can really make somebody’s day and it’s something good for our school to be involved in.”

She originally found Blabtree while on Facebook. She liked the site, and soon got an email from Woods asking her to encourage her classmates to join.

Roseville High School teacher Valerie Erb said her school isn’t yet on Blabtree. She teaches Peer Helping, an elective course that focuses on creating student leaders and cultivating a positive atmosphere on campus.

“There is growing concern about cyber-bullying,” Erb said. “It’s very important to provide avenues for positive cyber interaction. We need to continue to encourage young people to make a positive difference online rather than tearing others down.”

As for Woods, his entrepreneurial spirit sparked when he was 14 years old and watched “The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch” and read “Entrepreneur Magazine.” He wrote business plans and created several ventures that went nowhere.

“I wouldn’t call them failures because I learned a lot through them,” he said.

Woods graduated from Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento in 2010. That summer, he created a website called Lightbox Medical, which is a diabetic supply re-selling business. This site provides the funding for Blabtree, he said.

Woods attended the University of Arizona for a year before leaving to focus on his websites.

Getting schools to participate in Blabtree has been a struggle for Woods. Teachers and principals haven’t expressed interest, he said, so he’s reached out directly to students.

Roseville resident Joanna Jullien writes a newsletter about digital issues, including cyber-bullying. She’s apprehensive about the anonymous nature of Blabtree.

“On or off line anonymity can pose a problem because it allows people to feel not accountable for what they say and do. It can be very dangerous,” Jullien said. “Aside from that caveat, creating a secure place where people can share what they admire and appreciate most about folks in a community is great.”

Woods may look at making the anonymity of the site optional in the future.

“I think it makes students more comfortable (to post anonymously),” Woods said. “Anonymous can be used for something bad but in our context, it’s for good.”

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.

----------

To check out Blabtree, visit www.blabtree.com.