AOL launches NetNoir -- The service is devoted to Afrocentric material on the Internet

With such a feast of information, sampling the Net’s offerings can be like trying to satisfy a soul-food craving at a French restaurant: The meal may be tasty, but it ain’t exactly what you want. Now add to the menu NetNoir, the first on-line service devoted exclusively to Afrocentric material, launching June 19 on both America Online and the Internet.

The service — in which AOL has made an investment as part of its Greenhouse program, which funds small-business-style on-line ventures — has already aligned itself with some high-profile content providers for its music, sports, education, and business departments. Vibe magazine and Motown Records have agreed to contribute to the music section, Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis will write a sports column, and PBS journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault will conduct celebrity interviews. NetNoir cofounders E. David Ellington, 34, and Malcolm CasSelle, 25, say they plan to expand coverage to at least 16 other topics — including politics, travel, and film — by late 1996.

Currently, a handful of special-interest groups (including the female-biker Ebony Queens and the Kwanzaa Information Center) have websites. But, says Ellington, ”The average joe really can’t handle the Internet. It’s intimidating. We’re providing a safe, secure environment, where you can click on a button that says Music and know that you’re not suddenly in some lab in Czechoslovakia.”

Ellington, an entertainment lawyer, and CasSelle, an MIT/Stanford-bred techie, were inspired to start NetNoir while attending a music and multimedia conference last year in San Francisco. ”There was almost nobody of African descent there,” says Ellington. ”A bunch of CD-ROMs were demo’d, and one of them was from the rock band Heart. We thought, if they could get funding, clearly there are other projects a little more timely and popular that could get funding as well.” This time, Heart was definitely in the right place.