Groundbreaking Web site coming online; eXtension.org launch set for Feb. 21

Frances Gould, Coreil, Paul D., Stewart, Sandy, Tucker, Jeanette A., Hay, Gary M., Depew, Clinton G., Merrill, Thomas A., Hodson, Pamela, Pollet, Dale K.  |  3/1/2008 1:34:51 AM

News Release Distributed 02/18/08

A groundbreaking new Web site that provides a gateway to Cooperative Extension Service experts from across the country will officially launch this week.

Billed as a “next gen Google,” the site dubbed eXtension.org promises to be a gateway to answering all of life’s little questions – from parenting to saving and investing, gardening, controlling fire ants, caring for livestock, running a business and much more.

Although the site has been under development for quite some time and a variety of its content already is publicly available, it will officially be launched Thursday afternoon (Feb. 21) when the secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which coordinates the nationwide Cooperative Extension Service, ceremonially activates the system. That “ribbon cutting” for the site will be part of two days of formally celebrating its launch Feb. 21-22 during the 2008 USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum in Washington, D.C.

Extension Service experts at land-grant universities across the country are the brains behind eXtension.org, and a number of LSU AgCenter faculty members have joined with their counterparts from across the nation in forming its backbone.

The innovative Web site is designed to be a repository of information, but it also is an active “community,” where consumers who can’t find the information they are looking for can interact with real live authorities in their area of interest, since Extension Service experts monitor and answer questions posted through the Web.

That means curious minds can find a range of information including how to calculate their retirement readiness score, tips on easing credit card debt, how to raise the best tomatoes on the block or ways to set a schedule for a newborn baby.

“I am very pleased with the progress we are making nationally to develop and provide the ‘best of the best’ research-based information on the Web,” said Dr. Paul Coreil, vice chancellor of the LSU AgCenter and a past chair of the Governing Committee for eXtension.org. “Now our traditional clients and an ever-increasing public can find timely answers to questions – from sources they can trust.”

The site currently has 16 resource areas, called “Communities of Practice,” that help consumers navigate through eXtension.org and find the answers they need. Those multi-state and multi-disciplinary communities include personal finance; family caregiving; parenting; gardens, lawns and landscapes; entrepreneurs; science, engineering and technology for youth; disaster education; geospatial technologies; wildlife damage management; horses; imported fire ants; cotton; beef; dairy cattle; and livestock and poultry.

It already has answers to more than 4,500 frequently asked questions in its searchable knowledge base, and more than 30,000 more are waiting in the wings – with more and more going public each day. Its “Ask the Experts” features also provide a means of gaining answers to your personal questions, even if they aren’t in the database, through the links to experts in more than 3,000 local Cooperative Extension Service offices in neighborhoods across the country.

“eXtension is the place to go for the latest information,” Coreil said. “It gives consumers access to a much larger repository of science-based answers to questions that can help them improve their lives and businesses.”

In addition to the site’s knowledge base and access to experts, the eXtension site also will draw on the popularity of online social networking by providing individuals interested in a specific topic or subject area to “gather” and form a “Community of Interest.” Then as that Community of Interest grows, professional Extension Service educators with expertise in that topic or subject area may join together and form a new Community of Practice for the site – enlarging its offerings in response to consumer interest.

Already gaining popularity with the public before its official launch, eXtension.org was viewed by people from all 50 states in January 2008 alone, along with users from 155 other countries and provinces.

“I’m really excited about eXtension and what it has to offer,” said Dr. Pam Hodson, an LSU AgCenter regional director, who serves on the eXtension Institutional Team, which was designed to get Extension Service faculty across the country involved with the site. “The more you show people what eXtension is about the more useful you realize it is.

“It is the best of the best of what Extension has to offer from across the country,” she said.

Users have the chance to help in ensuring the content truly is the best of the best by rating its usefulness – which helps those rated as “most useful” rank the highest in searches by other users. Articles on the site also receive tags showing what users are searching for most often.

For example, as can be expected with the state of today’s economy, the Personal Finance Community of Practice shows that most users are searching for topics relating to financial security. In the Consumer Horticulture Community of Practice, also known as lawns and landscapes, it appears most searchers are looking for the right way to groom their vegetable gardens.

Users can also subscribe to RSS feeds, and eXtension will automatically send updates on topics of interest.

Here’s what some of the other Louisiana experts involved in developing and maintaining the eXtension site also have to say about it:

–The eXtension concept is already proving to be an invaluable tool for expanding the outreach of the land-grant university system. eXtension is providing knowledge and expertise on a wide range of subjects in one user-friendly source for anyone to use. Not only can you look up the latest research-based information on any subject, you can get answers directly from nationally and internationally recognized experts in a variety of subjects. – Dr. Gary Hay, LSU AgCenter professor and Extension dairy expert, who is a content contributor to the eXtension dairy portal

– The eXtension personal finance portal is the premier source of up-to-date, unbiased research-based information addressing an array of critical, ever-changing financial issues ranging from credit to home ownership or retirement and estate planning to talking about money with your family. Information is presented in a dynamic, easy-to-use format to enhance consumer knowledge and encourage the adoption of recommended practices. – Dr. Jeanette A. Tucker, LSU AgCenter professor and family economics specialist, who is involved with the eXtension personal finance portal

–The eXtension fire ant portal will answer your questions easier and faster because it is a compilation of the best information across the region. You can click on your state and find the fire ant information that is specific to your problems. It is an excellent tool that will grow and be updated on a regular basis. –Dr. Dale Pollet, LSU AgCenter entomology professor and extension expert, who serves as a content reviewer and coordinator of the question-and-answer section of the eXtension fire ants portal

– Our clientele involved with horses are increasingly computer literate and look to the Internet for information. It is critical that science-based information be available in this medium. The eXtension horse team has developed learning modules, provides quarterly chats, responds to questions from the public, provides news releases on hot topics and provides courses for those interested in more detailed information. Plans also are under way to provide direct training and respond to live questions over the Internet – where specialists will sit in front of a camera on their computer and conduct meetings and talk directly to producers. eXtension is the wave of the future. – Dr. Clint Depew, LSU AgCenter animal science professor and extension equine specialist, who works with the eXtension Horse Community of Practice

– eXtension holds tremendous potential for service to the U.S. cotton industry. We are blessed in this country with a land-grant system and tradition that produces the best information on cotton production anywhere in the world. eXtension has the potential to organize that into one package and deliver the information in a dynamic format. I think the concept is exciting and look forward to seeing it grow over the next few years. – Dr. Sandy Stewart, LSU AgCenter assistant professor and cotton specialist, who is involved in the eXtension Cotton Community of Practice

For more details on eXtension, visit the site at www.eXtension.org. For more details on the variety of programs offered in Louisiana by the LSU AgCenter, visit www.lsuagcenter.com.

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Contacts: 
Paul Coreil at (225) 578-6083 or pcoreil@agcenter.lsu.edu 
Frankie Gould at (225) 578-2263 or fgould@agcenter.lsu.edu 
Pam Hodson at (985) 543-4129 or phodson@agcenter.lsu.edu 
Clint Depew at (225) 578-2219 or cdepew@agcenter.lsu.edu 
Gary Hay at (225) 578-411 or ghay@agcenter.lsu.edu 
Dale Pollet at (225) 578-2370 or dpollet@agcenter.lsu.edu 
Sandy Stewart at (318) 473-6522 or sstewart@agcenter.lsu.edu 
Jeanette Tucker at (225) 578-5398 or jtucker@agcenter.lsu.edu 
Writer:
Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or tmerrill@agcenter.lsu.edu

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