When Jacob Lewis helped create the beta version of the web site Figment with Dana Goodyear, a staff writer at the New Yorker, Mr. Lewis envisioned it as a sort of literary Facebook for the teenage set.

 “I really went into it and thought, ‘We’ll be the social network for young-adult fiction,’ ” said Mr. Lewis, a former managing editor of The New Yorker. “But it became clear early on that people didn’t want a new Facebook.”

The young people on the site weren’t much interested in “friending” one another. What they did want, he said, “was to read and write and discover...

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