Dear Subscribers:Here's our lineup this final week of March:
- Family Tech: Napster, ethics, & kids; Bye, FreeZone; Bill Gates on online safety
- Web resources for kids and parents
- A subscriber writes: IM-tracking on Macs
- Web News Briefs: Spam law; Child porn arrests; PC bargains; Kids sites 'disobedient'; Chat in UK; Toddler software; FCC & kids; Why stick with dialup; Congress & email….
Publishers Pipeline - low-cost or free educational software, housewares,
PC hardware, music CDs, etc. Examples this week:
ChessMaster 6000 CD-ROM (Reg price $42.99, $12.99 after new "Instant Rebate")
Davidson's Learning Center/Phonics (Reg price $38.99, FREE after mail-in rebate)
Genuine Leather Backpack (Reg price $44.88, $9.88 after new "Instant Rebate")
Family Tech: Napster, FreeZone, Bill Gates
- Napster, ethics, and kids
Buried in the media frenzy about music-file-sharing service Napster and the record industry's lawsuit against it is the impact the debate is having on kids and families, writes SafeKids.com's Larry Magid. "I don't worry about the copyright police showing up in the middle of the night to haul [kids] away, but I do worry that the entire Napster debate may add even more to young people's cynicism about what is and isn't legal and - more importantly - what's right and what's wrong," Larry writes in his Family Tech column for the San Jose Mercury News. And even if Napster shuts down, neither the ethical issue nor online copyright theft will go away. Do read the column to see why!
- FreeZone's departure
In the same piece, Larry points out that, sadly, FreeZone.com - a safe and engaging (and COPPA-compliant - see "Kids sites 'disobedient' " below) Web community for kids has just shut down. FreeZone claimed 700,000 registered users. A safe alternative to FreeZone that someone at your house might want to know about is KidsCom.com, one of the first online-community sites for kids. It includes staff-monitored chat and message boards, international pen pals, games, creative writing contests, e-greetings, polls, and jokes "submitted by kids from more than 100 countries," says parent company Circle 1 Network, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Circle 1 also says KidsCom.com is COPPA-compliant. There's no simple way to check that, but we tend to trust this well-established Internet company.
- Bill Gates on kids' online safety
This week Larry interviewed Microsoft chairman Bill Gates for the Los Angeles Times. They focused mostly on MS's next-generation operating system, Windows XP and peering into the software giant's future (here's the summary in the Times). But Bill has two kids now, so Larry asked this strong advocate of free speech on the Internet where he stands on filtering and the US's new Children's Internet Protection Act (now being challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Library Association, and other organizations). Here's the part of the interview about kids' online safety.
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Web resources for kids … and parents!
We get a lot of emails from you and press releases from companies that want us to tell you about their sites and services. We take a look at just about everything that seems relevant to our readers. Here are our top picks from the "1st Quarter 2001" pile:
Subscribers, send in your favorite Web resources - via firstname.lastname@example.org. If you do, please make sure to tell us why you like these sites.
- For kids
KidsRunning.com's "Dream Big" - Teacher, Webmaster, and subscriber Carol in Massachusetts emailed us about this project she's involved in, a kids' writing contest sponsored by Runner's World magazine's KidsRunning.com and USA Track & Field. The page links to the "Dream Big" stories of Olympians Suzy Favor Hamilton and Rich Kenah. The deadline for children's essays, about their own dreams for the future, is April 30.
Digital Detectives - They're mysteries with both book and Web components for 9-to-12-year-olds. When you were kids did you, like us, devour "Nancy Drew" and "Hardy Boys" books as fast as you could get them? Well, these may be the start of the Digital Age's version. Kids gather clues online that help them solve the mystery in the book. "Interactive clue-gathering tools include everything from fingerprint dusters, to cameras and scanners," reports Technophilly.com.
STEP Online, an online and in-school drug prevention education program for teens, just launched "Everyone Has An Everest." Tied to an expedition going on right now, the project is designed for the classroom, with climbers' journals, photos from the expedition, and lesson plans. Students can ask expedition leader Ben Webster and climber Nancy Feagin questions via the Web site. As for the drug-prevention part, Nancy Feagin says, "S.T.E.P. [for Students Teachers Employers Parents] is using our expedition to teach the lesson that with hard work and healthy choices people can overcome life's obstacles. With this Web site and other state-of-the-art communications equipment we will have on the mountain, schools across America will have unprecedented access … to this powerful lesson."
Jugamos.com, VamosBrincar.com, and Gamebrain.com - These are Spanish-, Portuguese-, and English-language edutainment sites for kids (aged 3-12). Their creators, Miami-based LearningSoft Corp., claims that GameBrain.com, the newest of the three, "is the only site to progress children through a complete primary school education based on [US] national education standards" (teachers, tell us if they're correct!). When a child registers (with his/her parent), the site's technology "makes assumptions" about the child's skill level, based on her age, tracks reaction time and correct/incorrect answers, and adjusts game content as the child works with it.
ConnectNet/Conectado is a bilingual digital-divide effort designed to help teens get connected. Partnering with the Benton Foundation's site, Digital Divide Network, it pairs the Network's map-equipped database and search engine we reported on last week (see "Public access") with a Spanish-language home page (search results are in English). The database contains 20,000 US technology centers and libraries with free connections to the Internet. Users find the locations nearest them by typing their zip codes into the search box.
- For kids & parents
3D Dictionary - For those of us who draw a blank when people talk to us about "GUIs" and "groupware," there is now an online dictionary to help us get some clues. Teacher and subscriber Anne in California emailed us, "Here's a company [maranGraphics] that has done a fabulous job creating a 3D Computer Dictionary that is great for both kids and adults."
Interactive Math Workbook - Our thanks to FamilyEducation.com for recommending this resource for families with elementary-school children in grades K-6. With free worksheets and activities, it helps kids with basic math concepts.
Education.com - A site not entirely unlike other supplemental ed services such as the LearningNetwork.com and KidsEdge.com (all three have parents' guides), this one is uniquely multilingual and international. Education.com, targeting kids aged 3-12, has English, French, and German versions now, with Spanish coming soon.
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A subscriber writes: IM-tracking on Macs
Bill in New Jersey kindly emailed us with his family's instant-message-monitoring solution:
"Hi, I want you to know how I keep track of my kids' IMs on a Macintosh computer. For each separate user, go into the preference panel. Under the IM category, check the box labeled 'automatically save IM sessions to log file.' The user's sessions are then saved in a text file in the user's folder in the AIM preference folder in the system folder. I don't know if there is similar way to do this on the Windows platform."
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Web News Briefs
- Spam law coming along
Robert MacMillan, Washington bureau chief for Newsbytes.com, writes that, "having had quite enough of being told what my interests are in mailbox-clogging spams," it's time for Congress to step in, unfortunately. So while two anti-spam laws made their way around Congress this week (see Wired News's continuously updated compendium), TheStandard.com asks if Congress really can can spam?!
- Child-porn arrests
US Customs and Moscow police collaborated in so far arresting five Russians and four Americans and shutting down a Russian Web site that sold child pornography videos, according to the Associated Press (via CNET). Authorities say the investigation will continue. See "Net pedophilia exposed" in the newsletter last week for a description of and link to the context Newsweek gave this development in a recent cover story. And in a separate case, there have been more arrests in the UK - 25 so far. According to TheRegister.com, a spokesperson for the Greater Manchester Police called this week's raid on 43 addresses "the largest ever operation of its kind in the UK." TheRegister reports that SurfControl, makers of the filtering software of that name, provided the Manchester police with customized software that helped them locate and track Net users "involved in possessing and distributing indecent images of children."
- PC bargains soon
With the market reportedly shrinking, PC price wars are coming. According to CNET, look for much lower prices on both really basic models and the "older," "slower" Pentium III and Athlon machines (at 800 and 900 MHz!) as early as next month. But wait, here's some rational advice from SafeKids.com's Larry Magid on buying a new PC: "There's No Mystery to Finding the Perfect Computer for You". He also wrote: "No Hurry to Get the Faster Pentium Chip".
- Kids sites 'disobedient'
- Chat's hot in the UK
The numbers keep telling us that online chat is becoming quite the "killer app." According to ZDNet UK (via Yahoo! News), a just-released study by market research firm NetValue found that the number of online chatting Britons has doubled in the past 12 months. Among the 900,000 British chatters from home, 51,500 children under 14 are regularly chatting on the Web. Another study, by the UK government-backed Internet Crime Forum found that some 4.8 million kids are now online in the UK, more than a million of them under 14. As for Europe in general, the study found that "Web-based chat is most popular in Spain - more than one in four Spanish Internet users chatted online in February. The UK online population are keener users of chat than their counterparts in Germany and Denmark but lag behind Norway and France." Don't miss Childnet director Nigel Williams's comments on the study's results - especially his explanation for chat's appeal to 11-to-15-year-olds.
Educators, please note: Childnet's ChatDanger.com has added a new section, "Chat in Schools," with guidance on using chat in the classroom and evaluating a good chat room, and offering ever-useful "good examples of where chat is being used constructively." Our recent feature on ChatDanger.com and Childnet International can be found here.
- Toddler software
Sales in educational software for the littlest kids are exploding. "Why?" asked the New York Times's David Pogue, a dad of young children himself. Armed with the statistic, "CD-ROMs for preschool children accounted for 13% of educational software sales last year," David talked with Warren Buckleitner of Children's Software Revue (see our 1/01 interview with Warren, "Children's software: Our favorite scouting party"). He was seeking an explanation both for the sales figures and the lack of research on the impact of PC use on preschoolers. Like David, we were glad to hear one child psychologist saying that the greatest value of ed software for these little guys is what they get out of sitting down at the computer on Mom or Dad's lap. You'll want to read about the pitfalls, too, as well as good-product recommendations from David and Warren.
- New FCC chair & kids' media
Early comments from the new chairman of the US's Federal Communications Commission don't show much sympathy for children's interests. The Center for Media Education's Kathryn Montgomery writes in an opinion piece for TVinsite.com, "A broad coalition of groups fought hard for more than a decade to get rules in place that would ensure some minimal level of children's educational programs on broadcast television. We had hoped that, during his tenure, Chairman [Michael] Powell would continue to build upon this important legacy. Instead, his remarks show little willingness to enforce these policies, claiming they have 'marginal impact.' " Signs of a "powerful new digital media culture," as Kathryn refers to it, are appearing everywhere, at home and in school, as the tools - both wireless and connected - for accessing media multiply. Which means "the FCC should play an even more prominent role [not the diminished one Powell has hinted at] to ensure that media serve children's needs," Kathryn suggests.
A Newsbytes.com story about Wednesday's "high tech pow wow" at the White House indicates President Bush's focus for high tech is more on economic growth.
- 'Digital Marshall Plan'?
Another opinion piece challenges FCC Chairman Powell's "Mercedes divide" on an international level. In the Christian Science Monitor (click on "For a digital Marshall Plan" at this address), Jamie Frederic Metzl - former National Security Council and State Department official and now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - suggests that the US will miss its greatest foreign policy opportunity since the Marshall Plan if it merely practices traditional foreign policy at the government-only level and fails to...
- recognize the fact that, because of the Internet, "global engagement now exists between societies on multiple levels"
- overcome the digital divide (which Metzl writes "is not, as … Powell has claimed, the equivalent of the 'Mercedes divide')
- help "the world's most disadvantaged populations gain greater self-sufficiency and voice"
- "bring them into processes that can address problems at their root…."
Metzl proposes that the US expand its commitment to dialogue between states by embracing multi-level, popular dialogue between societies. Right up front he suggests that Internet-using children seem to understand how this works a lot better than governments do. We agree! How about you? Do email us!
- Reasons to stick with dialup
It could very well be that a fast Net connection is not for your family. ZDNet gives five good reasons why. And "real people" give even more reasons in the "Talkback" section at the bottom of the story.
- Top Web-using countries
Denmark has "the highest proportion of households connected to the Internet," reports Nua Internet Surveys, citing NetValue market research. The rest of the Top 5 are the US (50.9%), Singapore (47.4%), Taiwan (40%), and Korea (37%). Another study, by Nielsen/NetRatings (also at Nua), bears out Korea's showing, finding that Korea's "22.3 million Internet users are the most active in Asia.
- US Congress ignores email
According to the USIIA Bulletin, Congress is "besieged by 80 million pieces of email annually," and "most members neither read nor respond to it." A new study, by the Congressional Management Foundation and Georgetown University, was the first indicator that members of Congress are "relentlessly spammed" by so-called grassroots groups that are fronts for special corporate interests, and that this is one of the "major sources of irritation" for Congresspeople. The study found that the amount of such email has doubled in the past year and is growing. It also indicated that "the lack of attention to email - a growing means of communication for the public - is a crisis for the Congress if it continues to ignore public appeals." Here's Washtech.com's commentary on the subject.
- AOL's government portal
For American AOL subscribers seeking local and state government services, America Online has launched an expanded version of its "GovernmentGuide." According to Washtech.com, "the original version…, introduced in 1999, included 6,000 Web sites of federal agencies. The new version allows users to search 60,000 sites, including every state agency and departments in each of the largest 89 counties in the US." AOL says one of the hurdles to completing the job is that 20% of the US's local governments don't have an online presence (seems pretty amazing to us that 80% do!). It's probably a very good thing that AOL is doing this, because another report, by Nua Internet Surveys, says existing state Web sites "are difficult to use and lack relevant content."
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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