Dear Subscribers:Here's our lineup these first days of May:
- Family Tech: Help for parents, fun for kids (3+ resources)
- A subscriber writes: Columbine High parents' lawsuit
- Web News Briefs: Canning spam (trying again); iBook retooled for school; Teaching teachers tech; BabyPressConference.com; Moms' surfing habits; Teens' e-multitasking; Napster tunes down 80%? .
Publishers Pipeline - low-cost or free educational software, housewares,
PC hardware, music CDs, etc. Examples this week:
Where in the USA is Carmen SanDiego? (Reg price $39.99, FREE after mail-in rebate)
Coby Hands-Free Cellular Car Kit (Reg price $51.45, $11.45 after mail-in rebate)
JumpStart 2nd Grade Math (Reg price $29.99, FREE after mail-in rebate)
Family Tech: Help for parents, fun for kids
- Once a product, now an online-safety service (for parents)
We first wrote you about Josh Finer and his product X-Detect a little over a year ago. X-Detect is still available, but - as you know - times have changed. Dot-coms and e-commerce aren't doing very well. But Josh, now just finishing up his MBA at Pennsylvania State University, is bucking the trend. He's not taking a job at IBM; he's courageously going ahead with his young Internet company, Finer Technologies.
But instead of simply selling his own monitoring software (written when still an undergrad), he's begun providing what he thinks is a much greater service to parents: reviewing and selling "the best" hand-picked, programmer-tested online-safety products. The service (and Web site) is called Software4Parents.com.
"I discovered that not that many people were buying [X-Detect]," Josh told us, "and realized that just about every software manufacturer had a Web site selling a single product - no one wanted to give the customers their options, or information on other products. So I keep trying to find new and better products every day. That's what I spend most of my time doing now."
We think he's on to something. For one thing, his site gets about 500 visitors a day, he says. But what's unique, here, is a programmer is reviewing and testing these products, and selling only his top picks. The site, a work in progress, could use a little aesthetic help, but that's minor compared to the useful information it provides - for parents who want to add technology to their family Net-use solutions. For example, take the at-a-glance comparison chart for two well-known filtering products: Cyber Sentinel and Cyber Patrol. Very quickly you see why Josh picked the former: price, low number of updates needed, and the technology used. (See our March 23 feature on Predator Guard by the same company.)
"There are products out there that are very much alike," Josh said, so after he tests and chooses, he looks at value and ease of use. "Most of my customers are parents who aren't by any means computer experts." Other criteria he uses:
- Flexibility/Technology - whether it works for email, chat, IM, etc., rather than just the Web; whether the blocking actually works; that it's not too restrictive or too free; whether it's somewhat "intelligent"; depth of options it gives parents.
- Licensing flexibility - e.g., "$29.95 gets you all of your computers in the home for Stop Watch - many parents inquire about multiple computers these days."
- Downloadability - "At this time we will not carry a product that is not available for direct, instant download."
To make decisionmaking easier, Finer Technologies helps parents figure out what product is best for their particular family via live chat on his site (accessible at the top of the screen that pops up whenever you click on "Leave a message").
Software4Parents.com is still small, but that's probably a good thing! Someone else more qualified than most of us parents has narrowed the field for us, and the information stays up-to-date. Only two filtering products (a third to be added shortly) have qualified so far, and five monitoring ones ("Our emphasis has been on monitoring because I wrote X-Detect and I've never felt filtering, with its flaws, was the best way to go," Josh told us). But he's been interested to see that, three-to-one, his customers want filtering. So he's beefing up that part of the site. It will be interesting to follow the progress of this service; no one else has stepped up to the plate quite the way Finer Technologies has.
Parents, now it's your turn: What do you think of this resource? Is it needed? What are you looking for in terms of online-safety parent support? Do email us, via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two monitoring products not mentioned at Software4Parents.com are
Lighthouse - Texas-based GuidingLightSoftware.com says this software product monitors email, chat, and instant-messaging, as well as Web surfing and offline computer activity. They add that it's easy to use and configure and works with any filtering program.
Reflect Monitor - MyndAtEase.org, a new California-based online-safety nonprofit organization, promotes and is funded by Reflect Software, makers of Reflect Monitor. The "monitoring and surveillance" software sends information to Reflect's server, which customers/subscribers can access remotely to find out about online activities on their PC. The focus seems to be on secrecy, rather than up-front monitoring used as a deterrent (being up front would be our preference, fostering open family communication).
- Safe e-playground
When it comes to kids and the Internet, why not accentuate the positive? It's very individual, SafeKids.com's Larry Magid freely admits, but he prefers "steering kids toward Web experiences that are positive rather than spending a lot of resources on trying to keep them away from places that aren't so great." A children's service with just that sort of emphasis is SurfMonkey, which - Larry writes in his Family Tech column for the San Jose Mercury News - provides "a well-crafted environment that's fun and entertaining." He adds that SurfMonkey also elevates filtering to a new level.
BTW, a business story on SurfMonkey at InternetWorld.com shows how the company is shifting its focus from kids' content to a server-based filtering business for ISPs, putting it in competition with AOL - and, as Larry mentions, shifting from a free service to a subscription model ($5.95/month, starting in July).
- AOL's new filtering tech
For you America Online subscribers out there, AOL has just upgraded the filtering technology behind its Parental Controls. AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein told us you'll see "very little change" in how the Controls work, but you will notice that a lot more age-appropriate sites will be available to your children now. That's because AOL used to depend on human review (actual people looking at and approving sites for kids' access), which meant it couldn't possibly keep up with the Web's astronomical growth.
Now the database of approved sites can grow much faster, Andrew tells us, because sites are reviewed and approved by some fairly sophisticated technology (by a company called RuleSpace, Inc.) that looks at words in context. For example, it can detect whether the word "sex" is being used in the context of medicine or that of erotica. The technology also acts on parents' suggestions (via keyword: "recommend site") to add or remove sites to/from its databases.
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A subscriber writes: Columbine High parents' lawsuit
In response to our item last week about a $5 billion suit brought by parents of Columbine High School students against video game companies, Susan in California writes: "As I read your latest newsletter regarding the Columbine parents that are suing the video manufacturers over the games the two boys were playing, I had to shake my head. My question is: Where and what were all the parents doing as their kids were playing these games?? To a certain extent I have to agree that video, movies, etc., should clean up their acts and be responsible, but that also goes for parents!! Perhaps if these same parents had taught their kids that violence in any form is not acceptable, then maybe the people that make this stuff would stop making it. Those two boys that committed such terrible acts had a lot of problems. Our society as a whole needs to start learning more tolerance for others that may not be like the majority. Bullying and assaulting other kids needs to stop in our schools. The first lessons start at home."
Reader comments are always appreciated! Please email us.
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Web News Briefs
- Canning spam: Trying again
The US Congress this week has been working hard on legislation against spam, unsolicited commercial (or "junk") email. According to the USIIA Bulletin, "The Communications Subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee met to consider S.630, a new bill from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) that would help ISPs and the federal government put and end to [spam]." The USIIA says the bill would be a good start in combatting the problem, but Washington Post columnist Leslie Walker suggests that "by the time any federal anti-spam law reaches our e-mail accounts, the war against unwanted commercial e-mail may have been lost." She goes on to say why and to give a thorough update on anti-spam efforts to date, but consumer-interest groups, AOL, and others. Here's IDG.net's report on the subject. Finally, here's a concept: A Los Angeles Times reporter actually opened, read, even responded to all his spam/junk email for a solid week - offering diplomas, improved credit reports, spy software, and unimaginable riches - and lived to write up his experience!
- iBook: Retooled for school
Apparently to regain lost ground in school, Apple has made its iBook laptop smaller, lighter, and sturdier. According to Wired News Apple CEO Steve Jobs says the new iBook, made of high-impact plastic and all set for wireless connections, is ideal for schools because anytime, anywhere connecting is much better than being tied to a computer lab. At least one school district most definitely agrees: The Henrico County, Virginia, district just purchased 23,000 iBooks for its students, Wired reports! CNET's story on this focuses on Apple's strategy for the school market. The New York Times's " 'Professor, the Wireless Web Ate My Homework, I Swear' " offers a reality check on laptops in the classroom. And another Wired News piece looks at some of the amazing projects university students are working on with computers (e.g., "sensory computing").
- Teaching teachers tech
For teachers who want to boost their tech skills online, this New York Times piece may be useful. Since the quality of online tech training isn't consistent, the Times says education experts are telling you to shop around and ask questions first. Then it offers some of the questions you need to ask - as well as some resources you can check out. As for administrators, eSchoolNews.com reports that "a collaborative team of national school leaders has released a first-of-its-kind set of standards defining what K-12 school administrators should know about, and be able to do with, technology." The article is referring to the first draft of the Technology Standards for School Administrators (TSSA), which came out in early March.
- US: Decline in ISP customers
Contrary to other numbers we've seen, "the overall number of US customers subscribing to online services has declined," reports CyberAtlas. It's the first decline seen in the 21-year history of the Telecommunications Report's Online Census, reports Internet.com, which chalks it up to "the collapse in the free-Internet-service-provider market" (subscribers lost when several free ISPs shut down). Online spending, on the other hand, is expected to increase 44% from 2000, writes CNET of another study. "Online retail sales are expected to reach $65 billion in North America this year," up from $45 billion in 2000.
Even the dot-com downturn doesn't affect baby pictures - or videos, rather. The explanation for this Net company's success (besides the age-old proud-parent one), according to the New York Times, is hospitals' need stay up on every possible marketing opportunity. One-year-old BabyPressConference.com has licensed equipment and software for baby Webcasts to more than 100 hospitals so far. "Parents provide email addresses of friends and family in advance," the Times reports, and BPC sends relatives instructions for downloading the software and viewing Junior. The Webcast is free; the company makes its money on CD-ROMs of Junior, at $29.95 a pop.
- Moms' surfing habits - internationally
NetValue actually did a study on moms online and, not surprisingly, found a lot of individuality from country to country. As reported in Nua Internet Surveys, the survey found that 61.5% of Net-connected British women have children; 52% of US women do and, for France, Spain, and Germany the figures are 48.3%, 34%, and 30.1%, respectively. "English mothers are most likely of those polled to click on banners, while mothers in France are most likely to send and receive email. German mothers go online the most often, while Spanish mothers spend the longest amount of time browsing the Web," Nua reports, adding: "Women with three or more children have the highest affinity for the communications/email sector, followed by games and TV Web sites, while mothers with only one child have the highest affinity for fashion and beauty Web sites." Hmm. Maybe marketers can make something of all this. A Nua editorial looks at what this means for them. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on something truly meaningful in this category, at least for moms who love to cook and communicate: family recipe Web sites.
- Teens: Multitasking with tech
Many of us know that teens can write a paper, check email, listen to MP3 tunes, burn a CD, and carry on IM conversations with eight friends simultaneously - all at the same time - but now it's on record at the New York Times in "Teenage Overload, or Digital Dexterity?" Teenagers may need multitasking therapy before they start doing formal studies on this phenomenon. But maybe we only need to look to any studies that might've been done on their multitasking parents! And then there's one technology not mentioned above - cell phones. US teens are not so high on this category, reports Wired News - though it may not be their call, entirely. "Go to any high school in the United States and many teens are toting pagers. But only a handful of them have cell phones," says Wired, "partly because they're expensive, and partly because schools discourage their use."
- Napster: 80% fewer songs?
The court has shown some skepticism about Napster's compliance, but "court-imposed song-blocking filters on Napster are doing their job," reports Newsbytes.com. It said a total of 1.59 billion songs were downloaded over the system in April, compared to 2.49 billion songs traded in March, according to a study by Webnoize. However, TheStandard.com reports that the number of songs traded on Napster has gone down by only a third. The recording industry weighs in with its view that "Napster's history," according to Wired News. Could there be some bias in that assessment? Meanwhile, Napster alternative Aimster took the offensive, filing suit against the Recording Industry Association of America, CNET reports. Two other Napster alternatives mentioned in the Newsbytes report are LimeWire.com and BearShare.com.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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