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October 12, 2001

Dear Subscribers:

Please don't forget to fill out our Survey 2001! If you can't get to all the questions, just answer Nos. 1-4. That way, we know a bit about who you are and where you are, which helps. Sincere thanks to all who've filled out the form!

We have started a "contribution box" with Amazon's Honor System, something many publishers of free content do to support their work and Web sites. Of course there is no obligation, but contributions are greatly appreciated and easy to make any time here. They're also tax-deductible. Here's our lineup for this second week of October:


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Family Tech

  1. Email etiquette

    "For reasons I only partially understand, some people forget their manners when they're online," writes's Larry Magid. He likens this phenomenon to what happens to some usually mild-mannered people when they get behind the steering wheel of a car. So in the interest of keeping email amicable, he's pulled together some tips. They're written more for adults but are easily adaptable for Net ethics discussions with kids.

  2. 'Connection protection'

    All you high-speed Net users out there do have a firewall, don't you? Not having one installed on your system, CNET says, is like leaving home with all your doors and windows wide open. In a review of five such software programs this week, CNET explains what these products do: "Firewall software monitors your Internet connection, alerts you when an outside connection tries to access your system, and blocks that attempt if you want it to. Some firewalls will also alert you when programs on your own PC attempt to access the Internet unexpectedly (possibly indicating the presence of spyware on your system)." Of the five products reviewed, ZoneAlarm (free for individual users - go to to download the free version) wins top honors for the second year running.

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A 10-year-old pundit on Internet use

Every now and then we profile a Net-literate family in this newsletter because the online-safety expertise of parents and kids hammering out family Internet rules together is often the best there is. Besides, one great kid's perspective is just the breath of fresh air we can all use these days!

This week we talked with Nick, a very bright 10-year-old, and his mom, Leonor, in Utah, one of the westernmost Rocky Mountain states. Nick is the middle of three kids at their house - two Internet users and a three-year-old. He and his 12-year-old sister share one of the family's two connected computers, the one that shares a line with the family fax machine. There's also the regular phone line and a cable-modem-connected computer "strictly for business" in Leonor's office.

We asked Leonor if the family has Internet-use rules, and she said, "We have lots of rules," adding that she never was crazy about the Internet "because of some of the things I've seen on it." So she worked these out before the children got their own connection last spring:

Leonor described these rules as "just common sense." In a way, they are, but - as Larry Magid suggests in Family Tech above - we continue to be surprised at how little age-old common sense, and basic ethics, get transferred into cyberspace!

Anyway, then Nick picked up the phone, and we asked him, "Do you think rules are good?" "Yes, because if there weren't rules, one, we [he and his sister] would be fighting about [who gets the computer] all day and, two, we'd stay on[line] all night. I think rules are good because then we don't stay online all day - because we only get an hour a day and then you have to either play with the baby or go outside or something." We asked him why it's not good to be online all day, and he said, "Then you don't get out much and you don't get exercise and it rots your brain, and ... if we stayed online all day, then we would never see our baby brother who's always playing around and breaking things."

We asked Nick what he does most online. "I probably do IM-ing [instant-messaging] most, because I just like to talk with my friends. It's really weird, I don't know why, but we can talk for hours online, but only, like, a minute on the phone." (About this pastime, which Leonor told us she doesn't fully understand, she said, "They actually ask me, 'Can I call my friend and tell her to get on the Internet so I can talk to her?' ")

Some of Nick's friends use America Online for instant-messaging and some the Microsoft Network, so he uses both services and has two accounts and screennames. There's very little chance of Nick or his sister communicating with strangers, since they have only friends and family members on their "buddy lists," and they don't go into chatrooms (where strangers can find and use their screennames). Nick said the only time there was an encounter with a stranger was when a stranger said she mistakenly added one of Nick's family's screennames to "her daughter's buddy list." Nick said a message popped up on the screen saying someone had added his sister's name to their buddy list, so, the service asked, "would you like to accept an IM from this person?" His sister clicked yes, so "they automatically come onto your buddy list," Nick explained, as the only way a stranger can arrive on someone's IM list. His sister asked the person who "she" was, the "mistake" was explained, and that's when Nick's mother stepped in and suggested they delete the name from the buddy list.

We asked Nick what he and his friends "talk" about when IM-ing. "See, I usually talk to my friends at my old school. I just ask them what they did that day and stuff.... Sometimes my friends tell me to go to a cool site - like, a friend told me about floys, these little living, digital organisms that fight each other, and you can breed them. They just live online - there's a little screen they bounce around on, and you can adjust how fast they move and how aggressive they are." (He later gave us the site where floys can be found: "Artificial Life on the Web". It's a step up in sophistication from another favorite site he mentioned:

BTW, for those who have not yet peered over the shoulder of an avid IM-er, here's a brief exchange that Nick kindly pasted into an email to us (screennames have been changed to protect the innocent):

Friend1: I like you too. ;-)
Friend2: u r my best friend
Friend1: Yes! I am your friend, Friend2!
Friend2: how was your day
Friend1: It was good, thx!

Last, we asked Nick what his rules for acceptable Internet use would be. They'll look a bit familiar, but they're in his own words and he has good reasons for following them:

Nick's Internet rules

  1. "No going to sites that you don't have permission to go to - or have a parent check it out first."

    We asked him why this is a good rule: "Because if I just typed in a Web site and didn't know where I was going, it might take me somewhere where there's inappropriate stuff for my age. My mom said she was searching for underwear on the Net and she came to something very different." We asked, "And you don't want to go to Web sites like that?" "Uh uh," he said. It might say something really bad and scare me or something."

  2. "No chat rooms."

    "Why not?" we asked. "Because if you go to chat rooms, you don't know what people might say or if they'd say something inappropriate or swear or threaten you.

  3. In IM or email: "No swearing. Don't tell anybody anything about you unless you know the person."

    He added, "Let's say I'm talking to one of my friends and wanted them to come over. Mom would be ok with my telling them my address as long as I knew who they were."

  4. "Only stay on for a limited amount of time. That's all."

Editor's note: Leonor asked us about software that can be used to protect online kids, saying she hadn't had time to research the question. We pulled some thoughts and resources together for her, and next week we'll run it in the newsletter for your consideration. Meanwhile, send your own family's rules, policy, and favorite software tools for kids' online safety. We'd love to publish your expertise as well!

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Digital divide-bridging

This year's 14 winners of the third-annual Stockholm Challenge, just recently announced, would be excellent case studies in any class on how information tech is changing society for the better - and in many countries! We're not sure how the 31 judges managed to choose 14 out of the 70 remarkable finalists described and linked to from the Challenge's Web site, which tells us that 742 projects in 90 countries were originally submitted. Here is a mere sampler of the 2001 winners:

ESDlife - for "Electronic Service Delivery," this bilingual Hong Kong Web site, used by 100,000 users a month, is designed to ease and simplify life in Hong Kong by electronically delivering 70 services of 20 government and public agencies.

Tortas Peru - Peruvian expats can use this site to surprise friends and relatives in Peru by sending them home-made cakes, baked by a network of Peruvian homemakers.

Earth's 911 - a nonprofit project out of Berkeley, Calif., this bilingual, toll-free phone service and Web site gives more than 10,000 communities in the US and Canada access to environmental information specific to their own locations.

Teenex - a UK-based site designed to empower and inform 14-to-21-year-olds "rejecting illicit drugs and other health-compromising activities." It puts them in touch with a network of positive role models in the UK and in European and other countries.

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Web News Briefs

  1. Xbox's parental controls

    It's an interesting new trend to watch: parental controls on gaming consoles. According to the Associated Press (via the New York Times), Microsoft is the first of the console makers to offer this feature on its new Xbox game system scheduled to be available on store shelves (to the tune of $299) by mid-November. With it, parents can restrict children's access to violent or inappropriate content as rated by the independent Entertainment Software Rating Board. The parental settings will be behind a password.

  2. New Net safety training tools

    Police officers now have a "tool kit" for teaching students, educators, parents, and other community members about Internet safety. The SurfWatch Safety Partnership this week unveiled its teaching aids - including a presentation with a suggested script, brochures, fact sheets, and a sample Internet safety contract - free for the downloading (in pdf format) at The partnership's members are the National District Attorney's Association (NDAA), the American Prosecutors Research Institute (APRI), the National Association for the Prosecution of Child Abuse, the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO),, and filtering software company SurfControl.

  3. About Afghanistan

    There are a great number of sites on the Web to help us learn more about a country very much in the news, Wired News reports, linking to more than 2 dozen of them. But, because the Taliban outlawed the Internet, they are all based outside Afghanistan.

  4. Write the President

    While we're on the subject, anyone who would like to write to President Bush about matters of war, terrorism, faith, peace, and related topics can do so at (featured in our first issue after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington). " will see that the letters are delivered to the President," the site says.

  5. Irish parents concerned

    We think they're not alone in that "three-quarters of Irish parents say their children know more about the Internet than they do," as Nua Internet Surveys reports. Nua's citing a study by Amarach Consulting that found nearly 80% of Irish parents say they've imposed rules on their children's Internet use, and 60% say they've discussed Internet dangers with their children. Children's access to porn is their biggest concern, one expressed by 44% of the parents polled. Next on the list were "unsuitable material" (18%) and "unsuitable people" (12%). "Despite their concerns, 6 in 10 parents agreed that the positive aspects of their children's Internet use outweighed the negative aspects," Nua reports, adding that 49% said schools should provide online safety information.

  6. Klingerman hoax

    The September 11 terrorist attacks apparently refueled an email-carried hoax that has been around the Net probably a few thousand times. Our thanks to subscriber and educator Anne in California for helping to put the Klingerman hoax (about fictitious, virus-carrying envelopes mailed by the "Klingerman Foundation") by passing these hoax-exposing resources along: pages at the Web sites of the US Centers for Disease Control and Postal Service and a CDC page on other health-related hoaxes.

  7. Fearsome file-swapping

    The number of users of file-sharing software other than Napster increased nearly 500% between March (the first time any Napster clones appeared on measurement charts) and August 2001, Jupiter Media Metrix reports. The number of those non-Napster file-sharers went from 1.2 million to 6.9 million during that period, while use of Napster decreased 49% during the same time (from 10.8 million to 5.5 million). The top four services were Morpheus (at ,,, and, in that order. Meanwhile, reporters got a first look at one of the "pay-per-listen" versions of online music, at a preview event staged this week by MusicNet, a partnership of RealNetworks and three giant record companies. ZDNet says the service "will live or die on pricing," especially since all those Napster clones out there are giving music away. And paving the way for yet more fee-based music services was the agreement reached this week between major recording companies on one side and songwriters and music publishers on the other, reports the New York Times. CNN had that story too.

  8. Tech to keep tabs on kids has a brief guide to tech gadgets - rated by "kid appeal" - that help parents stay in touch with very mobile teens. Despite the slow US economy, sales have picked up, MSNBC reports: "Stores from Radio Shack in Port Jefferson, N.Y., to Good Guys in Los Angeles say sales of kid-friendly gadgets have jumped 20% in the past two weeks. says walkie-talkie sales - usually big with families - are up sharply. And service providers from Verizon to All Tell report a big bump in sales of plans aimed at teens."

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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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