April 26, 2002
Dear Subscribers:Here's our lineup for this final week of April:
- Family Tech: FreeZone morphed, KidFu launched!
- Web News Briefs: Kids' privacy progress; Virus advice; UK pedophile raids; Home PC invaders; CyberTipline milestone; UK kids' online hotline; China No. 2; Computer recycling....
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Family Tech: FreeZone morphed, KidFu launched!
An old friend, of parents as well as kids, is back - quite amazing news in these days of few kids' Web site debuts. All the best things about FreeZone.com - once one of the safest spaces for kids on the Internet (having folded last year in the dot-com meltdown) - have reincarnated in the form of KidFu.com.
Four members of FreeZone's management team - Drew Scott, Brian Eagan, Joi Podgorny, and Chris Rettstatt - were not ready to let the safe kids' community go and they liked working together, Drew told us in a phone interview. So they took everything they learned at FreeZone (and not much else - federal regs required them to shred FZ's database of some 500,000 young registered users) and started up KidFu, "the way of the kid."
We like the name a lot, so we asked Drew about it. "Kung fu is such a great phrase, we hoped to torque it a little. 'Fu' means 'action,' a vibrant feeling," explained Drew, whose partner, Chris, studied Chinese and taught kids English in China. "'Kid Fu' kind of implies this discipline, or the skills it takes to being a kid, which has its own set of rules, its own schools of thought inside of it. There's an art to it, there are skills you need to know."
And of course any martial art requires balance. Grownups appreciating the art and skill of being a kid balanced with kids understanding the benefits of grownup wisdom, especially where safety and privacy are concerned. Kidfu.com takes these very seriously, despite its kid-friendly way of describing its policies. The site consciously teaches young users online safety in the process of protecting them.
"We don't want to be scare-mongers about the dangers of the Net," Drew said, "so we have to do a good job of saying, 'Beware the dark forest, but when on the path it's a great nature walk. Off the path there are wolves."
Not that a lot of online kids aren't aware of this. In fact, KidFu is banking on the fact that children want to be safe.
"One thing we learned at FreeZone is that kids really craved the safety," Drew said. He includes emotional safety in the mix. "It opened up the discussion," allowing for much more self-expression because kids don't have to waste time "defending myself if I say something stupid," Drew explained. Otherwise, for kids it's "not safe to bring up something deeper. Having monitors in the room makes it a civil discussion - they obey the rules more, whether they know them or articulate them themselves."
This former FreeZone team also learned that kids have interesting things to say. "There's a lot of skepticism out there about kid community - people say kids don't have anything to say. They look at chat and see short messages about how was your day, what's your favorite boy band, what's the weather like there, and what they miss, we felt, was when deeper conversations took place (how I'm feeling, I'm not relating to Dad, I'm having a tough time with homework - things that are easy to gloss over). We disagreed. There's so much there.... As a staff at FreeZone, we looked at the transcripts and said to teach other, 'Look at this amazing exchange." [For concrete examples, see "What happens if you get it right?" down a ways in an article KidFu co-founder Chris Rettsttat wrote for fellow online-community professionals.]
Thus the driving force at KidFu: interaction. "Community was an afterthought at FreeZone. We spent so much energy on games and the content areas," Drew told us. "We were always trying to attract kids to the writing side." So they knew that "what would make KidFu different was the community." Even the games in the site play a supporting role. "Our challenge is to build games that also build community. There are really great ways to do multi-player games," Drew said.
KidFu plans to have kid-written stories, polls, and celebrity interviews, but the main features are...
- Chat - monitored by "trained adult safety specialists called chat jockeys, or CJs, [who] bust anyone who tries to break the rules ... and have tools to remove messages" as well as rule-breakers.
- Discussion/bulletin boards - screened by CJs before any postings appear on the boards.
- Note Passer notes. We asked Drew if Note Passer is like instant messaging, since kids like IM-ing so much: "We've seen that, too, that kids really like IM. Obviously it's a thorny thing because of the ability to send private messages from kid to kid.... We wanted to offer something similar and give that flavor but also cleave to our super-conservative safety ideals. Everything is looked at first before it gets to its destination." KidFu will also train "Jr. Jobbers" - assistant CJs - to help monitor the proceedings and learn online safety from the inside.
And what age group is all this for? we asked. "We say 7 to 17. That reflects what we what we saw at FreeZone. On the content side [polls, stories, games], we saw kids as young as 7. In the chat area we saw kids who were 15, 16, 17. It was the 10-to-14-year-olds who are using it most - the kids with typing and social skills who like being part of community."
Users will have to pay for this service, in these days of diminished dot-coms. The subscription fee is $10 a month (1-3 kids) per family, $50 for six months, and $95 a year. KidFu says school and other nonprofit rates are available too; they include lesson plans, ways to integrate community into learning. There isn't much posted on the "B-boards" yet (and we checked out a chatroom before school was out in most of the US, which meant low traffic there, too, naturally), so if you sign up your kids, they can help populate the space and steer the conversation!
For further reading and an inside look at building and maintaining safe online community for kids, see Chris Rettstatt's recent article in Online Community Report. Here's KidFu's press release for the site's launch.
Next week: Point/counterpoint on the 'dot-kids' safe e-playground that the US Congress is likely to establish soon. We think you'll be interested in getting KidFu's perspective (a site that would have a presence in that space), and a differing view from ISP-Planet.
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Web News Briefs
- FTC: Progress in kids' online privacy
The Federal Trade Commission marked the second anniversary of online kids' privacy protection under COPPA (April 21) by cracking down on Etch-a-Sketch and sending warnings to 50 other kids' sites. According to Internet.com, Ohio Art Co., makers of Etch-a-Sketch, will sign a consent decree and pay $35,000 to settle FTC charges that it violated COPPA by collecting personal information from children at Etch-a-Sketch.com without first obtaining parents' permission. Ohio Art said it had not disclosed any of that collection information to any third party. The FTC told Internet.com that companies can't just tell kids to get Mom or Dad's permission and then ask for the children's personal information. Companies have to obtain the permission themselves! The FTC also announced the results of its April 2001 survey of children's Web sites, finding that progress has been made since its last survey in 1998. Please see the FTC's COPPA-anniversary press release for details.
- CARU active on kids' behalf
- Virus advice
You, like us, may have been bombarded with "Klez" virus-laden emails this week. We certainly hope no one in your family opened those attachments! That's an important rule to convey to children: Come and get me if you ever see an attachment in an email. In fact, don't even open the email if there's a little paper-clip symbol next to it. A column in the Washington Post this week has the latest on virus writers' tricks and ploys. It never hurts to get a look from inside virus-author circles, when information is the best first line of defense. Wired News commented on how this week's virus bombardment seemed to get a little personal.
- Pedophile crackdown in UK
This week saw the results of United Kingdom's largest ever operation against online child pornography. According to the Guardian Unlimited, officers representing 34 police forces raided 75 locations simultaneously on Wednesday. The arrests were the culmination of six months' work that focused on "pedophiles who used Internet chatrooms to advertise and exchange images of children being abused," the Guardian reports, adding: "Police said that among those arrested were medical staff, teachers, and care workers, and ages ranged from 15 to 50." Here's the BBC's coverage.
- Home 'PC invaders'
The bottom line for this story is: If you can spare the time, read those consent forms and terms-of-service agreements that come with downloadable games and software. They reveal the hidden cost of "free" services.
According to CNET, more and more "PC invaders" are camping out on our hard drives because computer owners are unwittingly authorizing them to. And just how is that happening, you might ask? CNET tells the story of a 65-year-old Massachusetts resident with a law degree who'd unknowingly authorized Brilliant Digital Entertainment (a company she'd never heard of) to "install software that would help turn her computer into part of a brand-new network." The software came with the popular Kazaa file-sharing program she was downloading. By clicking the "I agree" button that precedes the installation of any software, the lady agreed to Kazaa's 2,644-word terms-of-service contract, stating that "Brilliant might tap the 'unused computing power and storage space' of her computer," CNET says. Downloading Kazaa turned her computer into a "node" for the peer-to-peer network that Brilliant runs. It's a hidden cost of "free" file-sharing software - allowing whole lot of strangers use your computer.
- CyberTipline milestone
In March 1998, Congress mandated that the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children create a CyberTipline for Americans to report online sexual crimes against children. This past Wednesday, the National Center reports, its CyberTipline passed the milestone of 70,000 reports received, 86% of them concerning child pornography. Almost 6,800 of these reports, concerning US-hosted child porn and/or US child victims, arrived via INHOPE, the Association of Internet Hotline Providers in Europe. INHOPE has 16 full and associate members in 12 European countries, Australia, and the US (here's the members page).
As for another aspect of the National Center's work - helping to find missing kids - here's a thorough New York Times report this week on how technology has helped bring the recovery rate ("of kidnapped children and runaways whose safety was considered seriously threatened") to an impressive 93%. [Even more impressive is the recovery rate for all cases reported to the police, including those in which the child was merely separated from a parent for several hours: more than 99%.)
- Online hotline for kids in UK
Because of children's comfort level with Net technology, as well as its anonymity, UK kids will soon be able to access There4Me.com. It's the Web counterpart to Childline's phone service, which gets 15,000 phone calls a day, the BBC reports, adding that Childline "was one of the first charities to recognize that children needed to have someone to talk to." There4Me.com will initially have 15 trained counselors available from 10 am to 9 pm on weekdays, the BBC reports.
- China takes the No. 2 spot
China now has the second highest number of home Internet users in the world, with 55.6 million users, reports CNET, citing Nielsen/NetRatings figures. The world's most populated country just passed Japan with it 51.3 million. The US has the most home Net users, with 166 million. "Although China's number of home users is impressive in raw form, it represents just a small proportion of the country's 1.3 billion population, or roughly 5.5%," CNET adds. That compares with other Asian countries - Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea - all of which have percentage-of-population figures higher than 50%. Canada's population has the highest percentage of Internet users, at 60.8%, according to the Nielsen figures. The other impressive thing about China's Internet users is that most of the Web sites they're using are in English and Japanese. "Reading newspapers or magazines was the most popular online activity, with email coming in a close second," CNET reports.
- Computer recycling plan
Whenever we replace the toner cartridge in our computer printer we're grateful it can be recycled. Now this consumer-friendly procedure just may become possible with computer hardware. According to the New York Times, US manufacturers and local governments "have agreed in principle to set up a nationwide recycling program. Under the proposal, a fee - perhaps $25 or $30 - would be added to computer systems at the time of purchase. The collected money would finance a recycling program for computers and television sets." The National Electronics Product Stewardship Initiative is the group coordinating the agreement involving governments, manufacturers, and environmental organizations. If everybody signs on, the program would be rolled out slowly over the next few years, the Times adds.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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