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November 17, 2006

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Participation: Key opp for our kids

The nature of interactivity is changing - in fact, our children are changing it. They moved beyond interacting with computers, games, and information on the Web to interacting with *each other*, as enabled by the Web, Net-connected devices, and media. And now they're moving past mere social interaction and individual self-expression to collaborative production and social action, online and offline. I've used various terms to describe this fascinating development here and in our book, MySpace Unraveled: instead of "social networking," a more accurate "creative networking," "social producing," or "collective self-expression."

This development isn't about technology, though, it's about culture - "participatory culture" - suggests MIT Prof. Henry Jenkins and his co-authors in the first paper of the MacArthur Foundation's just-launched $50 million Digital Media & Learning research program. Participatory cultures involve being a part of online communities, producing digital media, problem-solving collaboratively, and shaping the public discussion (via blogs, podcasts, etc.). And access to these is becoming key to young people's ability to succeed, the authors write.

"A growing body of scholarship suggests potential benefits of these forms of participatory culture," they say. The authors tell of four remarkable teenagers (though "perhaps less exceptional than one might at first imagine") who represent "the future politicians, activists, educators, writers, entrepreneurs, and media makers. The skills they acquired - learning how to campaign and govern; how to read, write, edit, and defend civil liberties; how to program computers and run a business; how to make a movie and get it distributed - are the kinds of skills we might hope our best schools would teach. Yet, none of these activities took place in schools.... They developed much of the skill and knowledge through their participation in the informal learning communities of fans (e.g., Harry Potter's) and gamers."

The authors aren't saying these skills can't develop at school - they want to help make that happen (see many examples of potential classroom projects throughout the paper under its "What Might Be Done" headings) - but young people can also develop them wherever they're online, including at home and in after-school programs. They need the help of parents and educators to learn those skills, Professor Jenkins writes. Teens can't learn them on their own just by, e.g., blogging or socializing at LiveJournal or MySpace or in Teen Second Life, or by playing World of Warcraft, because of three hurdles the authors describe which we all need to help our kids clear:

There's a short section on "Parents" on p. 60 of the paper. The authors "see an active role for parents to play in shaping children's earliest relationship to media." But it's not too late for parents of teens either: "Throughout children's lives, parents play important roles in helping them make meaningful choices in their use of media and in helping them anticipate the consequences of the choices they make." There are some hurdles, they say, though:
  1. "Adults often are led by fears and anxieties about new forms of media that were not a part of their own childhood, and which they do not fully understand" (we need to get past tech anxiety, denial, overreaction, and other barriers to engaged parenting).
  2. However, parents, the authors say, have few resources offering advice on how to help kids make "meaningful choices" or providing info about "the media landscape" - few books, few education programs toward acquiring skills and self-confidence in helping "their children master the new media literacies," and few sites providing "up-to-date and ongoing discussions of some of the issues surrounding the place of media in children's lives."
On that last point, there is a site where parents, teens, educators - everybody interested in the risks and benefits of the participatory Web - are always welcome to come and talk them through: our forum Increasingly, I think, we need to "be there" for each other. It really does take "a village" to raise tech-literate kids.

Related links

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Web News Briefs
  1. COPA in court again
  2. The Web is actually not teeming with X-rated content, according to research by a University of California-Berkeley statistics professor. "A confidential analysis of Internet search queries and a random sample of Web pages taken from Google and Micrsoft's giant Internet indexes showed that only about 1% of all Web pages contain sexually explicit material," the San Jose Mercury News reports. The findings were presented in a Philadelphia federal court last week, where COPA - the Child Online Protection Act passed and almost immediately blocked by a federal judge in 1998) - is again on trial. On the surface the case is about online porn, but it's really a long, drawn-out case about free speech, and its latest arguments - between the Department of Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union - are being heard in a federal court in Philadelphia. [A federal appeals court and the Supreme Court both upheld the original injunction, but the latter sent the case back to the Philly federal court in 2004, ordering a new trial to determine whether less-restrictive ways to protect kids than those provided in COPA can be found, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.] As for the study of online porn, according to the Mercury News it "found that only 6% of all queries returned a sexually explicit Web site, despite the consistent popularity of queries related to sex. It also found that the filters that did the best job blocking sexually explicit content also inadvertently blocked lots of content that was not explicit [and the study also concluded that a lot of adult content got through the filters]. Government witnesses argued that while the percent of sexually explicit Web pages was small, it still amounted to a huge number." In related coverage, the two sides of the debate are clearly represented in this Wall Street Journal discussion, "Are More Laws Needed to Protect Online Kids." For views on parents' role, see co-director Larry Magid's "What Can Parents Do about Web Safety?" at and "Parents are kids' best protection from online porn" in South Florida's Sun-Sentinel.

  3. Cellphone social networking
  4. You might call it real-time, real-life social networking. Today (11/14) Silicon Valley start-up loopt launched a new mobile social-networking service with Boost Mobile, "one of the nation's biggest youth-oriented wireless phone companies," the San Jose Mercury News reports. "Boost's 3.8 million customers - who are mostly under 25 - will be able to create groups of friends and keep track of them using a combination of text messaging, pictures and the GPS technology embedded in most new mobile phones today." Let's make that crystal clear: young people using this service will be able to know their friends' exact physical location so that they can socialize with them offline, in what we digital immigrants call "real life." This is new territory for online safety, which loopt's 17 employees are well aware of (they've already reached out to us and other online-safety specialists). "Loopt has strict privacy and security safeguards, including requirements that friends must be invited and accept each other," reports the Mercury News. Other services in this vein are Google's Dodgeball (see InformationWeek) and Microsoft's SLAM tech (see the Gizmodo blog). It's different from MySpace Mobile, which provides phone access to one's MySpace profile and keeps the socializing online.

    To me, this is yet another sign that online safety is more and more about social engineering and less about safety technologies like filters. In other words, we need to teach our kids how not to be tricked or "engineered" to add undesirable people to friends lists and click on undesirable links. The other "next big thing" for online safety, I think, points to the same educational need: the social scene in virtual or alternate worlds such as,,, and Xbox Live chat-enabled videogames (see this item on Entropia and Wikipedia on the Second Life games).

  5. ''
  6. "You can't take it back" was the basic message when I wrote about "Protecting teen reputations [and future prospects] on Web 2.0" last spring - because once you've uploaded text, photos, videos, etc. to the Web, you've pretty much lost control of that content. People can cut and paste it into a Web page, an instant message, or an email or share it via the global file-sharing networks. That's still true, but now there's [i]some[/i] help. "A new startup,, will act on your behalf by contacting data hosting services and requesting the removal of any materials that threaten your good social standing," Wired News reports. For $10 to $16 a month, "we scour the Internet to dig up every possible piece of information by and about your child [in social sites, media-sharing sites, online game sites, and on "the open Internet"], and we present it to you in an interactive monthly report," says If there's something embarrassing or damaging in the report, you can flag it and, for an additional $30, the service will "use an array of proprietary techniques developed in-house to correct and/or completely remove the selected unwanted content from the Web." If they can, that is. If the offending info is on the Web page of an ex-friend of your child or a bully, the service may not be able to deliver on that promise. If you're interested in trying the service, be sure to talk with them about that. In any case, knowing where and how our kids are represented online is a good thing; it can be a great parent-child discussion point to have a "visual aid" - with the help of monitoring tools and services like this, BeNetSafe, and others (see "Monitoring MySpacers").

    As for future prospects, a recent Harris Interactive study found that "more than one-fourth of hiring managers said they had used Internet search engines to research potential employees," and 10% said they'd searched social sites to screen applicants, according to a story on this in the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., where ReputationDefender is based. KIRO in Seattle reported findings from a similar study conducted at Seattle University. See also "For Some, Online Persona Undermines a Resume" in the New York Times last June.

  7. Game consoles' latest epic battle
  8. Brace yourselves, holiday shoppers, the next wave of game console wars hits the US this weekend. Nintendo's new Wii console goes on sale here Sunday. Microsoft's Xbox 360 gained its beachhead a year ago. The PS3 launches in the US this Friday and sold out in Japan over the weekend, the BBC reports (it doesn't hit European stores till next spring). Some of the 8,000 older PlayStation games aren't working perfectly on the PS3, the Associated Press reports (mostly sound and image issues). "Users can punch in the name of the PS or PS2 game on the Web page, and a list will pop up, telling you if the game can be played without problems or not. As for Nintendo's console, with which the company is more than ever focused on the family market, the Seattle Times reports that "the $250 Wii is expected to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, must-have toys of the season." Nintendo will have "only 4 million units to sell worldwide. Even if it sells out, future competition will be brutal against Microsoft and its year-old Xbox 360 and Sony and its PlayStation 3," the Seattle Times adds. Meanwhile, here are fresh, rated game reviews at the Detroit Free Press, including one for the very controversial "Bully" from Rockstar Games (the Free Press says "those overly concerned should not be about this game"), and here's an in-depth review of Bully (for PS2) at the University Daily Kansan.

  9. Youth pastors, rabbis on MySpace
  10. MySpace says 14% of its users are under 18, and that's likely why youth-oriented religious leaders are there. Some are there just to monitor young people's activity, some to keep in touch and be a presence in their online lives. All the above seem to understand that social networking can be used positively and negatively, and a mom and theology professor at Princeton University told the Religion News Service that she feels it's "more helpful" for adults to be aware of both positives and negatives than to "spend all our time railing against it." A regional youth minister in the southern US who's registered on MySpace said she gets messages about everything from what school dances were like to "I hate my life, I want to die," and she acts on the latter immediately. Other examples: "Reform Jewish teen leaders from the North American Federation of Temple Youth recently adopted their 'OurSpace Recommendation' in which they pledged to be conscious of their actions and urge their peers to integrate Jewish values into online communities." And a youth consultant at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops advises youth ministers to "get on MySpace for information but not communication."

  11. Searching social sites
  12. Searching for social networkers just got a little easier - at least for those at MySpace, Bebo, and LinkedIn. - which, until recently was more a media-sharing site - just added people search, reports . More social sites soon will be added to the service, the San Jose Mercury News reports. "Chief Executive Michael Tanne said the goal is to be able to search all social networks from one place, including niche networks like Dogster (where every dog has a Web page) and Hairflix (for hair stylists)." Another sign of growing social-networking interoperability is "Currently other social networking sites have limitations because they do not allow cross-networking friendship groups," says a recent press release from the service. "ShareYourPage effectively solves this by enabling anyone from any popular network to join as a friend. ShareYourPage also allows users to search and chat to users from all networks - expanding your reach in new friends." Currently it covers,, and

  13. US joins Virtual Global Taskforce
  14. With the participation of US Customs, the US is now becoming a full member of an international police unit it helped design. Operating in London but now to be monitored by law enforcement in the Australia, Canada, the UK, and the US, the Virtual Global Taskforce's Web site "responds to reports from youths and others about suspected predators," USATODAY reports. "Investigators can immediately trace a suspect's location through his Internet connection and contact a local police agency to further investigate the case or make an arrest." As other law-enforcement people do, VGT investigators will also work under cover in chat rooms and social sites "where pedophiles are likely to be."

  15. Revisiting 'Net addiction'
  16. Have to say, I've tended to lean to the opinion of a Welsh researcher of online community who told the Washington Post that the Internet is an environment, and one can't be addicted to an environment. But I do think there's content and community on the Internet to which people can, in a way, get addicted, and the Post reports that "there are signs that the [Internet addiction] question is getting more serious attention," for example in a new study "published in CNS Spectrums, an international neuropsychiatric medicine journal." It found that "about 6% of respondents reported that 'their relationships suffered as a result of excessive Internet use' ... about 9% attempted to conceal 'nonessential Internet use,' and nearly 4% reported feeling 'preoccupied by the Internet when offline'." The Post article led with a 47-year-old woman in Washington state who was spending 15 hours a day online, "but it took near-constant complaints from her four daughters before she realized she had a problem." The in-depth Post article includes names of various Internet-addiction support groups and discussion boards, a list of Internet-addiction trouble signs, and links to a sidebar with tips for unplugging.

  17. Talking to friends on Orkut - literally!
  18. Google's social-networking site Orkut just changed enough to really distinguish itself from the pack of popular social sites. Orkut users can now "talk on the phone" with their friends. Orkut added Google Talk to its features and, at about the same time, opened itself up to everyone (Orkut users used to have to be invited in by existing members), according to the blog. With Google Talk, Orkut users can do both voice and text chat, or instant messaging, with people on their friends lists, Google explains on its own page about this . Yet another reason for parents to remind any Orkut users at their house not to put people they don't know in person on their friends lists. [Some parents have a rule that only people Mom or Dad knows are on friends and buddy lists in IM services and social sites.]

  19. ID theft often begins at home
  20. Most of the 9-10 million Americans who have their identities stolen each year don't know who did the stealing, but "half of those who do say the thief was a family member, a friend, a neighbor or an in-home employee," the New York Times reports, citing a Federal Trade Commission survey. The Times gives examples of an ex-spouse using the social security numbers of her underage children; a grown son tapping into his parents' credit; and a housemate and friend who had known the victim for more than two decades. "Identity theft involving family members takes many forms," according to the Times article. "A child steals a parent's identity to buy drugs, one sibling steals another's identity to try to avoid arrest or debt."

  21. Your child an 'influential'?
  22. "Social Networking: A Boost for Brand Buzz" in E-Commerce Times offers some insights into how marketers are viewing online kids. They are really interested in reaching "influentials," who are generally the starting points of viral marketing campaigns (if you can even call them "campaigns" anymore - "viral" and "campaign" being a bit of an oxymoron). The article distinguishes between "classic influentials" (a surprising 24% of all Net users) and "new influentials" (17%) and throws in a third "combination influential" (6%). The old kind is likened to Sherlock Holmes, the "recognized expert," and the new kind to Watson, who "spreads the buzz," tells everyone about his buddy Holmes. Of course, every marketer would love to influence a "combination influential." I think I'd like to meet one of those too.

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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