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Friday, February 17, 2006

The Web 'hang-out': Study

Forget the mall. The Internet is becoming a favorite hangout and "destination" in its own right. "Some 30% of Internet users go online on any given day for no particular reason, just for fun or to pass the time," the Pew Internet & American Life Project reports in its latest survey. Which makes hanging out just for fun tied for third (with getting the news) in favorite online activities. First and second are email (52% of Net users do
this on a typical day, Pew says) and using a search engine (38%). Fun and news both got 31%. And the number of fun-seeking surfers is growing fast, from 25 million going online for that "purpose" any given day (as counted in November 2004) to the 40 million cited in Pew's research this past December. Pew gives two basic reasons for this growth: the growth of broadband connecting (making Web use more seamless, fast, and convenient) and the growing body of Web content and applications (multimedia blogging and social-networking might be a part of this, I'm thinking). Pew also found that leisure surfers are generally more experienced online, younger, and male (34% of men vs. 26% of women go online "on an average day with no particular purpose," Pew says). Here's USATODAY's coverage.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Parents, teachers agree (somewhat)

Parents and teachers have very different views on life in school, the Associated Press reports. But there's one thing about which they see eye-to-eye: the Internet's value. A new AP-AOL Learning Services Poll found that "81% of teachers and 83% of parents agree that the Internet and online sources are helpful." The percentages weren't so close in other findings. "For example, less than half of parents say student discipline is a serious concern at school. Teachers scoff at that. Two in three of them call children's misbehavior a major problem," the AP reports. Also: "73% of teachers say they know more than their students about learning tools available on the Internet vs. 57% of parents; "71% of teachers say class work and homework are the best way to measure academic success" vs. 63% of parents; and in a smaller gap, "79% of teachers rate high schools good or better in preparing students for college" while 67% of parents agree. AOL's introducing a group of online "Learning Services" for pre-K-12, including cognitive games, homework help, and reading, writing and math assistance at $4.95/month each. Here's AOL's press release. And here's the Christian Science Monitor on how software helps with homework and communications between home and school.

Back to the porn threat

We all keep finding more things from which online kids need protection. The first blip on our radar screen was online pornography. Then it was predators (not to mention spyware, phishers, worms, etc.). Lately, with cyberbullying, blogging, and all manner of kid-published content, the lesson's about how they can protect themselves from each other and even themselves. Suddenly we're back to that first issue - protection against porn – because of the long wind-up to next fall's arguments between the Justice Department and the American Civil Liberties Union over the Child Online Protection Act in a federal court in Philadelphia. The San Francisco Chronicle takes a thorough look at how best to protect kids from porn – a law, filtering, or parenting. The answer is definitely not "none of the above."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

IMon phones: Coming fast

I have to admit I wasn't sure what the difference was between texting on phones and IM-ing on phones. In its report about 15 mobile-phone giants agreeing to enable instant-messaging across their networks, the BBC cleared it up for me: "IM conversations typically involve more back and forth than text message chats and it ensures that the experience is similar to that enjoyed online." The 15 companies, representing a staggering 700 million customers, include Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile, and China Mobile, according to the BBC, and they stand to make a ton of money by making those customers' experience easy and the technology invisible. When it happens in the US, fluent IMers and texters like our children will wonder what the big deal is – why wouldn't IM-ing be the same on computers, phones, whatever. Let's see how long it'll be before this happens in the US. We're only just starting to have interoperable IM-ing (between AIM and MSN Messenger users, for example), and we're way behind Europe and Asia in texting, though catching up fast.


"Good Morning Silicon Valley" sums it up wittily: "No, no, no. The MovieBeam unit is the third set-top box from the top. Right above TiVo and below Comcast." There will be a lot of competition for Disney, as it once again tries to beam movies into your family room on demand (having suspended the service last spring), the San Jose Mercury News blog suggests. Disney says it will release films to right when they come out on DVDs. That does make it tough for Netflix, which announced its new "video-whenever-Hollywood-feels-like-it service" last fall. MovieBeam is pricey, though: The Los Angeles Times reports that it requires a $199.99 (after a $50 rebate) set-top box and a $30 service-activation fee. "Movie rental fees are $3.99 for new releases ($4.99 in high definition) and $1.99 for older titles.

Music piracy on iPods

The RIAA has opened a new front in its war on music piracy, and it's not about sharing tunes online. "Wipe your iPod before selling it," The Register suggests. The Recording Industry Association of America "last week told sellers in the US that doing so is a clear violation of copyright law [at least in the US and Europe] and warned them that it's sniffing out for infringers." For example, if your child got a new iPod over the holidays and wants to unload his old one on eBay, make sure he takes all the music off it. "Handing over music on a music player is no different from duplicating a CD and selling the copy," The Register adds. Anybody *advertising* used iPods for the music on them must definitely be a sitting duck for litigation.

New PC patches issued!

Windows PC users should make sure they get the seven latest security patches from Microsoft, two of which the company says are critical, Washington Post security writer Brian Krebs reports. One critical flaw is in Internet Explorer, the other in Windows Media Player; Brian provides details. To get the patches, go to Windows Update or, to make patching automatic, go to this Microsoft page. Another option is to subscribe to Windows OneCare Live, free because still in beta. Microsoft will start charging $49.95/year in June, but if you sign up by April 30, it'll be $19.95 for at least the first year.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Courting for real & virtually

Hmm. Are we seeing a trend? Is online romance moving from dating sites like to alternate-reality games like Will you too be attending your child's wedding in a virtual world? On the same day I read in that dating site subscriptions are declining and in CNET about a transatlantic couple who met as owners of adjacent virtual properties in Second Life and are now living together in England. CNET also mentions a couple that met in "City of Heroes" , now planning their real-life wedding, "but at the urging of a lot of friends in the 'City of Heroes' community, they're planning in-world nuptials as well." Some people will soon be meeting in social-networking sites, then move on to alternate-reality games to court and wed. Later they'll have to decide whether to have virtual or real children!

Not-so-virtual networking

Here's a switch: an upbeat story about a social-networking site. Vertical – in terms of specific locations, interest communities, or both - is the direction I think more and more blogging and social-networking are going. This story's all about London-based connecting, and the site is, launched just three weeks ago, the Christian Science Monitor reports. The "online social club" aims to offer "credible, safe alternatives for meeting new people in a city where new acquaintances can be hard to make." How it handles teens' safety remains to be seen, but the site is not targeting people under 18 (per its Terms of Service) and isn't as focused on media-sharing, customization, and virtual networking as other blogging sites attracting teens.

Poetry sites & Valentines

Poems beat out chocolates, flowers, and Valentines gifts in Web searches today, ClickZstats reports. "The search term, 'love poems,' grew 83% for the week ending February 11." What might be interesting to parents is that visitors to poetry sites a younger than the average Web users. ClickZ adds that "visitors to were 56% more likely be in the 18-24 age group. Visitors to were 100 times more likely to be 18-24." Those two sites were Nos. 1 and 3 on the HitWise traffic chart. Others in the Top 10 were,, and The Lycos search engine reported, however, that "poker" beat out poetry by a long shot, reports. "Valentine's Day" was No. 1 at, "poker" second, then "WWE," "Pam Anderson," "Britney Spears," "Super Bowl," and finally "Love Poems" at No. 7. At least poetry bested "Paris Hilton." [For more on kids and poker, see "Poker's rise" and gambling-related "Hot Topics" and "Give & Take" at]

Playboy's 'Girls of MySpace'

Playboy likes to capture "the cultural zeitgeist," as Online Media Daily puts it, so of course it will soon feature "Girls of MySpace" on its Web site. "MySpace is not participating in the pictorial, but has established its own MySpace page, which is promoting the search for women to pose; also has purchased ad space on MySpace," according to Online Media Daily, which adds that Playboy has been "overwhelmed with the number and quality of submissions." The development "comes at a dicey time for MySpace, which has found itself under scrutiny for exposing teens to possible danger." MySpace spokespeople point out that is not a youth site and told the San Jose Mercury News last week that 75% of its membership is over 18, but a quarter of 54 million members is 13.5 million teens (the Mercury News piece was about what unwise blogging can potentially do to teens' reputations). Here's a sampler of related news this week: a sort of primer from the Associated Press, "MySpace: A new online star that isn't Google"; "Teen Web hangouts can be gold mines for predators" at Pioneer Press in Minn.; and a two-part series, "The trouble with MySpace…," at the Rutland Herald in Vt. (Part 1 and Part 2).

For younger early adopters

"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" is the bottom line of this report by the Associated Press on the American International Toy Fair trade expo this week. Toymakers are creating all manner of kid-targeting add-ons for the iPod, "from electronic drumsticks and other musical instruments to chairs and electronic playmates that act as speakers." The "chair" would be Baby Einstein Co.'s "rocking chair that connects to an iPod so parents can sing along while the child rocks." Then there's the SpongeBob SquarePants speaker system that plugs into an iPod from Emerson Radio Corp./Nickelodeon. There's a lot of pressure on the iPod (42 million have been sold), the AP indicates. "The toy industry is looking to the iPod to help reverse a decline in traditional toy sales that dates back to 2003." But we're seeing signs of what it's doing for music industry (see "Tweens' impact on the music world"). You might also want to check out "Mommy, Help Me Download 'Farmer in the Dell' to My MP3 Player," in which the New York Times tells of Fisher-Price's forthcoming digital music player and digital camera for children ages 3 and older, and other marvels for very small techies.

Monday, February 13, 2006

2006: Big year for online-kid safety

There have been many flashpoints between free speech and children's online safety since the US Supreme Court struck down the Communications Decency Act (CDA) in mid-'97, but 2006 looks second only to 1997 as a crucial year for online kids advocacy. Why? Because of two developments: 1) blogging's popularity among/risks to kids has become mainstream news nationwide (online safety has reached an unprecedented level of public awareness), and 2) the fate of the Child Online Protection Act (COPA, aka "son of CDA") is to be decided in federal court this fall. In "They Saved the Internet's Soul," Wired News provides excellent background. The "they" in that headline is the Supreme Court, and what the court understood in striking down CDA was the difference between TV and the Internet. If the justices had upheld CDA, Wired News reports, it would've been "the Taliban Internet" or censored for a 12-year-old user base (at least where US-based Web sites were concerned), because CDA "aimed to extend to the Internet the same 'decency' standard that applies to broadcast TV and radio, and is now most famous for leading to fines for Howard Stern and CBS television for explicit language and a wardrobe malfunction respectively." Among other things, the decision showed that local and even national standards (or those of a current national government, because lawmakers have had a tough time defining national standards) are extremely difficult to apply to a "radically decentralized" international medium, and US courts continued to wrestle with this when confronted with COPA. That's what the Philadelphia federal appeals court will look at – local standards vs. international medium, protecting free speech vs. protecting children - for the third time this fall.

Check out the Wired News article for a sense of how the Net and its users have changed since the court's decision on CDA, and (on p. 2) which of its provisions were not challenged and do help protect kids. For more on preparations for COPA's next trial, see my 1/20 issue. [For the fascinating latest twist on the "local standards" issue (about free speech & human rights, not just kids' rights), see USATODAY - Congress has stepped in!]