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Friday, April 28, 2006

Protecting teen reputations

In this latest phase of the Web, when anybody can be a publisher, videographer, or instant celebrity, many parents are concerned about what can happen to their kids' reputations and future prospects. We're beginning to see news reports picking up on this (see "What you say online could haunt you" in USATODAY, "Whose space is it, anyway?" in the San Jose Mercury News, and a more recent piece in the Grand Rapids [Mich.] Press). It's getting to the point where kids will need spin-doctor skills (see my item on this last June).

International social-networking flap

Social-networking has the US and Brazilian governments doing some "networking" of their own. Rival Brazilian football fans were organizing a street fight in a US-based social-networking site, Google's (most of Orkut's users are in Brazil), and police monitoring the planning were able to prevent the fight, according to South Africa's The international part of the story is a "debate between Brazilian and Google officials appearing before the Chamber of Deputies' Human Rights Committee.
Brazilian authorities monitoring online messages for possible crimes want the US company to turn over users' personal information to help stop crimes an abuse like the street battle between the football fans." Of course, Google's user-privacy struggle is even greater in China (see the New York Times's thorough coverage). [Here's my earlier item on social-networking outside the US.]

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Gaming's hot news

The biggest game news this week was: 1) Nintendo's forthcoming Revolution console's new official name, "Wii" (pronounced "we," Reuters reports), and 2) Microsoft acquiring a startup videogame ad agency in New York for somewhere between $200 million and $400 million. The 80-employee Massive Inc., places ads for clients like Coke and Honda in online games, the Wall Street Journal reports. With that news, Viacom's $102 million deal to acquire Xfire Inc., "a startup that operates an instant-messaging service" for game chat, and News Corp.'s $650 million acquisition of IGN, which runs game zine Web sites, we're seeing serious signs that online gaming is moving into the media mainstream. For gamers themselves, the top story is probably the cancellation of "the most lucrative tournament in computer gaming," as the BBC reported it, seen as a huge setback for pro gaming. Last year "the World Tour organised by the Cyberathlete Professional League gave away $1m in prizes to pro-gamers at 10 events held around the globe," the BBC added.

Then there's the brainy-games trend. In PeaceMaker, developed by two grad student at Carnegie Mellon U., players fight for peace and in the process learn about "the complex choices facing leaders in the Middle East," CNN reports. It's not just a shooter game, though it simulates "the violence and political turbulence of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. In another example, "Nintendo has sold nearly 5 million copies of its three Nintendo DS brain training games since the series launched in Japan a year ago," the BBC reports. They're designed by "one of the country's top brain researchers," the BBC adds. On the console side of gaming, CNN offers a "sneak peek" of that part of E3, the videogame industry's annual trade show that begins May 10.

Bully/anti-bully, Web 2.0-style

As the Village Voice describes - designed to empower New Yorkers to "holla back at street harassers" - it's grassroots surveillance. The site is a photo moblog, a blog to which people can upload pictures of a sexual or any other kind of harasser on the spot with their camera cellphones, and it can get pretty graphic, as is the Village Voice's coverage. But it's not much different from what can be found among the zillions of innocent profiles, blogs, photos, and videos on the social-networking and media-hosting sites. "There's a term in academia for the practice … University of Toronto engineering professor Steve Mann coined it to mean the opposite of surveillance. 'Sousveillance' is looking from below, turning the lens on the higher-ups, altering the power dynamic," the Village Voice reports. School administrators and law-enforcement people certainly know something about this. But what parents (and of course kids who upload photos, videos, etc.) need to think about is the privacy issue. Certainly some harassers deserve the spotlight they're getting. But the Village Voice cites the view of the Electronic Privacy Information Center that "sites like Holla Back may open a door to misuse or defamation." What they mean is, these sites can be used not only to "holla back" at bullies, but also to bully, defame, or threaten just about anybody, a terrible misuse of digital people power.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Social-networking at the BBC?!

The youth- and user-driven Web is invading that ol' granddaddy the BBC even. Its director-general Mark Thompson just announced a big shakeup after saying the BBC "was increasingly seen as irrelevant by younger audiences," The Times of London reports. Britain's publicly funded broadcaster will "revamp its Web site to include user-generated content such as blogs, music and home videos, similar to the MySpace service that is hugely popular with teenagers," according to Reuters. That will include a new "teen brand" and fresh content for people 12-16 on TV, radio, and the Web, MediaGuardian adds, listing a bunch of changes. All the new developments are meant to make the BBC more "on-demand" and responsive to a much more user-generated media environment, reports. All I can say is that MySpace parent News Corp. must be glad organizations like the BBC are joining it on Web 2.0, figuring out how to foster self-expression as well as self-protection among teen users. [While we're on the subject, Microsoft will be doing S-N too: The company announced "a joint venture with Wallop to get in the game," Internet News reports, describing Wallop as kind of a blend of MySpace and Friendster.]

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


One wonders if MySpace is happy with this "spin-off," as described by the Staten Island Advance, but it could be seen as another legitimate form of sharing experiences online. Launched last December, appears to be one of the many mashups that are happening all over this increasingly user-driven Web. It's an obituary social-networking site that "collects the profiles of deceased MySpace users and links them to news stories, obituaries or blogs that detail their lives as well as how they died." On the one hand, it could be viewed as a sick or exploitative use of social-networking (founder Mike Patterson, 25, told the Advance that he gets a lot of hate mail). On the other hand, it makes sense for young people who do so much socializing online also to grieve and create memorials online. A number of students at a local high school recently found comfort in eulogizing a fellow student in, one of their moms told me. The Advance cites the view of one grief therapist that "this kind of 'grief work' can be particularly healing for young people." Founder Patterson gets grateful emails too and told the Advance that one of his goals is educating teens that "life is fragile," "they're not invincible." Later this week, the New York Times ran a big-picture piece on online memorializing.

Lingo of our digital lives

Do you have an "EMV" too (that vague, trail-off-y "email voice" people use when talking on the phone while reading email), or does your child "frazz" a lot ("multitask ineffectively")? I guess a friend with an EMV is more thoughtful than a friend who engages in "cylences" – "the long gaps in phone conversation that occur when a person is reading email or cybershopping at the same time." These are terms describing the intersection of our digital and real lives included in a list in "Overly Wired? There's a Word for It" in the New York Times. Some of 'em, like "logonorrhea," don't quite work for me, but I definitely hear from "regurgimailers," don't you? There are a bunch more such terms in Part 2, including those annoying "unamailers," who respond to emails with a single word (something of which you all know I'm never guilty, unfortunately), and those with "cellulitis," who have phones maybe surgically attached to their ears.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Tougher child-porn law proposed

The Net has created an "epidemic" of child pornography, said US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in a speech at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children late last week. He was unveiling "proposed changes in the law under the Child Pornography and Obscenity Prevention Amendments of 2006," the BBC reports. The BBC adds that "the proposals have been sent to Congress and include new laws that will require ISPs to report child pornography and bolster penalties for those companies that fail to do so." The Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA, which supports both free speech and voluntary site labeling for explicit, violent, and other types of content to which parents may not want children exposed) responded to the news with support but also a qualifier: "We vigorously oppose an added measure included in the draft bill which would require Web sites with sexually explicit material - material that is legal, but potentially harmful to minors - to use a government-mandated labeling system. ICRA strongly believes that self-regulation of legal Internet content leads to the best balance between the free flow of digital content and the protection of children from potentially harmful material." Here's the text of Mr. Gonzales's speech.

Meanwhile, the British government has taken a significant step in efforts against child exploitation: It just launched the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, "which will operate 24 hours a day [and] is the first of its kind in the UK to bring together police, computer industry experts and child welfare representatives to tackle issues such as online grooming and child abuse images," the Times of London reports. Meanwhile, the British government has taken a significant step in efforts against child exploitation: It just launched the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, "which will operate 24 hours a day [and] is the first of its kind in the UK to bring together police, computer industry experts and child welfare representatives to tackle issues such as online grooming and child abuse images," the Times of London reports . Finally, the Wall Street Journal's "Numbers Guy" takes a closer look at the child porn industry's "$20 billion" sales figure being widely cited.

'Geek heaven'

That definitely includes kid geeks, reports CNET, referring to Maker Faire, put on by Make magazine at the San Mateo, Calif., Fairgrounds this past weekend. It's "a haven for thousands of boys and girls and men and women, perhaps one of the few times when such a smorgasbord of geek fare attracted such a diverse crowd. And a big part of it was that almost all the exhibits allowed attendees, especially kids, to get their hands on them and play with them," according to CNET. Maybe a country fair makes people want to raise Herefords or Holland Lops, but this fair makes kids want to go home and build something, Make's editor told CNET. There's something for everyone, reportedly, from rubber chickens and soap-bubble tricks to Power Tool Drag Races. A fun article about a fun event.

Social-networking 'traffic jam'

It's shades of the days when file-sharing was all over tech news and universities were trying to unclog their networks. Students at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas, have been told they have to use MySpace off the school network because their social-networking is slowing it down, the Associated Press reports. "Forty percent of daily Internet traffic at the college involved the site," the school's chief technology officer told the AP, which adds that MySpace is now up to 72 million+ members.'s report went into the development further. [As the New York Times reports, MySpace doesn't even quite know how to sell all those pages to advertisers- it's "charging bargain-basement rates to attract enough advertisers for the nearly 1 billion pages it displays each day" and trying to figure out how to help advertisers target those ads to "each member's personal passions."] Meanwhile, file-sharing at universities is still in the headlines: In their latest move against music and movie piracy, the RIAA and MPAA "sent letters to presidents of 40 universities in 25 states informing them of piracy problems on their schools' local area networks and asking for immediate action to stop it," CNET reports.