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Friday, May 05, 2006

99-cent tunes

The price holds. After a long negotiation, "Apple Computer and four major record labels have renewed their deals to sell songs on iTunes for 99 cents," CNET reports. "Record labels would like to charge different prices for more popular or newer songs," CNET says, but "a New York investigation into whether record labels have worked together to set the prices for digital music is expected to keep the 99-cent model intact for the foreseeable future." On the illegal side, the RIAA is targeting 12 "hot spots" (e.g., Austin, Chicago, Miami) where "multi-state criminal operations are producing and selling bogus CDs," Internet News reports . On the file-sharing front, the RIAA and MPAA have sent letters to 40 US universities saying "they want the colleges to filter traffic to stop what they describe [the] an 'ever-evolving problem'" of the illegal sharing of music and movies, the BBC reports. In other music news, British music producer Mark Vidler may be taking mashups mainstream, the Christian Science Monitor reports. "One of Mr. Vidler's recipes goes like this: Take a dash of Lionel Richie's piano from 'Hello,' sprinkle in the vocal from The Police's 'Wrapped Around Your Finger,' pour in the melody line of Elvis Costello's 'Watching the Detectives,' add a slither of Peggy Lee singing 'Fever,' and garnish with a pinch of back-up vocals from The Hollies and Led Zeppelin." Meanwhile, two popular '70s and '80s bands – the Allman Brothers Band and Cheap Trick – are suing Sony BMG for a bigger piece of the royalties pie, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Converting virtual cash to real

Ok, parents of gamers, wrap your synapses around this: an ATM card that allows you to withdraw real money from your cache of virtual money in your favorite online game world. It's here, and it's not a huge leap when you consider that people are paying real money for virtual weapons, artifacts, and real estate in online games (see "Virtual real estate mogul" and "Games' shadow economy"). The New York Times reports that "today the makers of Entropia Universe, a popular online science-fiction game, plan to introduce a real-world A.T.M. card that will allow players instantly to withdraw hard cash automatically converted from their virtual game treasury. So a player with, say, 2,000 spare P.E.D.'s (Project Entropia Dollars) left over after purchasing a new laser rifle in the game could withdraw $200 and take a date to a real-life ballgame." Sweden-based Project Entropia has about 250,000 players, the Times mentions. BTW, this is the kind of game (alternate-reality) that attracts more equal numbers of male and female players. For a female game developer's perspective check out this piece from the Detroit Free Press. As for games' breaking news: "In a highly unusual move, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board changed the rating of a popular Xbox 360 and PC game [Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion] from T (Teen) to M (Mature) based on hidden and not-so-hidden blood, gore and nudity built into the game," the Detroit Free Press reported, adding that Elder Scrolls IV is "a critically acclaimed role-playing game."

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Students' free speech online

If it's illegal offline, it's illegal on the Web, says law professor Anita Ramasastry at the University of Washington in a thorough commentary at She refers to threats, harassment, defamation, libel. In fact, blogging and social-networking sites actually help law enforcement gather evidence on illegal activity and can prevent dangerous situations from playing out. An example being the recent case in Kansas in which teens appear to have been prevented by police from carrying out an attack on their school (see "Shooting rampage avoided due to MySpace" in But what about when student online activities are not illegal but upsetting to school administrators or faculty? "In such cases … the First Amendment will protect many student postings, as long as they do not 'materially disrupt' school activities - and as long as the students attend public, not private, schools." She looks at cyberbullying and defamation, as well as cases where postings or pictures can be "instrumentality of crime" (as when a pedophile grooms a child with his posts), evidence of violating the law (such as the posted video of the fire-bombing of an old Air Force hangar by two California teenagers), or crimes themselves (e.g., comments that constitute criminal threats). She also comments on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's "The Student Blogger's Legal FAQ." Also this week: the Associated Press's "Legal questions rise as schools punish students for using MySpace" and CNET on how some schools are dealing with students' generally superior tech literacy.

AOL's S-N site: Sneak peeks

AOL's soon-to-be-unveiled social-networking offering will be called AIM Pages, probably bringing more visual effects and customization tools to the socializing that its 47.6 million AIM instant-messaging users do. "It's a way to marry AIM with MySpace by offering customizable pages that teens and others can use to create their own world while also instant messaging," says USATODAY in its snapshot of how the Internet giant's doing. USATODAY says that, with AIM Pages, "you could tape your own music video countdown show with a webcam or video camera, using your own intros and AOL's library of music videos. AOL will provide the tools to merge the homegrown video with, say, videos from Shakira and Madonna, and post the show online for the world to see." Here's an earlier Business Week peek: "AOL: MySpace invader." Later this week, AOL announced it was adding free phoning to AIM by the end of this month, CNET reported. AIM Phoneline will allow AIM users "to receive incoming calls from any phone."

In other social-networking news, Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly this week called on MySpace "to strengthen protection of children against sexual predators, including raising the minimum age for users to 18 from 14," Reuters reported, and Knowledge@Wharton goes broad and deep about the whole business.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Social-networking untethered

Now MySpace can be wherever its users are – as close as their cellphones. On their phones, actually. Earthlink and Korea-based SK Telecom just launched a joint-venture mobile service called Helio, the Associated Press reports. Targeting "young, connected consumers," the service includes text, photo, and video messaging; a "presence" feature that lets MySpacers know when friends are online; multiple personalization options like "Animated Screens and Rings from major music labels"; the ability to post directly to their MySpace profiles; and – for fashion-conscious users (e.g., "sleek, black Hero, or pearlescent") - the option to sync their address book over the air from phone to phone if they're going for a different look every day. All that and 1,000 anytime minutes for $85/month (the cheapest package). The phones themselves, "Hero" and "Kickflip," "will cost $275 and $250, respectively," the AP says. Downloads are additional – games $5.99 each, music videos $2.49. Gives new meaning to the message, "talk is cheap." Parents will also be thinking about how this very mobile social-networking affects "parental controls."

The wrong kind of support

Buried in a CNET article about students' filtering workarounds is an aside about the kind of support parents don't want their kids to have. Under the apt heading "Scarier than MySpace," writer Stephanie Olsen reports there are some 500 discussion boards on the Web about self-mutilation (up from 400 a year ago). Young people who cut themselves "are increasingly turning to the Internet to vent and commiserate with others about their secret affliction, according to a new study from Cornell University psychologists." Olsen adds that "of the 3,200 messages analyzed, nearly a third of the comments [mostly from girls 14-20] were supportive in nature," another 15% were about "sharing methods for cutting or burning oneself or concealing the behavior," and 20% "about triggers and motivation for self-hurting practices." These boards tend to support the behavior by making it seem "normal," Olsen cites the Cornell researchers as saying. An example she gives is, "a Web site for depressed teens … who 'self-hurt'." In the same category are pro-anorexia sites (see this Associated Press report).

Online vigilantism

It seems all those NBC Dateline sting operations against online sexual predators have caused a lot of people to want to "help." The problem, some law-enforcement people point out, is that "sloppy civilian investigations will push predators further underground, and that civilians may be endangering their own safety," the Associated Press reports. Perverted Justice, "an organization that's dedicated to outing online predators [and helps Dateline with its stings], expects to double its volunteer corps, to 100, by year's end," according to the AP. Then there's, dedicated to exposing "the dangers of the vigilante actions being perpetrated by the Web site and its members."

Your child as co-marketer

Though MySpace has barely begun turning users into viral marketers, the New York Times reports, advertisers are creating their own social-networking sites to make that happen for themselves. They want to turn teens and 20-somethings into co-marketers, USATODAY reports. What does that mean? For as long as I've been watching this scene (nine years), I've been hearing marketers say the Net makes word-of-mouth or viral marketing a reality – an exciting prospect for marketers, because young influencers (e.g., "popular kids," gearheads, music fans, etc.) do the marketing for corporations in a way that's hugely more influential than a 30-second TV spot designed for the ultra-impersonal, very blah lowest-common-denominator. USATODAY describes some of their plans in the teens-as-co-marketers space and explains the tricky part of this (e.g., "Chevrolet recently saw the dark side with its make-your-own ad site for its new Tahoe SUV. A number of visitors created ads criticizing its fuel use and circulated them on the Internet. The company did not try to censor such sentiment"). Meanwhile, this is just further evidence that social-networking site are multiplying like rabbits - except that I can't imagine entire peer groups migrating from Xanga or MySpace to (or something much more cool-sounding Pepsi's interactive ad agency would come up with). This trend too will probably pass.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Self-made celebrities

Remember how we used to say that people like to see themselves in print? Well, it's still true. And it's true of our kids. Only now they can see their comments, photos, and self-produced and -edited songs, podcasts, and ski and skateboard videos "on the air" (in Xanga, MySpace, YouTube, etc.). And some of them are becoming self-made celebrities (because their celebrity draws traffic, spawns viral marketing, and sells videocams). Today's Washington Post gives an example: "David Lehre, a 21-year-old college student from Washington, Mich., a small town north of Detroit. Lehre and his friends edited and starred in a short film called 'MySpace: The Movie'." Of course, hundreds of thousands of teens and 20-somethings are doing that - another example is 17-year-old "Bowiechick" (her screen name), who inadvertently sold a lot of Logitech Webcams because of the overnight success of the 75-sec. video "Breakup" she uploaded to YouTube, according to CNET. As for David Lehre's MySpace video, the Post reports that it "became an instant viral video hit and spread rapidly through emails and links from other sites. It also helped push YouTube into the lexicon of Internet users, especially among the crowd. Lehre now says he has a talent agent, an attorney and a pending deal with Fox to create a new comedy show that will compete with NBC's "Saturday Night Live." And of course corporations are noticing there's big business, here. Fox, with the same parents as MySpace (New Corp), just announced it has acquired Newroo and kSolo, CNET reports. Newroo helps them "scour the Internet for relevant information from Web sites and blogs that can be used on their own Web sites, and kSolo "lets users sing, record and share their own karaoke recordings by using a database of songs.