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Friday, July 28, 2006

Today's 'cave painters'

Now that the Web is 24x7 reality TV on which everyone's a "star," parents mystified by their kids' need to be so public online need only look at the media and social environment they live in – at society itself, even history, the Washington Post suggests in its very readable, thoroughly reported "See Me, Click Me." Entire lives and innermost thoughts exposed on profiles and blogs are like cave art on steroids, exponentially more public because of what technology allows, we hear from Post writer Linton Weeks. But what's the attraction to self-exposure? parents ask. Pls click to this week's issue of my newsletter for more.

New social networks

Niche social-networking sites, and some not-so-niche ones, continue to open. The latest big-brand one is MTV's "Flux." As with MySpace, users will be able to customize their pages and upload video and other media, but more along the lines of Cyworld (which plans to open an English-language version in the US), they can have avatars, or online personas, represent them. "They can select a basic avatar design and transform it into the image they want to represent them in the Flux community," TechNewsWorld reports. "The avatars were designed by Nexus and resemble Japanese animation - with the ability to walk, talk and show their emotions, giving more of a digital life to the real people they represent" (here's my earlier item on Cyworld). Wal-Mart's "The Hub" for 13-to-18-year-olds is a not-very-social-networking site, The Guardian reports. "Any teenagers wishing to sign up as 'hubsters' need their parents' consent, and entrants face the challenge of looking cool in Wal-Mart apparel: videos and web pages are banned from carrying trademarks, trade names, logos or copyrighted music" – except for Wal-Mart labels. Then there's, ostensibly for adults only. But The Register reports that "purely in the cause of investigation, we checked out the sign up process for Utherverse. The [Terms of Service] link to a page which says you should be 18+ - and that's it," no other barriers. "Chief executive Brian Shuster said the firm would use credit card age verification for its paid services - although the social networking side of the site is free. He said the company employs site monitors who scour the site for posts from minors," which is what MySpace says too. For more on niche networks, see "Martha's social networking" and "Family social networking."

US House passes DOPA *quickly*

Controlling social networking appears to be high-priority for US lawmakers. They have fast-tracked the Delete Online Predators Act (DOPA). It was passed by the House of Representatives 410-15 yesterday (Thursday), and CNET reports that the Senate could vote on it as early as next week. DOPA "would effectively require [in schools and libraries receiving federal funding] that 'chat rooms' and 'social networking sites' be rendered inaccessible to minors, an age group that includes some of the Internet's most ardent users. Adults can ask for permission to access the sites." The problem with the law, critics say, is the way it's worded. "Even though politicians apparently meant to restrict access to MySpace, the definition of off-limits Web sites is so broad the bill would probably sweep in thousands of commercial Web sites that allow people to post profiles, include personal information and allow 'communication among users.' Details will be left up to the Federal Communications Commission," according to CNET. A pending close race for reelection for the bill's sponsor, Mike Fitzpatrick (R) of Pennsylvania is one reason cited by CNET for the Republican leadership arranging the quick vote on DOPA. Here, in pdf format, is the version of the bill the House approved, and the more tongue-in-cheek version of what happened in a San Jose Mercury News blog.

Teen videogame tutors

Now, here's a twist on summer jobs or ways for teens to add some "spare change" to their college funds. Some experienced videogamers are making up to $60/hour tutoring newbie gamers, the Wall Street Journal reports (in a story picked up by the Contra Costa Times). "Class" happens right in the game. One tutor is 18-year-old Tom Taylor, runs "Web site called, where players can book lessons in two games - Microsoft's Halo 2 and Nintendo Co.'s Super Smash Brothers Melee." Tom employs 12 instructors, the youngest 8 years old, who gets $25/hour and has used some of his income to buy a hamster.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Kazaa legalizes

There was a time (about 2.5 years ago) when you could've called it the MySpace of file-sharing, when 60 million file-sharers and millions of downloads a week seemed like mind-numbing figures. Kazaa was the king of 2nd-generation file-sharing (after Napster of the 1st generation), then was overtaken by 3rd-gen BitTorrent. But enough background! The news is, the Sydney-based company registered in Vanuatu is paying the recording industry more than $100 million in damages and going legal, "following a series of high-profile legal battles," the BBC reports. According to the Associated Press, Kazaa "will redesign its … program to block customers who try to find and download copyrighted music and movies. It also will offer licensed entertainment for a price." Here's the Washington Post on Kazaa's out-of-court settlement with the London-based International Federation of the Phonographic Industry and the New York Times's coverage.

Critical thinking needed!

The filter between everybody's ears is increasingly beating out tech filters in importance. "The fastest-growing computer-security problem isn't viruses or other traditional malicious programs, and it can't be entirely defeated by using security software or by buying a Mac. It's called 'social engineering,' and it consists of tactics that try to fool users into giving up sensitive financial data that criminals can use to steal their money and even their identities," writes the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg. He offers three tips to help people avoid social-engineering schemes including those of "phishers." Another version, which has less impact on computers and more impact on people, is social influencing – how people influence each other. It can be both positive and negative. A more negative version is manipulation, the darkest form of which is called by law enforcement people "grooming," what sexual predators do to gain their victims' confidence. Teaching our kids about social influencing and engineering is an increasingly important part of parenting. For more on these, see "How social influencing works" and "How to recognize grooming."

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Law against deceptive sex sites

The US Congress passed a bill that makes it a felony to create porn sites with innocent Web addresses using words like "Barbie" or "Furby" to deceive children into clicking to them, Reuters reports. According to CNET, "the 163-page Child Protection and Safety Act represents the most extensive rewriting of federal laws relating to child pornography, sex offender registration and child exploitation in a decade." President Bush was expected to sign it Thursday. Penalties include up to 20 years' imprisonment and a fine. Among other provisions CNET lists, the bill also creates "a national sex offender registry to be run by the FBI."

Food ads & kids on the Web

Eighty-five percent of brands like Snickers, Lucky Charms, and Cheetos targeting kids on TV have a presence on the Web, according to a pioneering study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, "It's Child's Play: Advergaming and the Online Marketing of Food to Children." "More than 500 'advergames' such as Hershey's Syrup Squirt, LifeSavers Boardwalk Bowling and M&Ms Trivia Game were offered on 77 Web sites," USATODAY reports in its coverage of the study. These immersive "ads" – games, coloring pages, screensavers, etc. that kids can play and otherwise interact with can be much more compelling to children than 15- or 30-second TV ads, and kids often can't tell the difference between advertising and non-promotional content, researchers find. "Policymakers and health experts increasingly are concerned about the role food advertising plays in childhood obesity. About 25 million children, or one-third of children and teens in the USA, are either overweight or on the brink of becoming so," USATODAY adds. (For more on this, see "Advergames & 'the nag factor'" in my 2/11/05 issue.) Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that obesity presents a real dilemma to pediatricians, a reluctance to talk with obese patients and their parents (the Post looks at the reasons).

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Videogame-related convictions

Three Florida men – one 29 and the other two 20 - accused of plotting to kill six people in a revenge killing partly involving an Xbox console were convicted this week, the Associated Press reports. "Prosecutors said [the older man] was angry with victim Erin Belanger, 22, who had him evicted when she found him living in her grandmother’s home in Deltona. She kept some of his belongings, including some clothing and the video game system." He reportedly recruited the other two men "for the baseball bat attacks against the six victims."

Educating parents about TV!

Apparently to fend off increased regulation, all three sources of TV programming - broadcast, cable, and satellite – are getting together to teach parents how to control TV viewing at home, the Washington Post reports. "The government's recent tenfold increase in fines for broadcast indecency combined with the public's nearly nonexistent use of blocking technology, such as the V-chip, has motivated the three rivals to join forces in contributing airtime for a series of public service announcements," according to the Post. Starting this week, they're airing 15- and 30-second public-service announcements produced by the Ad Council. The ads will be seen on "local broadcast stations and the top 100 cable channels, as seen on cable and satellite systems," the Post reports. See the article for details on regulatory potential.

Competition for iPod?

Maybe, just maybe, kids will be putting a music player of a different name on their holiday wish lists this year. It'll be interesting to see if Microsoft's just-announced "Zune" will give iPod some competition. The BBC cites experts as saying Microsoft won't have it easy "The iPod accounts for more than 50% of digital music players sold, while iTunes, Apple's digital music store, has a 70% share of its market." But the Zune name will represent more than just an MP3 player – a whole "family of hardware and software products," including a music store, Microsoft told the BBC – and the player will be able to connect to the Net, which I foresee to be a significant plus for the youth market (I wonder if it'll come with parental controls). Microsoft intends to combine technology and community in Zune, it told the BBC. But will it have iPod's cachet? Here's coverage from Internet News, linking to blogs commenting on Zune, including two Microsoft staffers' personal blogs, where crumbs of insights are being tossed out to the ravenous gadget info hordes. For female gadget heads, see this ZDNET pictorial about what's on offer, including "Miss Army Knife" and headband headphones from the fashion police.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Parents' tour of social networks

Wall Street Journal writer Julia Angwin doesn't turn up anything very surprising on her brief tour of MySpace, Xanga, Facebook, Hi5, Bebo, Tagged, and Imbee, but it's great for parents to see that teens do have choices. They do and they don't, actually. It's good that a prominent news outlet shows the breadth and diversity of the social networks, especially with the help of a sidebar linking to nearly two dozen of them (Wikipedia links to many more here ). But – as with instant messaging – kids go where their friends are. That's where they don't *really* have a choice, even if your teenager is a major influencer and can move his or her entire peer group to another site. That group then wouldn't be "with" everyone else in their high school, receiving bulletins and group emails in, for example, MySpace about important stuff going on at or involving their school. Check out Julia's conclusion – I think she's right on the mark with it. Meanwhile, reporter Robin Cowie Nalepa at The State, a Columbia, S.C., paper, took her own week-long tour just of MySpace, with the help of her MySpace "guru" Elizabeth (16).

Marketing to teens, by teens

As our kids get increasingly blasé about TV and other conventional ad media, ever wonder how marketers are reaching them?CNNMoney looks at how Hollywood and other media industries are wooing "the MySpace generation." For example, it describes how marketing agency Streetwise appears to have helped "Little Man," "the new comedy by the Wayans brothers that was almost universally panned by critics," become No. 2 at the box office recently. Streetwise "organizes groups of [some 70,000 registered] teens and young adults to promote films, music and video games through a variety of means" – such as by posting comments or bulletins at social-networking sites or just via "old-fashioned street marketing, putting up posters or handing out hats, T-shirts, DVDs and CDs."