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Friday, September 01, 2006

Monitoring MySpacers

The hands-down best way to find out what our kids are up to on the social Web is to ask them about it. It can also help to supplement that discussion by going online *with* them to their favorite hangouts and – again, with them - going through their friends lists, candidly telling them you check in on their profiles or blogs occasionally, because they're public spaces anyone can see and it's a parent’s job to make sure they're not doing anything to harm themselves or others physically or in terms of future academic and employment prospects. Another way to monitor social networkers is with monitoring technology - sometimes purely for convenience (though it might be better for parent-child relations to be up front about using it), sometimes because a child seems to be at risk and is not communicating with a parent. Three kinds of monitoring-with-tech are now available (so far, mostly for MySpace users): 1) human monitoring that uses technology (SafeSpacers emails parents their reports); tech monitoring (e.g., BeNetSafe and myspaceWatch) that makes monitoring teens easier and more convenient than going to their pages oneself; and 3) hard-core key-logger-style monitoring that logs every keystroke of the person using a particular computer. For more on the first two (newer) types, please click to this week's issue of my newsletter.

Free books online

Project Gutenberg was the first supplier of free out-of-copyright books on the Web and it's more comprehensive, but Google Book Search just made things easier – at least for when it has your book of choice. "Just one click and a PDF file of the book is on your desktop," reports The Guardian. "You can then either read it online (in which case you deserve to have it free), print it out page by page or send it to a print-on-demand publishing house such as where it will emerge as a fully fledged paperback for less than a fiver." Project Gutenberg says it has 19,000 free books in its catalog, including the kind your kids are assigned in school. Here's Google Book Search , and here's CNET on this development.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

How legal is it?

That probably sounds like a strange question just about everywhere but in the world of digital entertainment. The Los Angeles Times takes a sweeping snapshot of current thinking on the part of music consumers and copyright law experts. For example, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll found that "among teens ages 12 to 17 who were polled, 69% said they believed it was legal to copy a CD from a friend who purchased the original. By comparison, only 21% said it was legal to copy a CD if a friend got the music free." In fact, the recording and film industry associations (the RIAA and MPAA) point to the ripping of CDs and DVDs and their biggest threat now, not peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing ("80% of teens surveyed in the poll said downloading free music from unauthorized computer networks was a crime"). Meanwhile, consumer and trade organizations are criticizing the RIAA's educational video about copyright law for steering viewers wrong. The video "suggests that students should be skeptical of free content and that it's always illegal to make a copy of a song, even if it's just to introduce a friend to a new band," reports CNET, citing the view of Robert Schwartz, general counsel for the Home Recording Rights Coalition, "one of the groups opposed to the video." Also in music news this week: a soon-to-launch free and legal music-download site called, which will share ad revenue with the record labels that supply it. Reuters reported Universal Music signed on. According to the New York Times, "though the venture is not the first to try a free ad-supported approach, the backing of Universal, with millions of songs in its catalog from thousands of artists like Eminem and Gwen Stefani, Elton John and Gloria Estefan, Count Basie and Hank Williams, promises to give it instant credibility and scale."

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Create-your-own social network

Almost. But it's only a matter of time. It started at the more professional, geeky level with online publishing tools. The same with Web publishing. Both got so easy that anyone could "publish" with no technical know-how. It's also happening with online "radio," or podcasting. And so it will go with social networking. Soon we'll be able to create our own social networks (we actually are now, sort of, in sites that provide tools for private networks for extended families, clubs, and other groups). But the latest step in this direction is a company called Small World Labs providing social-networking "hosting" – a service like the host of our forum, - providing a platform for organizations (perhaps school districts) to create dedicated social networks just for their constituents, clients, or members. Certainly, colleges and universities are already running their own Facebook-like social networks (see this news last week).

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Social networking & suicide

Some see social networking about the death of a friend or family member cathartic. Some as a means of detecting suicidal tendencies. Others are concerned it might reinforce such tendencies. In any case, "the world’s first generation to double-click its way through elementary school is using the Web to stay connected — even in death," reports the St. Petersburg Times. Dr. Ilene Berson and other faculty members at the University of South Florida's Mental Health Institute are seeking funding to research that question, to see "whether social networking web sites create a suicide contagion effect." They'll analyze the conditions surrounding the deaths of MySpace members who committed suicide, as well as behavior on (see my earlier item on this), where the activity isn't all about eulogizing. "Anger, curiosity and bravado reign on MyDeathSpace forums, where strangers pick apart the writings of MySpace members who die," according to the Times. The positive side of such public display of death is suicide prevention. At a recent conference on social networking, representatives of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline said that referrals from MySpace users have become the largest source of calls to the hotline. During research for our book, MySpace Unraveled, Lifeline director John Draper told us, "Increasingly, kids are using their profiles "to in some ways convey that they had suicidal intent. There is very much the potential for saving lives because the first people to hear about kids at risk are other kids." The Lifeline is setting up federally funded suicide prevention profiles on MySpace, Xanga, and Facebook. Here's more coverage on grieving online in the Boston Globe and the Lexington Herald-Leader. As for online obituaries, go to the Washington Post.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Of cheats & other game news

How to explain to a gamer that cheating is bad, when in the world of videogames it's so good? Family discussions are definitely getting more nuanced these days! Some people say going to game sites and finding cheats is just a way to get more out of a game. Other gamers make it a little more questionable-sounding, as it was in pre-videogame history - that, as with lying, everybody knows it's bad but there are certain conditions under which it's ok. Even in videogame life the definition of cheating has changed, the Washington Post reports: "To cheat way back when was to figure out how to keep your character alive and finish the game. To cheat now is to unlock doors and expand the breadth of your game." As kids make fewer distinctions between online and offline, between this world and virtual worlds, teaching ethics is getting more interesting. Maybe the descriptor will become "situational ethics"! BTW, if you're interested in a detailed account of what life is like in a virtual world called Second Life, see Camille Dodero's fascinating account in Detroit's You'll probably agree it's not for teens. For them there's Teen Second Life (see "Lively alternate lives").

La. game law nixed

A federal judge struck down a new Louisiana law that banned sales of violent video games to minors, saying the state "the state had no right to bar distribution of materials simply because they show violent behavior," the Associated Press reports. The law's language was less than clear. Games that would be banned "if an 'average person' would conclude that they appeal to a 'morbid interest in violence' … [or] if the 'average person' would conclude they depict violence that is 'patently offensive' to standards in the adult community, and the games are deemed to lack artistic, political or scientific value," the AP adds. Similar laws have been struck down in other states, including Minnesota, Illinois, California and Michigan. In Minnesota, the Pioneer Press reported later in the week that the state would appeal a federal court's decision against its ban on sales of violent and sexually explicit videogames to people under 17.