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Friday, November 10, 2006

Social Web growth unabated

"Doubting the popularity of MySpace? Don't," suggests Digital Trends News. Citing new findings from Web traffic measurer Hitwise, the article says MySpace is getting 82% of visits to the top 20 social-networking sites and experienced 51% growth in visits between last March and this past September. Visits to social sites over all grew 34% those six months. In its report on the study, MediaPost cited other fast growers in social networking: "Other social sites making big gains in share of traffic include Bolt, up 271% [see this heads-up from a Bolt user]; Bebo, 95%; Orkut, 63%; and Gaia Online, 41%." In terms of average session time at the sites, Gaia Online came in first at 47 min., 1 sec., followed by CrushSpot (30:31); MySpace (30:22); Bebo (25:39); and Tagged (20:33). And of course MySpace's high traffic is spurring use of media-hosting sites (that MySpace users link to from their profiles) and sites that provide bells 'n' whistles for MySpace profiles. For example, "the top photo hosting site, PhotoBucket, increased market share by 43% from March to September, while Flickr grew by 49%. Visits to YouTube jumped 249% during that period [MySpace Videos grew 253%]. Slide, which lets users create slide shows of their photos and paste them on social networking sites, was the fastest-growing site in the category with a 1,300% gain in traffic" (see also "Embellishing their pages"). In other MySpace news, the service has serious international ambitions. This week MySpace launched in Japan (where indigenous social site Mixi just had a $1.85 billion IPO) and, "with a presence already in Britain, Australia, Ireland, Germany and France, the company plans to add 11 other countries in the coming year," the New York Times reports.

Movies on Xbox360

The media-downloading scene is not getting less complicated, in terms of what is and isn't legal and what rights various downloads come with. But the number of choices is growing. People who have Xbox 360 consoles will soon be able to download movies and TV shows via Microsoft's Xbox Live online service, the New York Times reports. "Microsoft has negotiated the rights to rent or sell more than 1,000 hours of material from CBS, MTV Networks, Paramount, Warner Brothers and Turner Broadcasting." The online store will work a lot like Apple's iTunes but with a few key differences: "While users will be able to keep television shows, movies can be rented for only a limited period. The videos will not be playable on other devices and cannot be burned onto DVDs, but the online service will keep track of purchases so that users can log in to watch their videos on a friend’s Xbox." Here's the BBC's coverage.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Parenting & profile deletion

Some parents will be relieved to read that every week MySpace deletes the profiles of about 30,000 people under 14 (14 is the minimum age under its Terms of Service). In an article about parenting MySpacers, the Boston Globe leads with that factoid. The thing relieved parents need to know, though, is that a deleted profile is far from the resolution of any parent's social-networking struggle, especially if his or her child is a determined online socializer. For a teen, getting one's profile deleted - after putting significant time and effort into cultivating page esthetics and friends' comments - is a major pain. But a new account can be set up, in stealth mode (set to private and harder for a parents to find), very quickly, after which the development period starts anew, usually with friends rallying around the effort. So account deletion by MySpace is never the ultimate goal. Parent/child communication and learning are more realistic ones, often with parents learning about both the technology and their kids' social lives and with kids learning about how to protect and present themselves better in public places, not to mention why their parents have concerns. I appreciated the points made by a psychology professor and a middle-school administrator quoted by Globe writer Barbara Meltz. Meanwhile, some fresh statistics from Harris Interactive (as reported in Media Life): 75% of teens and 43% of tweens have an online profile in a social-networking or community site, and teens have, on average, 75 friends on their friends lists in such sites.

'Music detective' tech

The music business is still suing individual file-sharers (see this latest example, reported by the Associated Press), but the newest front in its war on copyright theft is social networking – not just in tunes downloaded and shared, but in the background music of videos upload to YouTube, MySpace, and other social and media sites. To help music fans at your house understand how these companies are using technology to detect pirated music, see this article by CBS tech writer (and publisher) Larry Magid. Halfway down in the article there's a link to Larry's audio interview with Jim Hollingsworth, an executive at the company, Gracenote, that provides MySpace with that copyright-detection tech. He explains how it works.

Newest music player

If you have music lovers at your house and are curious about the MP3 player options this holiday season, there's help from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Journal tech columnist Walt Mossberg looks at the new kid on the block - Microsoft's Zune music player and its own music store – and finds some positives over the iPod. Walt likes its "larger screen, the ability to exchange songs with other Zunes wirelessly and a built-in FM radio," but he concludes it "has too many compromises and missing features to be as good a choice as the iPod for most users." The Times's David Pogue likes some things about the Zune too, but his bottom line is "this game is for watching, not playing. It may be quite a while before brown [one of the three colors Zune comes in] is the new white." Meanwhile, apparently in an effort to make sure all the major record labels are represented in Zune's online music store, Microsoft signed an unusual deal with Universal Music Group in which Universal gets "a payment for every Zune player sold" in return for more access to artists and music rights for Zune, the Associated Press reports.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Video sites like rabbits too

"Nichefication" is happening in Web video now, just as in social networking, where social sites of every possible narrow niche are multiplying exponentially (in the past week I've seen one for people who want to lose weight, one for alcoholics, and one for mobile social-networkers in India – see also "Social sites multiplying like…"). YouTube is "so last month," according to a Washington Post writer covering the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco, because it's so general. Maybe it's the MySpace of Web video. "Already, users are finding the sheer volume of videos available on the Internet too difficult to digest and are looking for new ways to pick through them." One panelist, "Mary Hodder, chief executive of Dabble, which helps users search and organize online videos, estimated that 200,000 videos are uploaded onto the Web every day." She said video uploads to PhotoBucket, Metacafe, and AOL add up to 25,000-30,000 videos a day. Dabble wants to help users get to the content that matches their interests. Another new service, Jumpcut, helps users create their own video playlists. As for online video growth, MediaPost cites new findings by traffic measurer Hitwise showing that between March and this past September, visits to YouTube grew 249%; to MySpace Video 253%; to Google Video 170%; to Metacafe 133%; and to Yahoo Video 13%.

Online mobs

Koreans call what these not-so-virtual mobs do “cyberviolence.” First they “demonize those they disagree with,” the BBC reports, then they somehow obtain and pass around their victim’s home address or other contact data, financial info, employer’s phone number, etc., and spread rumors to affect the victim’s social status. An example the BBC gives is a comedian on a South Korean game show where one celebrity provokes his or her celebrity opponent into “reacting to put-downs.” The comic joked that his pop star opponent had a fake smile. But the latter’s fans threatened to kill the comedian for what he said. “The spiteful comments and threats continued for 12 months…. All of Korea's police stations now have a cyber terror unit to help deal with the problem. The number of cases referred to Korea's Internet Commission tripled last year.”

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The 'overconnecteds'?

The New York Times cuts right to the chase and asks the question we adults have had for some time: “What are the psychological implications of simultaneously talking to 50 of one’s forever best friends, who are not actually present?” Answer: We don’t know yet. That’s my take-away, anyway. The other takeaway from this long article: how very individual teens’ online social experiences and their impacts are. But there’s a list of “practical advantages” to all this connectedness for teens at the bottom of p. 2. One of them is, “If someone seems to be in trouble, there are no longer just one or two good friends to the rescue but hundreds who send support via email messages, instant messages and text messages.” Elsewhere in the piece, one teen source told the Times that her peers are “stronger socially” than adults because of the way they use electronic communications, mostly IM, partly because people aren’t inhibited by appearance and facial expressions. They feel more confident going into face-to-face conversations after the ice has been broken in IM. But of course there’s a flipside, to that “invisibility,” or lack of visual cues, in not knowing how one’s comments are being received. For an example of an overconnected wannabe, see this story in the Wichita Eagle about a 20-year-old Wichitan who aims to have all of the “approximately 500 Hispanics he found on MySpace within 20 miles of ZIP code 67212” on his friends list. “So far he has about 100.”

Bargain laptops...

…just might be a hot item this holiday shopping season. Online and in its stores, Wal-Mart just started selling a $398 Compaq with “a 15.4-inch screen, a 3300+ Sempron processor from Advanced Micro Devices that churns at 2.0GHz, a 60GB hard drive and 512MB of memory,” CNET reports. It also has a $598 Toshiba on sale, and Dell is selling a $499 notebook on its site. CNET suggests the trend is laptops as individual rather than family purchase – “everyone in the family is getting their own machine.”

Monday, November 06, 2006

PC protection perspective

Paying for PC security is one of those necessary evils, suggests Washington Post writer Rob Pegoraro. Or worse, actually. Because “too often, the software meant to keep your computer safe does so at an unnecessary cost,” he writes. The cost he’s talking about is how two such programs (e.g., the latest version and an earlier version) active on your computer can create “serious conflicts.” Rob saves you the trouble of complicated comparison shopping by comparing the latest products – those of CA, McAfee, Panda, Symantec and Trend Micro - for you (“Microsoft and Zone Labs are between updates,” he explains). He looks at their effectiveness, cost, efficiency, consistency, and whether they educate you about PC security as well as protect your computer.

What exactly is Web 2.0?

The San Francisco Chronicle takes a fairly cerebral look at this second phase of the Web, quoting some of its pioneers, including Tim O’Reilly, widely credited with coining the term. Call me simplistic, but what they all seem to be describing is what I’d call “the people’s Web.” The debate will continue, but in this space – that of youth on the Internet – it’s a force to contend with and clearly distinct from Web 1.0, so much so that it needs its own name. This social Web or participatory Web, as I also think of it, is not really the Web we parents use at work or even at home – except maybe the most early-adopter ones. It’s the Web driven by people under 30 (see “Users’ Web”). A US News & World Report article indicates that's changing, though - at least investors are banking on indicators that we'll all be driving the participatory Web. To help us nail all this down, the Chronicle has a sidebar with concrete examples – describing and linking to the “Key Web 2.0 sites."