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Friday, January 05, 2007

Digital music update

The ailing music industry is "set to relax digital restrictions," Reuters reports. The story's about "digital rights management" (DRM), the chunk of software code attached to digital tunes sold in services like Rhapsody and Napster – and how more and more music companies may soon be jumping on the DRM-free bandwagon. Why? Because revenue from DRM-controlled music is flat and not making up for the decline in CD sales. This thorough trend piece looks at the "five places to watch this year's DRM developments" – Amazon, MySpace, LimeWire, eMusic, and Yahoo Music – and why they appear to be the trendsetters. Very informative for all music fans at your house.

2nd-generation social networking

We're now moving from Web 2.0 to social networking 2.0. It looks to me like the 2nd generation of social sites has two categories: 1) niche ones, such as for high school sports fans and for travelers, and 2) hybrids that are either combinations of game/virtual world and the "old" kind of social site or what I'd call extreme social-networking, such as Forbes makes Xuqa sound like the popularity contest some teens make of MySpace on steroids. It also adds incentives for sticking around. In Xuqa, "users compete for popularity points by accumulating virtual kisses and hugs, winning poker games, spending 'peanuts', and even filling out surveys and looking at ads, all to attain status levels," Forbes reports. The other kind of 2nd-gen social site that may now be seeing its market kick in (in the US) is represented by Cyworld (South Korea-based, launched in the US last summer) and Finland-based Habbo Hotel (with a presence in 29 countries), both of which not only have "spaces" or rooms users can decorate but avatars to "live" in them. They're part game, part social site. Cyworld has its own economy too, with "acorns" for currency like Xuqa's "peanuts." Then there's, which – judging by Forbes's description, mixes socializing and performing kind of like karaoke does but on a very public scale, like massively multiplayer karaoke or something. It too is a contest with prizes. For a sweeping view of social Web past and present, here's Internet News's backgrounder.

Lawmaker's virtual press conference

First there was the politicization of social networking, now politics has entered virtual worlds - in this case, Second Life, the MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game). Rep. George Miller (D) of California "appears to be the first member of Congress to hold something akin to a press conference in this virtual world, which is operated by Linden Lab and boasts its own currency and a population of more than 2 million registered users," CNET reports. Well, maybe it was an aide in the congressman's office and it wasn't *quite* a press conference, but it's the idea that counts, right? "Instead of typing responses to questions, Miller [or the aide controlling Miller's Second Life avatar] read them aloud via an audio broadcast that was piped in through a process like a telephone conference call." But the setting was so cool – in an "open-air amphitheater" surrounded by "mammoth video screens" under an orange sky. Ahh. ;-)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Videogame parental controls

USATODAY recently published a handy little guide to the parental controls on the PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, and the PlayStation Portable. The Nintendo and Microsoft controls are based on the Entertainment Software Rating Board's ratings (e.g., "E," "T," and "M" for "Everyone," "Teen," and "Mature"), which are explained on this page at With Sony's controls, which are not ESRB-based, "you'll need to experiment to find the right restriction level," says writer Kim Komando. "Start at 1 and gradually increase the number if acceptable games or movies are blocked." Kim also tells how to set controls on the Web browsers in the PS3, PSP, and Wii consoles. Xbox has controls for its online service, Xbox Live.

Apple worms & bugs

We all (not just Mac users) keep hearing Apple computers are so much safer. So a couple of security researchers inaugurated the Apple "month of bugs" to find security flaws – one each day this month - in the Apple operating system and application software like Safari, iTunes, etc., PC World reports. The researchers say in their FAQ this is "an effort to improve Mac OS X." each day this month. The kick-off, January 1 flaw involved the QuickTime media player. Washington Post security writer Brian Krebs reports that the flaw's "potential for abuse presents a serious security threat to both Windows and Mac users." Meanwhile, a former Apple software engineer has offered to provide patch a patch a day for the "month of bugs," CNET reports . He has already provided two, CNET adds. Not that Microsoft can snicker too much over all this. Brian Krebs later reported that the Internet Explorer browser was "unsafe for 284 days in 2006."

Most teens safe in MySpace: Study

Two professors who have been focusing on cyberbullying for some time just presented a study of teenage MySpace use which found "most teens are behaving responsibly in the type of information they post about their lives," the Miami Herald reports. Prof. Sameer Hinduja, a criminology professor at Florida Atlantic University, and Justin Patchin, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, analyzed a randomly selected sample of 1,475 profiles that appeared to be teens' and found that 90% of those allowing public viewing do not include the users' full names; 40% of the full sample "were keeping their pages completely off-limits to everyone but their friends" (the default privacy setting for MySpace users who register as 14 or 15 years old); 4% listed IM contact info; 1% listed personal email addresses; and "just a handful" listed their phone numbers. On the flipside, "more than half of teenagers posted their pictures online, and an unspecified number of others provided detailed physical descriptions of themselves"; 5% had pictures of themselves in swimsuits or underwear and 15% of the profiles included suggestive pictures of their friends. The researchers did find that, though 90% didn't list full names, "they left other identifying information, including their first names (40%), hometown (81%) and high school (28%)." The researchers presented their as yet unpublished findings at an academic conference the Herald didn't name. Here's coverage from the Associated Press, which quotes Professor Patchin as saying that the benefits of social networking "far outweigh any potential risks."

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Italy's anti-child-porn law

The new law in Italy, which goes into effect almost immediately, will require Internet service providers to "block child pornography Web sites within six hours of being told to do so," Reuters reports. The wire service adds that "Italy's penal code includes severe punishment for the distribution and publication of child pornography." Maybe Italy's ISPs will use an anti-child-porn filter like the "Cleanfeed" service used by BT, the UK's largest ISP, which announced last February that it was blocking 35,000 attempts to view child-porn Web pages a day (see this item). Here's an analysis of Cleanfeed in its early days in The Register.

'Dear everybody'

The other day I was reading a family friend's holiday newsletter to my 80-something mom. The newsletter was available on the Web for all to see, and my mother was shocked that this friend would make her family's personal news so public. My surprise at Mom's reaction got me to thinking about how differently the generations view the user-driven Web. A grandmother can't imagine writing a letter for global consumption. That's no big deal to me, but as a mom I'm a little amazed at the innermost thoughts and intimate photos teens post in blogs and profiles. In "On the Web, 'Dear Diary' becomes 'Dear World'," the Washington Post takes a look at why many teenagers want to be so emotionally accessible. Two young bloggers gave the Post interesting observations: "blogs actually protect vulnerabilities by allowing for a more polished presentation of self" and "blogs let writers interact while avoiding the emotional risks of one-on-one conversation." So being very public is somehow safer. Hmm, what a comment on teen lives. Then, in an interview for our book, MySpace Unraveled, social media researcher Danah Boyd told me, "Kids are getting all these messages [like reality TV and American Idol] saying, 'Expose, expose, expose.'... We're all living in a superpublic environment getting the message that you have more power if you expose yourself than if someone else exposes you" (for further insight into teen vs. adult blogging, see a post this week in Danah's own blog). Over in England this week, The Guardian ran a collection of views from writers of all ages about "the urge that makes people keep a record of their inner thoughts and everyday impressions."

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Social networking unleashed

There's social networking, and then there's retro social networking – the kind without photo-scanning, customer-care staffs, and safety czars. Sites like, the New York Times reports, "which is building a business by going where others fear to tread: into the realm of unfiltered live broadcasts from Web cameras." Stickam hosts live video chat for users, "often from their bedrooms and all without monitoring by any of Stickam’s 35 employees." [Remember Justin Berry, who, within weeks of buying himself a Webcam at age 13, was making money exposing himself for adults online (see the New York Times a year ago).] There are also video-hosting sites without a lot of rules. Besides Paris-based DailyMotion (see "Parenting media-sharers"), the Times mentions London-based LiveLeak, which "has positioned itself as a source for reality-based fare like footage of Iraq battle scenes and grisly accidents." But the article says what worries children's advocates most is sites like Stickam that host "continuous self-produced reality TV show starring [users] themselves."

Social networking about health

I get so many press releases and Google alerts about new social networking sites that I long ago decided to pass along to you only the milestones. This one is: "The social-networking revolution is coming to health care," the Wall Street Journal reports, adding that "patients who once connected mainly through email discussion groups and chat rooms are building more sophisticated virtual communities that enable them to share information about treatment and coping and build a personal network of friends." Advocacy groups like the American Cancer Society and government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control are using social-networking and online gaming technologies to educate consumers. For example, the CDC has actually held virtual health fairs in the virtual world Second Life, the Journal reports. As for social networking, "helps teens with cancer connect in a private, safe environment," and is a social site that allows users to share info about diseases, medications, and medical procedures. "At, patients and caregivers dealing with hundreds of issues, including asthma, celiac disease and depression, can join a support community, start a wellness journal, share advice and recommend doctors, link to news stories and Web sites with disease information, and even send other members a virtual hug," according to the Journal.