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Friday, September 28, 2007

Zooming in on ClubPenguin

Grownup Michael Agger's experience as a penguin was quite different from the impressions left by Emily's "focus group" of 11-year-olds (he might've been a little more ingenuous than they - see previous post). Michael, an associate editor at, spent enough time in ClubPenguin to observe various behavioral patterns, to understand how the safety features work, and to go a little flippy on the iceberg that penguin urban legend says might tip if enough penguins stand on one side of it.

As for behaviors, he notes: "Club Penguin may be heavily monitored, but, similar to school, messing with the authority figures is part of the fun…. Club Penguin regulars seem to enjoy their outlaw status, posting videos on YouTube of how they got the boot. Better yet are the tribute videos to banned penguins. This one uses the Puffy Combs ode to Biggie Smalls, 'I'll Be Missing You,' as a soundtrack."

Counter to Emily's observation, he suggests "it's slightly hypocritical to tell them to turn off the computer and go play kick the can. Looking around my workplace, I see a lot of adults spending their entire day flirting/working/planning on instant messaging. Welcome to the club, kids."

Here, too, is the Washington Post on Disney's acquisition of ClubPenguin.

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'What kids like to do online'

Fun article at by mom and author Emily Yoffe, who polled her 11-year-old's peer group about the question implied in the headline. Among other things, the "focus group" confirmed (qualitatively, anyway) my suspicion that one of the appeals (for the kids) of online play is that it's just kid stuff right now - Mom or Dad can't possibly know about all the sites they use and if s/he does, s/he doesn't have time to keep up with all their ins and outs. It'll be a while before we catch up with our digerati, kids know very well.

Anyway, with the group, Emily visits several tween-targeting virtual-world sites that have some things in common, including buying stuff for your avatar with virtual money. "To purchase this fake clothing and furniture [in virtual world sites] requires fake money, and to earn it, players are required to play a series of arcade-style games. What better lesson can we teach our kids: If you've just blown through your home-equity loan, you can always avoid bankruptcy by spending a couple of days in Vegas." The kids, she found, don't ask Mom or Dad to pay for the paid version of these sites because that would only "draw undue attention to [the kids' online] leisure activities." So her daughter and friends currently prefer a site by General Mills called

As for avatar friends in these virtual worlds (e.g., ClubPenguin), one child "thought the befriending feature was something of a sham. First of all, these penguin friendships were too meaningless even for kids who do much of their real-life socializing online. Second of all, because she wasn't a [paying] member, Ellie was embarrassed to invite people to her barren igloo because it looked 'pathetic'." Many parents will sympathize with Emily's conclusion about the sadness of on-screen play replacing the old hands-on kind we pre-Digital Age types engaged in. But the nostalgia in this response, plus too much exposure to very negative media and political hype about online risks, may keep us from helping our kids take advantage of the benefits of the social Web for youth.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Social networkers' virtual dossiers

Bet you didn't know that there's probably a "dossier" on any social networkers you know out there on the Web. The Detroit Free Press talked to the CEO of a new service called PeekYou, which is basically "a people search engine. And if you have a profile on one of the many social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook, it's being tracked and aggregated and used to compile a virtual dossier on you." The company, which aims to be the Web version of the phone white pages, already has about 50 million profiles in its database. "What does that mean? If you are in one of the social networking sites, running your name through PeekYou aggregates all the info into a profile that can be ... well, pretty revealing." PeekYou will remove a person's profile, but only if they ask to be removed, so to protect their privacy they have to know about PeekYou. CEO Michael Hussey told the Free Press that social networkers need to post in their profile only what they're comfortable having people read (or turn on privacy features - I'm assuming that if profiles are private, PeekYou can't crawl them). For a different kind of exposure online, see also "Google Spy" at

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Online socializing in Lithuania & Russia

This isn't just another business story. Since I'm writing this in St. Petersburg, it's fun to see a news story about social networking in both Lithuania and Russia. Russian tech-news site CNews reports that Forticom, which operates Lithuanian social site, has acquired a 25% stake in Russian social-networking site CNews says that the Russian site's 4 million registered users generally skew older than's, but Forticom's just glad to break into the Russian market, which it has been trying to do for some time.


'The Naked Generation'?

"We are the Naked Generation," writes Caroline McCarthy of herself and her peers born in "1980-something." She blogs at CNET that - unlike Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie - "we didn't have 'socialite' already on our resumes, so we turned to the Web." It is "more than just our stage; it's our dressing room, our cocktail lounge and, most notably, our PR department." The Naked Generation, she adds, is smart and knows it, "so they think they can use online exhibition as an advantage rather than an embarrassment. The word to highlight there is 'think'." A lot of adults reflexively believe her - adults who don't understand the full scope of what's going on in MySpace, Facebook, Xanga, Bebo, and so many other blogging and social-networking sites. The problem with McCarthy's view and that expressed in a more academic article on online self-exposure - "Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism" - is that they generalize way too much, and they fuel parents' fears because they continue to fix our attention on only one aspect of the social Web. Despite her eye-catching phrase, McCarthy's not actually talking about a whole generation. She's talking about one group of social networkers and bloggers - those who, for whatever reason, are into self-exposure - and one aspect of Web 2.0. So is researcher Christine Rosen, when she asserts that "the creation and conspicuous consumption of intimate details and images of one’s own and others’ lives is the main activity in the online social networking world." Certainly there is over-self-exposure in social sites. Some users do use them as popularity contests, for self-marketing, and toying with lightweight "relationships." But to say those are basically what social networking's all about is a massive generalization. Social networking is whatever any user wants it to be. A profile or blog is a reflection of oneself, or whatever persona a user is projecting in a given moment. That can be good, bad, or anything in between, but it's very individual. For the bigger picture, see "25 perspectives on social networking," by Malene Charlotte Larsen, a PhD student in psychology and communications at Aalborg University in Denmark. [Readers, unlike most bloggers, I usually post stories as I find them without editorializing - I hope you don't mind that I was really being a blogger with this post - Anne.]

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Hate on the social Web

It's just another example of how the social Web mirrors the "real world," with all that's good and bad in it - not that hate sites weren't a presence on Web 1.0, nearly from the beginning. "The Internet has become both a social gathering place and a pulpit for the current generation of neo-Nazis," the Edmonton Sun reports. It cites experts saying that people have become inured to hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan because of its "more sedate but just as powerful presence on the Web." It takes the forms of white-supremacy forums, blogs, and social sites, such as "a European-American online community for whites that bears an uncanny resemblance to the popular networking site Facebook."

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Facebook courted, criticized

It was a big news week for Facebook this week. First, the Wall Street Journal broke the story that Microsoft was discussing buying a small chunk of Facebook. It would be a minority stake of about 5%, valued at $300 million to $500 million. "But Microsoft must first outgun Google, which has also expressed strong interest in a Facebook stake," the Journal adds. On the downside for Facebook, New York Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo said his office "issued subpoenas to gather more information about the Palo Alto company's policies and procedures after an undercover investigation found that Facebook was slow to respond to complaints about sexual solicitations of underage users," the Los Angeles Times reports. Facebook said in a statement that Facebook took the attorney general's concerns "very seriously" and would work with him and other attorneys general, the Times added.

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The 'Halo [3] effect'

Get ready, parents of gamers. You may've already heard from a real authority at your house that today's the day for Halo fans - Tuesday is release day for Halo 3, and it's " almost guaranteed to be a blockbuster hit," the San Jose Mercury News reports, citing the view of many analysts that it's likely to be the top-selling videogame of 2007 and likely to "boost flagging sales" of the Xbox 360. After all, "the evil aliens of the Covenant and the Flood" have taken control of Earth, and it's up to Master Chief, "humanity's last defender" to take control back. Halo 3 is rated M (for "Blood and Gore, Mild Language, Violence") by the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

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Social networking in the workplace?!

Yes. By default*, for starters. But for some corporations (future employers of our kids, parents), social networking's already in the workplace, at the boss's behest or otherwise, and for some it's only a matter of time. "Thousands of employees of Shell Oil, Procter & Gamble, and General Electric have Facebook accounts. A Facebook network of Citigroup employees - only those with Citigroup e-mail accounts can join - has 1,870 users. Procter & Gamble employees use Facebook to keep interns in touch and share information with co-workers attending company events," InformationWeek reports in a long look at the subject. But of course "how the social networking model is applied to business will determine whether it becomes the next office collaboration tool or the latest Web app to get blocked at the firewall." Half of companies restrict social networking on their networks right now. For those who use it, InformationWeek says, uses "include viral marketing, recruiting, peer networking, and even emergency coordination and communications." A couple of specific examples: Some companies sell products that enable businesses to create their own social networks, some of which "can be used to create communities where customers can interact, like Nike's, a soccer-oriented social network…. McDonald's employees and some partners will soon be able to create their own profiles on the company's Awareness (formerly iUpload) social media platform, from which they can blog and participate in communities." Motorola "already supports thousands of internal wikis and blogs, and a social bookmarking initiative is under way, too." It will add a "social networking layer" that will "let employees create profiles and let people see what information fellow employees have authored and tagged." Microsoft is definitely in Web 2.0 mode, with 300,000 internal blogs and wikis. [* By "by default," I mean social networkers simply work there and their corporate firewall doesn't block social sites.]

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Monday, September 24, 2007

German social networking

Social networking is happening pretty much wherever there's a Web, but the picture looks a little different in each country. Fresh comScore research found that 45% of Germany's 32.9 online people (14.8m) visited social-networking sites in July, the latest figure available. As for the where they socialize, the Top 10 sites were: MySpace (3.6 million), studiVZ (3.1m), jux (2.6m), Piczo (2m), StayFriends (1.3m), Netlog (1.2m), Sevenload (1.1m), Xing (685,000), Skyrock Network (507,000), and MSN (440,000), as listed on BlogNation. Facebook, in at least the Top 3 in the US and UK, came in 11th in Germany last summer (177,000 visitors).

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Very connected Oz

A just-released study in Australia found that 90% of Australians have both cellphones and landline phones and 80% have Internet access, mostly broadband, Australian IT reports. According to the study, by Australian Communications and Media Authority, "parents believe broadband is important to aid their children's schooling, and mobile phones were a useful safety aid."

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