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Friday, October 05, 2007

Social networking for avatars

If people feel like a little extra layer of anonymity in their social networking, they can always have their avatars socialize for them. " is a social-networking site akin to MySpace, but for virtual worlds such as SL, IMVU, and The Sims," reports "There are a few such sites, but most of them are devoted to a particular platform, rather than the all-inclusive Koinup." Meanwhile, CNN has the big picture on social-networking niches.

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Videogaming reduces a gender difference

University of Toronto researchers not only found that there's a "spatial attention" difference between men and women, but also that women can catch up to men in this ability rapidly to switch attention among different objects by playing videogames "for only a few hours." "One important application of this research could be in helping to attract more women to the mathematical sciences and engineering - since spatial skills play an important role in these professions," the university's news site quotes Prof. Ian Spence as saying. While we're on the subject, don't miss a thoughtful piece in the New York Times about what needs to happen before videogames are an art form on the level of film. "If games are to become more than mere entertainment, they will need to use the fundamentals of gameplay — giving players challenges to work through and choices to make — in entirely new ways…. Like cinema, games will need to embrace the dynamics of failure, tragedy, comedy and romance. They will need to stop pandering to the player’s desire for mastery in favor of enhancing the player’s emotional and intellectual life."

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Young fashionistas online

Donna Karan's DKNY line and Sephora, the cosmetics store chain, will now be featured on the digital paperdolls site "Stardoll's rapidly growing Web site has a large audience of teen girls [6 million monthly visitors] who create Internet personas of themselves and spend hours dressing them up in fantasy costumes and socializing," Reuters reports. Before this they had to put up with fictional fashion labels. Though the clothing costs less in virtual life, there is a real-life cost: "Members pay $1 in US currency for 10 'star dollars' to spend on the site, and a virtual DKNY outfit of cargo pants, sequined tank top and pair of booties would cost 31 star dollars."

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Cyberbullying ed: 'Adina's Deck'

Childnet's video is for everybody, including teens. "Adina's Deck" is for girls 9-14. It's "a 30-minute interactive 'choose your own adventure' television pilot series" starring four tech-literate girls who have either been cyberbullies or victims and who "use their experiences to help solve their peers' Internet mysteries." It's also a parent/teachers guide to educating middle-school students about cyberbullying. It was created by Stanford University graduate student Debbie Heimowitz and based on her research this year at two Bay Area middle schools. One of her key findings is that "there is a significant knowledge gap between the concepts of virtual identity and real-life consequences."


The bystander factor

When people hear about cyberbullying, they usually think of either the bully or the victim. But as we think together about how to deal with this problem (victimizing about a third of all US 12-to-17-year-old Net users and 22% of British teens*), it would be good to consider the third category of participant (yes, participant): the bystander.

On the Internet, there are a lot more "bystanders" when the bully can put mean text, photos and video in front entire peer groups or schools all at once, greatly compounding the victimization. Then there's the viral kind of bullying, when mean statements get passed along, IM'ed, cut-'n'-pasted by bystanders who suddenly become accessories to the bullying.

"Helping children to understand that they can make someone else suffer by swapping photos or commenting on video clips, and that a 'harmless bit of fun' to one person could be agonising humiliation for someone else, is really important," writes commentator Bill Thompson at the BBC, pointing to a new anti-cyberbullying program of the UK government's Department for Children, Schools and Families, written by Childnet International. Thompson writes that the program "shows how seriously the problem is being taken, and that may make it easier for children to tell someone about what is happening…. As with physical bullying, the first step to resolving the problem is to admit that it is happening and find someone who can help you take the next step."

[* The US cyberbullying numbers above were from the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the UK ones were cited by Childnet International.]


What does cyberbullying look like?

Please take a look. We hear the word, and sometimes a definition - the online version of the nasty, mostly pre-adolescent behavior that's been making kids miserable for eons. But, to many adults, cyberbullying is pretty murky. With this new video, "Let's Fight It Together," Childnet International brings the picture into sharp focus (watch Childnet CEO Stephen Carrick-Davies on video explaining why a clear picture is so important).

The video is part of the London-based nonprofit organization's project. Like and, Childnet, our sister organization, believes that "Digital citizenship isn’t just about recognising and dealing with online hazards. It’s about building safe spaces and communities, understanding how to manage personal information, and about being Internet savvy - using your online presence to grow and shape your world in a safe, creative way, and inspiring others to do the same," Childnet has on the project's About page. To do that, we all - youth, parents, educators, advocates - need to understand the problems as well as the positives of digital media and the Internet.

Though produced in the UK with British actors, "Let's Fight It Together" has universal relevance, and I hope it will fuel broad discussion in many countries.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

NJ AG's 'Report Abuse' button

New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram wants all social-networking sites to have the "Report Abuse" button at the bottom of every page, reports. Her plan, she told a Gannett New Jersey reporter, "will give users a standard form to report concerns such as suspected child predators or violent or sexually explicit material. Anyone who files a complaint will receive a confirmation number and contact information they can use to follow up on their report." New Jersey-based and six niche sites run by CommunityConnect have adopted General Milgram's program so far. At first glance, it makes a lot of sense, but there are some key drawbacks: this is the program of a single US state, and social-networking sites are highly international; a number of sites, such as MySpace, Facebook, and Hi5, already have such systems in place; and, practically speaking, it's not a hot button that makes sites responsive, it's the customer-service system behind it that does. A better idea would be industry-wide, uniform best practices for abuse reporting and response to which all such sites agree to comply. But let's hear from a social site itself about this. Gannett reported that MySpace hadn't returned its call about this, so I contacted MySpace as to whether this program would make sense for its service and social sites in general. Hemanshu Nigam, MySpace's (and Fox Interactive's) chief security officer responded that….

  • MySpace already has a report abuse button "on the bottom of every profile and in key areas of our site."
  • MySpace's system is more granular ("users can choose the type of problem they are reporting).
  • "These reports are then handled by a trained customer-care group - each company is unique with a unique user base and set of issues."
  • "We are an international site that must handle reports from citizens around the world - a New Jersey-centric button fails to recognize the reality of the Internet" (it's in more than a dozen countries; see also "MySpace international").
  • "A singular process doesn't work - guiding principles in this area would be more successful rather than prescriptive requirements."

    Mr. Nigam added that MySpace wasn't contacted by the New Jersey attorney general's office about the program - the company first heard about it in the news media. In related news, General Milgram's office this week subpoenaed Facebook, "requesting that the company turn over information as to whether registered sex offenders have profiles on the site," CNET reports. MySpace has responded to similar subpoenas in recent months (see "Social-networking dangers in perspective").

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  • Kwame's mobile social networking

    Former Yahoo engineer-designer Kwame Ferreira compares the current mobilizing of social networking to when cavepeople discovered that the fires over which they'd do their social networking could actually be taken from cave to cave with them, as described in the mobileCampLondon blog. Picture fire-enabled social networking on the fly. So these days, we have online social networking, which has gone from newsgroups and Internet Relay Chat to Web chatrooms and discussion boards to social-networking sites currently moving on to the phone (e.g., see PC World on Google's acquisition of mobile-socializing company Zingku, and T-Mobile just joined Helio and AT&T in providing MySpace Mobile, Red Herring reports). So we're seeing the move from accessing Web-based social networking with our phones to phone-based social networking (mobile phone-enabled instead of mobile fire-enabled). But that's not the ultimate to Kwame. "What’s the killer app? Well, one that marries the two: crossing Web and mobile data and allowing it to integrate with 'real life'" - the blogger describes something kind of like being able to see each other's social-networking profile (with their permission) in real life, while walking around. It sounds more akin to the current GPS-enabled mobile social networking we're seeing with, by which friends (hopefully not strangers) can pinpoint each other's physical locations with their phones for real-life socializing. This is GPS-enhanced mobile-enabled social networking more than phone-based social networking, because it gets people together in person, but not Kwame's killer app yet because it generally gets together people who already know each other. It doesn't so much introduce people to each other before they get-together in a physical location. See the difference? If not, your kids probably do - I hope they're willing to explain. [See also the Boston Globe on "social networking breaking free from the PC."]

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    Monday, October 01, 2007

    Mobile books hot in Japan

    How novel! (Sorry for the pun.) "They say kids these days don't read. In Japan, however, teens are back into reading novels big-time with one major difference: They're reading them on cell phones," reports Hey, if it keeps 'em reading…. Keitai ("kay-tie") are serial novels amazingly written by their mostly young authors on their cellphone keypads (shows how fast Asia's phone text-based communicators' thumbs are). They're "delivered in read-on-the-corner byte-sized chunks on a regular basis to hungry young subscribers, and the style is - predictably - manga (Japanese comic book) style. One 20-something author who was writing for 25,000 readers a day sold her novel to a book publisher, and the book sold 440,000, according to

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