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Friday, November 02, 2007

Social Web: Positive side effect

What Sean Blagsvedt found after he was sent back to India by Microsoft to establish its research office there, was that poverty-level Indians needed a, he told the New York Times reports. He research found that "many poor Indians in dead-end jobs remain in poverty not because there are no better jobs, but because they lack the connections to find them." So he left Microsoft to found, which "seeks to bring the social-networking revolution popularized by Facebook and MySpace to people who do not even have computers - the world’s poor." This inspiring piece leads with the story of house painter Manohar Lakshmipathi, who doesn't own a computer and is of course not allowed to touch his clients' computers. So Babajob sat him down at a desk and had him dictate his date of birth, phone number and work history to a secretary, took a picture of him, and uploaded it all to his profile on Babajob - "just one example of an unanticipated byproduct of the outsourcing boom: many of the hundreds of multinationals and hundreds of thousands of technology workers who are working here are turning their talents to fighting the grinding poverty that surrounds them."


MySpace joins Google group too

One day after the big OpenSocial announcement, Google added a little afterthought: MySpace the 640-pound social-networking gorilla, Bebo another huge social-Web player, and the very longstanding SixApart were joining too. As a PCWorld blog put it, "now that changes everything." This isn't so much about Facebook users at your house - users won't be going anywhere because of this news. What it's about is those popular little add-on software programs called widgets that users love to use (for stuff like sharing tunes, putting a "bookshelf" of favorite books in your profile, or throwing virtual sheep at your friends). All those widget makers were making apps for Facebook, and now Google, MySpace and friends have serious numbers of users (aka a huge alternative market) for widgetmakers to offer their wares to. I wonder if Facebook will eventually (emphasize "eventually") have to join OpenSocial. This was a huge business story, as it has a lot to do with how sites on the social Web (as well as widget makers) will actually make money (through advertising) going forward. Here's the view from the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times in the UK, and Welt Online in Germany.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Manhunt 2: Heads up, parents

Manhunt 2 was released on Halloween to reports that it's taking videogame violence to a new level (e.g, see these from the Associated Press and a CBS News station). It's now rated "M" for "Mature" for 17+, since its maker, Rockstar Games, modified it a bit last summer. "Made for the Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 2," the AP reports, the blood-drenched game has been sparking controversy since June, when the Entertainment Software Rating Board gave it a rating of "adult only" that would have excluded it from some big-box retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc." In it, reports CBS in Springfield, Mass., "players act out killing and torturing someone with tools like a sledgehammer or shovel. And this is a toned down version." CBS Evening News in New York reported that Manhunt 2 is "even more intense when it's played on Nintendo’s Wii, which gets players to act out the violence." Here's ABC News's "Ultimate Parents' Guide to Video Games", complete with an explanation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board's ratings and descriptors, as well as a glossary of video and online game terms.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ultimate photo-sharing on phones

Young digital socializers will love this: sending social-network-based photos to friends' phones. CNET's CTIA (mobile phone industry trade show) blog reviews MySpace and Facebook versions. It really sounds like a 2-platform utility that gets one's media moving from phone to Web and vice versa. In this and its WebWare blog, CNET looks at this - the 3Guppies widget - which, if installed on your Facebook or MySpace profile, will allow visitors to "grab all the pictures and videos on it and send them to their own phones." It also sends music from your profile to your phone (and on to your friends), and WebAware says a user doesn't have to know much about his/her phone to use the phone version. The MySpace version, once associated with the profile owner's phone number, can automatically upload photo, video, and text from phone to profile. Photos and - to a degree - music can be edited with this little software app, CNET says, so ringtones can be created from MP3 files. Lots of convenience and potential for self-expression, here, but also a tool to be wary of for teens into online self-exposure. [Virgin Mobile has quite the ringtone-producing tool, too, CNET says in a separate review, and here's a bunch of other widget and micro-app reviews from the CTIA show at CNET.

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Google & friends' face-off with Facebook

Remember when Facebook announced last spring that it plans to be the social-networking "platform" (see this )? Well, Google has created a social-networking alliance designed to give Facebook's plan a little competition. Google's Orkut plus LinkedIn, Hi5, Friendster, Plaxo, and Ning the host to individuals' own social-networking sites are "introducing a common set of standards to allow software developers to write programs" for them, the New York Times reports. According to the Associated Press, the Google platform is called "OpenSocial." Since Facebook's announcement in May, the Times says, "more than 5,000 small programs have been built to run on the Facebook site, and some have been adopted by millions of the site’s users. Most of those programs tap into connections among Facebook friends and spread themselves through those connections, as well as through a 'news feed' that alerts Facebook users about what their friends are doing." Those social-networking features enable "viral marketing," seen by marketers as a much more powerful because much more targeted means of getting an advertising message across. The TechCrunch blog discuss how Facebook's version, SocialAds, works is doing it: The site is "experimenting with targeting ads on its own site (through its Facebook Flyers program) based on demographic and psychographic data that it culls from members’ profiles. With SocialAds, it will be able to extend that targeting across the Web." [Here's this story from the UK-based Financial Times, as well as the FT's big-picture piece on how the social Web has really taken off.]

Meanwhile, as viral, psychographic-based marketing takes off too, it'll be interesting to see how Facebook and the Google alliance explain to members and parents what privacy-protection options come with this next phase of social-Web advertising. The Financial Times later added a bit on MySpace's plans for "hyper-targeted, behavioral advertising." [Speaking of which, nine consumer organizations have banded together to ask the Federal Trade Commission "to provide needed consumer protections in the behavioral advertising sector" by, among other things, creating a "Do Not Track" list like the "Do Not Call" list already in place, the Center for Democracy & Technology announced today, Oct. 31.]

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

New mobile 'social networks'

This is "the year of social networks" for cellphones, CNET reported in its coverage of last week's mobile-phone-industry trade show. So it reviews five "shiny, new" examples: Bluepulse, a social service really just for phones (looks bad on a desktop); UK-based Trutap, which is "more a mobile facilitator than pure mobile social network"; Utterz, which is more about "pushing mobile-generated content to the Web" (photos, video, audio comments you make, and of course text); and Whrrl and Rummble, facilitators of socializing in person (using GPS or geo-location tech. These, however, are merely five drops in an ocean of socially oriented services targeting the cellphone platform. To get a feel for sheer numbers, see a librarian's list of dozens last March (some of these startups may've folded by now). I separately just heard about another one: SpinVox. With "voice-to-screen" as its tagline, it says it "seamlessly marries the mobile and online realms" by converting a voice message to a text one, then sends it to one friend, many friends, a blog, or a profile (see


How YouTube stardom works

Of course "stardom" on the social Web is different from mass-media stardom. Take bands in MySpace, for example - fame is more dispersed but intimate. Artists are closer to their fans, who do the real marketing (in a "viral," word-of-mouth way that has a lot more influence than the polished but less personal marketing of a record label). Income is different too - coming in more in piecemeal fashion over time - but a living can be made, sometimes after big media companies or agents notice an artist's amazing fan base. So, it appears, will it go for two funny guys in Madison, Wisc. Their eight-part series "Chad Vader: Day-Shift Manager" is one of YouTube's "biggest hits, having been viewed more than 19 million times since its debut in July 2006" and this year they, Matt Sloan and Aaron Yonda, were "among the first performers recruited by YouTube’s new professional partnership program, paying content providers a portion of the site’s ad revenue," the New York Times reports. But a key takeaway - if your child has aspirations of YouTube stardom - is "don't try it for the money," which seems to describe Matt and Aaron, according to Times writer David Callender. Check out the article to see why.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Parents on kids' Net use: Study

We're a little more ambivalent about our children's Net use than we used to be - but that doesn't mean more of us think the Internet is bad for them, according to a just-released study on this by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

"While a majority of [US] parents with online teens [12-17] still believe the Internet is a beneficial factor in their children's lives, there has been a decrease since 2004" in the number of parents who believe so (67% then vs. 59% now), study author Alexandra Rankin Macgill reports. She adds, though, that there has not been a "corresponding increase" during the same period in the percentage of parents who see online activity as a bad thing (7% now vs. 5% then). "Instead, more parents are neutral about whether their children have been positively affected by the Internet, saying the Internet has not had an effect on their child one way or another [30% now vs. 25% then]." ["Now" should be qualified a bit, because the survey was conducted about a year ago.]

As for how we regulate our kids' Internet use, interestingly, as with videogames and TV, we tend to do so in terms of the content of the medium more than time spent on it - 68% have rules about what sites their kids can use, compared to 77% concerning TV shows they can watch and 67% concerning videogames they can play. So we're pretty engaged in their Net use - "despite the stereotype of the clueless parent," Pew/Internet found. Some 65% of parents say they've checked where their kids have been after they've been online, and "74% can correctly identify" whether their children have created a social-networking profile others can see.

There's a fairly predictable difference between teens' favorable view of technology and that of parents, though the percentage of parents with a positive view is high: 71% of parents say the Internet and cellphones, iPods and digital cameras make their lives easier, compared to 89% of teens. I noted with interest that 63% of US 12-to-17-year-olds now have cellphones, compared to 89% of parents. For iPods and other music players, it's the inverse: 51% of teens have them, compared to 29% of parents.

Related links

  • A pdf version of the full 6-page report is linked to here.
  • The headlines on this report from Pew/Internet ranged from "The Net is a bad influence" from a Fox TV news station in Indiana to the Associated Press's "Parents more ambivalent about Net."
  • In a closer, more local look at attitudes about the Net, the Orlando Sentinel found them "more nuanced" on the part of both teens and parents.

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  • Parental concerns key

    eMarketer points out how important parents' views of social networking are to this social-Web business. It cites the research of Parks Associates as showing that "virtual world advertising in the United States will increase tenfold to $150 million by 2012 from the 2006 level. That spending could be cut, however, if parents deny permission for teens to visit virtual worlds. And parental approval is not a given, since some aspects of virtual worlds are still discomfiting for parents." What Mattel's does is require girls to pick a username, password, and age range ("the choices are 5 or under, 6-7, 8-9, 10-12, 13-15 and 16+"). The also have to provide a parent's email address, "which is used to send an automated permission request. Once the parent approves, a child can access the site." Of course kids can find workarounds: It's impossible to verify that the email address really is the child's parent's, and the message "simply asks the recipient to affirm 'that you are the parent of the child')." And proof of the child's age can't be required because children don't have ID cards or personal information in any national database against which sites could check (a scary thought - see this on child age verification). [eMarketer this fall issued a very expensive lengthy report on kids' virtual worlds.]

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