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Friday, August 29, 2008

West slow to take on Net addiction: Psychiatrist

Nine computer games are purchased every second in the US; two-thirds of Americans, or around 200 million people, play videogames; 2% of US gamers, or about 4 million people, "are heavy users" averaging around 40 hours of play a week; and 66 million (a third) play around 20 hours/week. That's data cited by Jerald Block, an Oregon-based psychiatrist, in British cultural and political magazine The Standpoint. He's writing about Internet addiction, "or the more accurate and general term Pathological Computer Use (PCU)," which he says is "not an established diagnosis but one that might be included in the next version of the mental-health diagnostic guidebook, the DSM-V," which will be out in 2012. A doctor in the US or Europe would probably not know what to do with the information that you're spending 40+ hours a week playing videogames. "Dealing with such matters is not part of our training," Dr. Block writes. "In Asia, however, you would probably get a psychiatric diagnosis. Because doctors in Asia … recognise excessive computer use as a serious issue." Block goes on to describe what PCU patients' symptoms and behaviors are like from a physician's perspective, including a description of what virtual-reality "cybering" can now be like and addicts' unsettlingly, progressively blurry distinction between reality and virtual reality.

But all that's about diagnosis, he writes in his conclusion. Treatment is an entirely different, very difficult proposition. "The uncomfortable truth is that our treatment strategies [worldwide] for this malady are inadequate and often fail. Until we learn more or have better clinical tools, our best approach may be to work on prevention." [See also "'SIGNS' of Net addiction: Interview."]

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'Law 'n' order' in virtual worlds

It's a fledgling concept, but there are some interesting community-policing efforts afoot in virtual worlds such as Second Life, VZones, World of Warcraft, and mobile-phone-based Cellufun for mobile phone users, the Washington Post reports. For example, "in World of Warcraft, a popular online fantasy game, a character who is acting out runs the risk of being attacked by a group of self-appointed sheriffs. While the avatar doesn't face official penalties, the interference from other players can deter future crimes." In one of's worlds, users created a novel sort of virtual scarlet letter: "an animated bird that drops an unpleasant [virtual] substance on the heads of outlaws, known as 'griefers' in virtual-world lingo." There needs to be a flip side too, of course. I love the way London-based Childnet International put it recently: "Digital citizenship isn’t just about recognising and dealing with online hazards. It's about ... using your online presence to grow and shape your world in a safe, creative way, and inspiring others to do the same" (see this item) - an important focus for parenting and schooling going forward along the lines of "an ounce of prevention," "a stitch in time," etc., etc.... Speaking of which, virtual world safety expert Izzy Neis recently blogged about how a kids' world itself will be used to teach civility. She wrote that for kids 8-12 was "selected by the YMCA of San Francisco to enhance the youth program’s technology curriculum ... to reinforce its program emphasis on activities that promote values such as caring, honesty, respect and responsibility."

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Hi5 socializing for mobiles

The difference between's social-network site for the cellphone screen and those of MySpace and Facebook, CNET points out, is that Hi5's mobile edition 1) "openly targets" people around the world who primarily use mobile phones, not computers, to socialize, and 2) launched in 26 languages. CNET says Facebook and MySpace's mobile editions are designed more as supplements to their Web browser-accessed sites. Point No. 1 above makes particular sense for Hi5's Latin American market, if comScore's international social-networking data is to be believed. ComScore's recently unveiled data showed a 1,055% increase in traffic for Hi5 between June 2007 and this past June. Here's my summary of the comScore report. Here, too, is some context on the growing MoSoSo, or mobile-social-networking, phenomenon from the Christian Science Monitor.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Facebook the movie

I wonder if Facebook folk are a little nervous. TV writer Aaron Sorkin has set up his Facebook profile, introducing himself this way: “I've just agreed to write a movie for Sony and producer Scott Rudin about how Facebook was invented. I figured a good first step in my preparation would be finding out what Facebook is, so I've started this page," says writer Aaron Sorkin on his Facebook page. "(Actually it was started by my researcher, Ian Reichbach, because my grandmother has more internet savvy than I do and she's been dead for 33 years.)” But this technophobe's a quick study, right? A Facebook spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times that Facebook hadn't agreed to cooperate with any filmmaker so far, but it's flattered by the attention. Here, too, is coverage at the Times of London and Wired.

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150+ virtual worlds for youth now

If anyone had doubts about rapid growth in the virtual-worlds sector of cyberspace, this should clear them up. There are now more than 150 virtual worlds - either open now or in development - targeting people 18 and under, up from around 100 just last April, according to Virtual Worlds Management (VWM). [The full list is at that link, though the definition of "virtual world" seems to be broad - I noticed one site that's largely avatar chat, not a whole "world."] "In all there are 95 youth worlds currently live. Another 68 are in concepting, development, or testing phases. Tweens' worlds (for ages 8-12) lead at 88 of the 150+, kids' (7 and under) come in second with 72, and teens' third with 60. Disney alone has nine in development, VWM reports. The New York Post cites eMarketer research showing that estimate that "more than half" of all online youth 3-17, or about 20 million young people "will visit virtual worlds by 2011, up from 34%, or 12 million, this year." Here's some analysis about the VWM report from its authors. I noted a comment in it about virtual worlds "aging with their users" from Craig Sherman, CEO of Gaia Online, a world targeting 13-to-18-year-olds. He told VWM that 30% of Gaia users were now 18+ and the site had, "accordingly, grown a little edgier" (inevitable, undoubtedly, but something for parents to be alert to, with kids and adults sharing an online community). It's logical that people wouldn't suddenly drop away from a site targeting youth just because they turned 18.

For a whole range of man-on-the-street views of virtual worlds, see this fun video from Global Kids in New York, or read coverage of a conference in youth learning in virtual worlds last fall from CNET. See also my recent item on ways kids have found to game the system in virtual worlds, sometimes for the purposes of cyberbullying.

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ClubPenguin's newest competition

The New York Post calls it competition for Disney's kid virtual world, but it looks a whole lot more like competition for MGA Entertainment's, the online world for Bratz doll fans, and Mattel's (all three so very pink and purple - girls do like other colors!). The new kid on the block is, now in beta testing and launching in mid-September, the Post reports. Interestingly, founder Barry Diller told the Post that his company, IAC, created ZwinkyCuties after "turning away thousands of users who attempted to register for [its two-year-old teen site], but didn't meet the site's age requirement of at least 13 years old." Like ClubPenguin, ZwinkyCuties will be subscription-based, not advertising-based (unlike at, where teens users "purchase virtual currency on an a la carte basis using credit cards and PayPal accounts"). For insights into what sometimes goes on in kids' online worlds, see "Top 8 workarounds of kid virtual-world users."

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Facebook controlling 'wall spam'

Yup, yet another new term for malware on the social Web. "Wall spam" is comments on your Facebook wall purporting to be from a friend but which usually contain a link to some bad Web page that puts malicious code on your PC. The term "rose to notoriety earlier this month, when members started noticing the phenomenon, and security firms started flagging worms that were spreading via Facebook members' walls," CNET reports. Facebook appears to be on top of it (see this from the Washington Post). But tell your kids that, if they have a friend they haven't heard from in a long time and/or who just became a very bad speller, don't click! Better first to contact that friend by IM, phone, email, etc., and ask if s/he posted that comment.

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Register to vote on Xbox Live?!

Thanks to a partnership between Rock the Vote and Microsoft, registration in Xbox Live started this week, the BBC reports. Having also worked with MySpace to grow the number of youth voting, Rock the Vote aims to register 2 million voters via the Xbox gaming community by this fall. The BBC adds that Xbox Live had 12 million subscribers in 26 countries by last May (the latest figure available). Incidentally, someone in our ConnectSafely forum asked about parental controls for Xbox Live; here's the link I gave him to Microsoft's page on "Family Settings" for the gaming community.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Public humiliation or Net-safety ed?

It appears that student online-safety education took a harsher tone in Windsor, Colo., recently. The principal of Windsor High School apologized that "some of the ways" John Gay, a Cheyenne, Wyo., police officer, approached his presentation about Internet dangers "offended, embarrassed and are hurting some of our kids," Windsor Now reports. Two accounts of what happened in an all-school assembly - Officer Gay's and that of the father of one of the students present "and a lot of other people in Windsor ... don't match."

What isn't in dispute is that the officer used the social-network profiles of students at the assembly as examples of material that encourages predators, his language was sexually graphic beyond references to rape, and one of the students left in tears. She told the paper that Gay showed the 500-student audience her phone number and "read her blogs and comments out loud." Gay told the paper that he "apologized for causing [her] any grief, but he said he would never apologize for the way he presents his material because of the seriousness of the crimes." Her father's account was that, after the officer asked her to identify herself in the assembly and she raised her hand, Gay displayed her profile and told the students she could be "raped and murdered" because of how accessible her content was. The father added that "Gay gave the example of a girl in another state who had been targeted on MySpace, and the girl was taken to an empty warehouse, was raped and shot dead," according to Windsor Now. Because she'd apparently put her phone number in her profile, Gay called her cellphone from the stage to "see if she'll come back." The father told the paper he "had no problem with the topic of the assembly, and that he doesn’t want to see [the principal] lose his job over this."

The Denver Post reports that the principal "essentially backs up" Officer Gay, and teachers present at the assembly "corroborated Gay's version of events." [Here's Denver's Channel 7 News on this story.]

The officer's presentation in Windsor was not unique. Windsor Now reports that Gay "travels to schools and has talked to 4,000 to 5,000 people, mostly kids." And I remember reading of a similar singling-out-specific-students methodology used in social-networking-safety assemblies in Ireland.

The story raises plenty of questions about online-safety ed. Even if the consensus is that teens need to "wake up" to online risks, is that best done by making an example of one child among his or her own peers? And if the answer is yes, what should the tone of that exposure be? Humiliation is one of bullies' goals for their victims. An instructional tone or approach that comes anywhere close to bullying is modeling the very behavior that online-safety advocates are trying to teach youth (and adults!) to avoid. Empowering youth to think critically about what they see and post online and to be respectful of self and others - in other words, to be good citizens online as well as offline - will go much further toward keeping kids safe online than humiliating them in front of their peers.

But it'd be great to get your views - in the forum, where two police officers have already commented.

Related link

"Online safety as we know it: Becoming obsolete?"

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Monday, August 25, 2008

GPS-enabled mobile-socializing trend

Interesting to get the Australian perspective on what looks to be a worldwide trend: "Experts say the 'killer application' for mobile social networking - the ability to access social networks such as Facebook and Bebo on mobile phones - will be the ability to use the global positioning software now found in phones to help cyber-buddies meet at-real life locations," Australian IT reports. The tech news site says, though phone-based social networking is very new in Oz, it's "growing at such a rapid rate it has become a key driver of mobile Internet use in the past six months." It cites a mobile marketing executive as saying he spends more than half his cellphone time on social-networking sites, which he thinks will become commonplace for everyone within two years. MySpace says that, worldwide, it "attracts 1.9 million mobile users a day." Meanwhile, Japan is already there. In that country, "the mobile Web is [already] bigger than the PC Web," the Washington Post reports, but home-grown companies may do better in the mobile space than US-based ones, as has been the case with Japanese social networking on the Web.

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Yahoo's social-mapping service

This can be like micro-blogging without saying a thing – Yahoo's new Fire Eagle geolocation service reports your physical location via blogging or social-network sites you choose to allow access to it, CNET reports. For example, if Twitter signed on as a partner, it could announce where you are whenever you post to Twitter, and the same for MySpace or Facebook. I don't think they're partners yet, but this is where things are headed: the marriage of GPS, or location pinpointing, and socializing on the fixed and mobile Web. It has security and privacy implications for users, of course. Fortunately, Fire Eagle says you have to turn the feature on, not just at sign-up. Every month is asks if you still want to share your location via the specific sites you allowed originally. It also lets users choose how granular the info is – I'm in San Francisco, or I'm at a specific street address in San Francisco. And users can shut it down for specified periods of time. It certainly spells the need for alertness when making choices about how accessible one's location info should be!

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