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Friday, July 24, 2009

The age of diversification

I just blogged about this briefly (in my Matthew Robson post), but the death of Walter Cronkite this week gives historical context to the diversification trend. As CBS/CNET technology analyst Larry Magid points out, it's not just teens whose tools for socializing, communicating, news-gathering, media-sharing, and entertainment are diversifying. He recalls a time when the nightly news on broadcast TV was how a huge swath of the population stayed informed and all ended up talking about the top stories the next day. Both the media and their distribution platforms and channels have multiplied so much that can't possibly all be seeing and talking about the same stories (except maybe those of celebrities?). We're inundated by information, misinformation, media, and devices, which means that new media literacy - the mental filter for what's being uploaded and produced as much as downloaded and consumed - is needed more now than ever before in history. "Kids - who may never even know who Walter Cronkite was – need to have a miniature version of him inside their head by asking questions such as 'Is this true?' and 'How do I know it's true?” writes Larry, who is also my co-director at, adding: "And when they’re about to post, they need to think carefully before they broadcast their own versions of "the way it is'."

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Mamapedia: New parenting resource

A cross between Google and Wikipedia for parents, Mamapedia just makes sense. And so did its CEO, Artie Wu, when I asked him how he came to create the two-month-old site.
"We have two kids [3 and 9], and when my wife, a doctor, and I were new parents, we were the first in our circle of friends who had kids. Like all parents, we'd struggle with the kinds of questions you aren't going to ask a pediatrician - like what kind of stroller to buy, or should we have car seats in both cars so we don't have to constantly move them back and forth?"

With questions like that, Wu said, you want to ask the experts: "other parents at exactly the same stage as you in parenting." And remembering back to when my kids were little, I heard him when he said you also want a range of views to choose from. "There are no right answers" for everybody, he said.

So it makes sense to allow users to type a question into the search box, as at Wikipedia or Google, and turn up a whole bunch of answers, with plenty of opinion but no judgment. Wu says moms "don't want to be judged," and I think he's right. Better to have opinions on what to do than on what *you* do as a parent.

I asked Wu how Mamapedia's different from other parenting sites. He said they generally "fall into two buckets: slick, professionally written sites with a lot of 'official answers' and dos and don'ts from experts and then the other end of the spectrum: social-networking-like sites for moms with chat and discussion boards. They provide a great social experience, but it's more about meeting fellow moms and bonding with them - like C-section moms, July-baby moms." He should know, since his company's other project is Mamasource, local online communities for parents in all 50 states.

"We wanted to create something in between: a Google for moms, if you will," he said - "the real scoop from real moms with real-world wisdom."

I obviously appreciate that, because it's the premise on which we built, a forum for parents to share family lessons learned on kids' use of tech and the Net.

I asked him why not a Papapedia? Are dads welcome too? "We're totally open to dads too, but there's something special about the way moms help each other and communicate with each other that's unique ... they really have a culture of sharing around these topics."

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Surfing by phone: Significant growth

Seems it's only a matter of time before Americans are accessing the Net via phones as much as on computers. And certainly, Web access is coming to the cellphone of a kid near you! A just-released survey by the Pew/Internet Project found that 56% of US adults have accessed the Internet wirelessly - via laptop, mobile device, game console, or MP3 player, and about a third (32%) have used a cellphone to access the Net "for emailing, instant-messaging, or information-seeking." That figure for phone-based access is up one-third since December 2007, "when 24% of Americans had ever used the Internet on a mobile device." On a typical day, Pew adds 19% of Americans use the Net from their phones - 73% growth over 16 months.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dave Letterman's view of Twitter

Whew, glad that's finally settled! Dave has declared Twitter "a waste of time." ;-) Had to tell you. Watch him tell Kevin Spacey in a video clip at Just plain summer fun. [For readers outside North America, Dave Letterman is a very funny late-night talk show host on CBS TV.] Spacey offers to tweet something to his 800,000 followers for Dave and pulls out his phone. Dave asks how much it costs. Spacey rolls his eyeballs. But Dave then has a hard time getting past the fact that Spacey has to "type" the tweet with his thumbs. Looks like Dave has never texted either. Glad he has an assistant or two! Seriously, I respect Dave's take on Twitter. Whether or not you use it as well as how you use it is highly individual (which is one of the things I like about it). [For a look at how some others think of Twitter, including educators, see "A (digital) return to village life?"]

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Our history of technopanics

I appreciate the historical context Adam Thierer has just given to the technopanics discussion that needs to continue gaining volume (the discussion not the panic, I mean!). "The children of the 1950s and '60s were told that Elvis’s hip shakes and the rock-and-roll revolution would make them all the tools of the devil. They grew up fine and became parents themselves, but then promptly began demonizing rap music and video games in the '80s and '90s. And now those aging Pac Man-era parents are worried sick about their kids being abducted by predators lurking on MySpace and Facebook," Thierer blogs. He adds that "these techno-panics are almost always disproportionate to the real risk posed by new media and technology, which typically do not have the corrupting influence on youth that older generations fear." His essay, which also appears in Scribd, quotes others in this school of thought, where I place myself too. But Thierer also provides a great tip for parents, who like the idea of actually talking with their kids about these technologies and media that are so compelling to them: "Ask three simple questions to get that conversation started: 'What is this new thing all about?' 'Tell me how you use it.' 'Why is it important to you?'” That gets the ball rolling - then, he suggests, "good ol'-fashioned common sense and timeless parenting principles should kick in. 'Do you understand why too much of this might be bad for you?' [i.e., moderation is always a good thing, right?] 'Will you please come talk to me if you don't understand something you’ve seen or heard?' And so on." Ah, music to my ears (and not a broken record, I hope)! [See also my post last April, "Why technopanics are bad" and "To catch a predator? The MySpace moral panic," by Alice Marwick in FirstMonday.]

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Massive ID theft & new media literacy ed

The identities of some 4 million Britons and 40 million people worldwide (mostly Americans), are up for sale on the Internet to the highest bidder, the TimesOnline reports. "Highly sensitive financial information, including credit card details, bank account numbers, telephone numbers and even PINs are available to the highest bidder. At least a quarter of a million British bank and credit card accounts have been hacked into by cybercriminals, exposing consumers to huge financial losses." All of it has been put into a single database built by a retired police officer in the UK who wants to offset his 160,000-pound ($263,000+) investment "by charging members of the public for access to his database to check whether their data security has been breached," raising consumer-privacy questions (see the Times for more on this). This is and isn't kid-tech news. It isn't only at the superficial level: it's about the privacy of Net users of all ages. It is because we need to start teaching our kids critical thinking about social and commercial influencing just about the same day they start using the Internet. Critical thinking is protective - of our psyches, identities, pocketbooks, and computers. Increasingly, phishers' and other Internet fraudsters' success is based on their social-engineering skills as much as their technical ones - creating messages that trick people into clicking to sites that download keylogger and other malicious software onto their computers or into typing passwords or account numbers into fake bank sites. Stark stories like this illustrate not only how important it is to fold computer security into new-media literacy ed but also what an opportune subject it is, for examining all forms of manipulation. See also "How social influencing works."

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Dissing Matthew Robson (or was that Morgan Stanley?)

Time blogger Dan Fletcher is so dismissive of Morgan Stanley teenage intern Matthew Robson that he sounds a little jealous. "What exactly did Robson reveal? Well, not a lot," Fletcher reports. His conclusion is that Matthew's bosses at Morgan Stanley "need to spend a bit more time with their kids. Do that, and we suspect the revelation that teenagers like cell phones and free music will seem, well, a little less revelatory." I agree that there's much more value in listening to our own children than to Morgan Stanley about how teens use tech, but that's because the way youth use tech is highly individual. Even Matthew Robson can't tell you how your child uses technology and social media, but I can see real value in his views to marketers. The one useful bit in Fletcher's post is his link to some data at social media market researchers Sysomos, who say that 31% of Twitter's users are 15-19. That contrasts with the prevailing view, based on comScore research and anecdotal evidence from young people themselves (e.g., see "Why Gen Y's not into Twitter" and the comment under this blog post of mine).

Hey, maybe Sysomos is onto something. But what is clear right now is that the assumption that teens will flock en masse to every new social technology (like Twitter) that comes along is just that: an assumption. We make too many assumptions about how youth use tech. Time's Fletcher also made light of Matthew's observation that teens were communicating more in game communities such as Xbox Live; what I drew from that, again, was not "wow, now they're all going to flock to Xbox Live" but rather that here's another little sign of teens' communication diversification. Xbox Live, too, is a "social networking" tool, as are cellphones, World of Warcraft, and virtual worlds. That diversification is the real trend, I'm thinking. [Here's my post about Matthew Robson last Monday. Thanks to my co-director Larry Magid for pointing the Time post out.]

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