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Friday, October 09, 2009

Huge growth in texting, mobile Web access

Just in the first half of this year, people sent 740 billion text messages over the US cellphone networks, according to CTIA, the wireless industry's trade association. That's 4.1 billion a day and nearly double the number (385 billion) for the first half of 2008. Photo and other media sharing has grown even more. CTIA's semi-annual survey found that "more than 10.3 billion MMS messages were reported for the first half of 2009, up from 4.7 billion in mid-year 2008." That spelled a 31% increase in revenue from data (non-voice) for the industry over the first half of 2008. In fact, there's growth every which way you look. Users: There were 276 million cellphone users this past January through June, up 14 million. Minutes: 1.1 trillion, or 6.4 billion a day. Revenues: $76 billion for the wireless industry in those six months. ["MMS" stands for "multimedia message service" and "SMS" for "short message service," now just "texting."] Here's Washington tech pundit Adam Thierer's blog post on the survey. [See also "Teen drivers: Take a 'text stop'" and "House rules for texting."]

Web access over mobile phones is showing big growth, too – in fact, the mobile Web is overtaking the fixed one, internationally. "More people are using cell phones and other portable devices for high-speed Web access than are signing up for fixed line [computer] subscriptions to the Net," according to report from the International Telecommunications Union cited in the San Jose Mercury News. It projects 600 million mobile broadband subscriptions by the end of this year, compared to 500 million "fixed line subscriptions," a 50% increase for mobile over the past year.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Posting pix: How cautious should we be?

The other day I was talking to a psychologist who described a time when he was driving into a busy 4-way intersection on a highway frontage road – one of the craziest intersections I've ever heard described. He came to a stop, he said, and suddenly found he just couldn't take his foot off the brake, paralyzed by a voice in his head saying, "Be careful. Don't move. Don't get in that driver's way. Careful!" He said it was then that he realized he'd heard those words countless times as a child, and that they'd become almost a mantra in his head, making him overly cautious as an adult. For him the solution, he realized, was simply to go forward, make that move. He has since been much more decisive, he said, and – as he related this experience – I was thinking about the similar messages kids and parents are getting from so many directions about young people's Internet use. Of course we want them to be safe, but we don't want to clip their wings altogether. This article at offers that perspective – it's one of the few I've seen in the news media questioning the message that posting pictures in parenting and family blogs is highly risky. For more on both sides of this, see "Violating our kids' privacy" and "Online privacy: Photos out of control."

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Virtual world shakeout?

That's what MediaWeek says, but it's referring to those associated with traditional media, such as MTV's virtual worlds tied to "the hit series Laguna Beach and The Hills." It adds that "the CW quietly shut down its two-year-old Gossip Girl-themed virtual world a few months ago." But Club Penguin, Stardoll, and Gaia Online seem to be unaffected. MediaWeek points to an interesting question from a media executive – "if one story [as in one TV show's storyline] is big enough" to sustain a whole (virtual) world. Maybe not. Maybe it takes a whole lot of stories: those of all its users! [For some VW population numbers, see this.]

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How to avoid being phished

You may've seen news this week about Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and Gmail users' having their email addresses and passwords compromised in a huge phishing scam. The BBC reported seeing "two lists that detail more than 30,000 names and passwords." A phishing scam usually involves an email from what looks like a legitimate business telling you that you need to do something like "click here to confirm your account info"; clicking there takes the victim to an illegitimate (or criminal) site that steals your info. "There are simple ways to avoid becoming a victim or being further victimized," writes ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid in CNET. He lists some tips that might be good to share with everyone at your house or school, looking for the "s" in "https://" that stands for "secure server," and not clicking but instead accessing your account by typing the URL of the company or bank in the email directly into your browser window, then logging in to see if there's a real update or instruction to customers. Also check out ConnectSafely's tips for creating strong passwords.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

FTC's new campaign about ads for kids

Not only is the Federal Trade Commission reviewing advertising aimed at children in the coming year, it's looking at "Internet-selling techniques" and teaching kids how to think critically about them, MediaPost reports. The full program will also include reviews of "food marketing to children and adults" and "green marketing and privacy matters and better coordination with sister agencies, especially the Food and Drug Administration." In the mix will be some media-literacy teaching tools for 8-to-12-year-olds. The campaign will include "in-school and library programs aimed at teaching kids how to recognize and analyze advertising," among them a game for Web and cellphone and curricula developed with Scholastic magazine that teach "why, where, and how commercial messages are constructed and placed."

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Social Web growth: Fresh data

The latest growth figures for social networking from comScore are neatly presented in a chart next to USATODAY's article on the subject (which I blogged about here). Though the chart doesn't say, I'm assuming these are all US numbers because they're in USATODAY. Anyway, at a glance...

  • The percentage of all Net users (all ages) using social network sites has grown from 69.6% a year ago to 77% this past August.
  • The total number of Internet users was 189.1 million in July 2008 and is 195.5 million now.
  • The total number of online social networkers in July '08 was 128.5 million, up to 147.6 million this past July.

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  • Monday, October 05, 2009

    Net safety: How social networks can be protective

    Hmm. It's arresting to think about what Stewart Wolf, M.D. – discovered and presented at medical conferences, as told by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers – in the context of social media and online safety today. Back in the 1950s, he found a community in Pennsylvania statistically very free of the No. 1 medical concern of the time, heart disease, and looked into what was going on there. When Wolf presented his research, he found that his skeptical colleagues "weren't thinking about health in terms of community [emphasis Gladwell's]." Now sub in (online) "safety" for "health": "Wolf and [his co-researcher, sociologist John] Bruhn had to convince the medical establishment to think about health and heart attacks in an entirely new way: they had to get them to realize that they wouldn't be able to understand why someone was healthy if all they did was think about an individual's personal choices or actions in isolation. They had to look beyond the individual. They had to understand the culture he or she was a part of, and who their friends and families were...."

    Now add the online piece
    A child's (anybody's) safety and wellbeing have a lot to do with his community offline and online, since the research shows that our online social networks are largely our offline ones.

    Almost echoing Dr. Wolf, USATODAY reports that, "for the most part, being part of a social network is good for you.... For example, a study in this month's Scientific American Mind finds that social support and social networking offer benefits, from additional resilience to greater life satisfaction to reducing the risk of health problems. Other studies in the past two years have found that feeling like a part of a larger group helps in stroke recovery and memory retention and boosts overall well-being." And the co-authors of a new book, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, report that so much of what we think of as individual, e.g., body shape, politics, happiness, are really "collective phenomena."

    About peer groups, not technology
    The USATODAY piece is balanced, pointing to author and Iowa State University prof. Michael Bugeja's concern that we're not looking at online social networks enough from a computer-science perspective. But what we're addressing in the field of youth online safety is much more about young people's interests, social groups, and home and school environments than about computer science – as pointed out in last year's Internet Safety Technical Task Force review of Net-safety research through last year.

    The studies in the USATODAY article that look at community are more helpful to moving the youth-risk discussion forward, suggesting that we consider three things: the impact of an individual's community (online and offline) on his or her well-being; how the individual affects the community; and how the community functions and addresses problems for its members (as a group of people, not a site or technology).

    The guild effect
    On that third item, author and USC media professor Henry Jenkins made the point at our Online Safety & Technology Task Force meeting in Washington this month that online communities themselves tend to shape members' behavior to protective effect, e.g., through social norming or influencing, behavior modeling, and peer pressure or ostracism. Educators who play World of Warcraft tell me this community self-regulation certainly happens in the "guilds" of that massively multiplayer online game.

    So when we work in the field of youth online safety, it might be helpful to think about young people, its intended beneficiaries, in context – as participants in their online/offline communities rather than potential victims, as we have so much in the past. As for those communities: there may be times when outside intervention (from, say, friends, parents, or Customer Service) is necessary but other times when a little time is needed to allow the community itself to sort out how to deal with antisocial behavior. The other piece that needs more consideration is how to encourage youth to develop a "guild effect" in their online environments, so they're invested in the wellbeing of the community and fellow members, as well as themselves.

    From interest-driven to friendship-driven
    Not that they aren't already doing this. "Kids play socially.... We're growing a bunch of people who see what they do as social and collaborative and as part of joining communities," said author and Arizona State University literacy studies professor James Paul Gee in an interview with PBS Frontline for "Digital Nation." He talks about how young people quite naturally function in "teams," where "everybody is an expert in something but they know how to integrate their expertise with everybody else's; they know how to understand the other person's expertise so they can pull off an action together in a complicated world."

    What this suggests to me is that "the guild effect" (safe, civil behavior as a social norm) kicks in quite naturally in "interest-driven" social networking, one of the two forms of social networking described in last year's study from the Digital Youth Project (see "*Serious* informal learning"). The question is, how can the guild effect be just as effective in "friendship-driven" social networking and across the entire social Web, fixed and mobile? I think this may be the central question for online safety going forward.

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