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Friday, October 23, 2009

MySpace's focus on music

MySpace Music announced further expansion this week. Computerworld says the site's adding music features "in a bid to reinvent itself," but you certainly can't believe everything you read about social networking; music has been a core community for MySpace since the beginning. Its music channel's traffic has grown 1,017% since its relaunch in September 2008. But here's some of the new stuff Computerworld mentions: "a massive collection of music videos" (from MySpace's record-label partners); "a new Video Search Tab"; and an Artist Dashboard. "The dashboard is designed to give bands and singers with MySpace profile analytics on who is listening to their music and how they're interacting with it," Computerworld reports. In fact, MySpace is in an entirely different space from Facebook and other social network sites now, its CEO, Owen Van Natta, announced at a conference this week, according to a great post at the ReadWriteWeb blog. MySpace always was as much a self-expression tool as a social one, while Facebook has always been a social utility (now with plenty of extras). See also "MySpace: Entertainment hub that tweets," "MySpace's metamorphosis," and "MySpace's PR problem."

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tools & sites aimed at better kid time online

There seems to be this firewall between kids' products that kids like and kids' products that parents like. It's rare and amazing when that wall collapses, but I think what helps is when the product, while passing parental muster, is just plain useful to kids.

Kid-friendly online utilities

Children's Web browser Kidzui meets those criteria – after all, kids need to browse the Web, and a lot of parents want them to do so in a kid-friendly environment. Kidzui is a very large "online playground," with more than 2 million kid-appropriate sites to browse. I wrote about this and some other great parent-approved services last fall, but now Kidzui has added another kid-friendly utility – one of those social-media tools like Twitter, Facebook, or good o' email that users of all ages didn't know they needed till they tried it or till all the VIPs in their lives used it. For kids, the utility is a site for viewing and sharing videos, a very social experience. Kidzui's is called ZuiTube. ZuiTube claims to have the biggest collection of child-appropriate videos in existence; it doesn't say how many but that those videos are found in "6,000 channels," which should keep kids safely entertained for a while. ZuiTube and Kidzui were *very* briefly reviewed at CNET recently.

2 brand-new 'products': FaceChipz,

One is social, the other educational. FaceChipz may get the nod from tweens partly because it's very attractively packaged and partly because it's a rarity: a social site (not a virtual world, which is more common) for people under 13. [If you're under Facebook or MySpace's minimum age (13), and your parents aren't, like many parents, looking the other way where your online social networking's concerned, you have few options; two somewhat similar options are, which checks parents registering their kids against a sex-offender database, and, which sells accompanying security hardware for $24.99.] For kids, the trick with these products is going to be luring their friends who are, right or wrong, already in Facebook or MySpace into this very closed, safe (in terms of adults gaining access, not necessarily peer harassment) social options with them.

FaceChipz, just launched in beta, describes itself as "Facebook with training wheels." As its president, George Zaloom, put it in an email, "For the kids, we tried to make the site fun and the chips collectable. For the parents we tried to make the site SAFE and the chips affordable." The chips themselves come in $4.99 packs of 5 sold at ToysRUs and in the FaceChipz site. Users register the chips online with the code on the back of the chip, then give them to their friends. Once the chip recipient registers its code, giver and receiver are linked and the code becomes invalid for anyone else (so it can't be used again by anyone creepy). The more chips kids buy, the more friends they can add or points they earn toward virtual goods in the site. After they register, their parents have to verify them so the site complies with the US's Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. To verify, all that's required is a $1 fee paid once by credit card (no proof of guardianship is required).

There's a brand-new educational virtual world out there,, that may turn out to please both parent and child. It's a good sign that Washington Post tech writer Mike Musgrove tested it on his eight-year-old, who told his dad, "I think this is educational" but then actually stuck around "to explore the virtual theme park, intrigued by the prospect of winning and spending the game's 'wonder dollars' to buy virtual food and loot with which to decorate his virtual treehouse," Musgrove writes. He, the 8-year-old, doesn’t care that gave the site 5 stars, but another good sign was that eMarketer senior analyst and parent of a 6- and 8-year-old really liked it too. Maybe her kids did as well? Musgrove doesn't say.

The Post reporter does say that WonderRotunda was created by a concerned dad who wanted to create an alternative to Club Penguin and Webkinz for his daughter and her peers ( is more social, and so is, with the added element of trading in "real world" stuffed animals).

It seems that's the other divide at the pre-tween level (around ages 5-9): Either they're interacting with the site (as in and WonderRotunda in ways designed to enrich or educate) or they're interacting with peers (socializing and playing games) in an environment run by companies that usually moderate and/or restrict communication for users' protection. The very popular, by Pearson Education's Family Education Network, tries to straddle that divide by being both fun and educational (check out what Undercover Mom says about it: Part 1 and Part 2).
I'm rooting for these companies that work hard to meet the exacting standards of kids as well as parents! Let me know if your kids like them - and about other virtual worlds, videogames, and blogging services that work for under-13s at your house (via anne[at]

Related links

  • Help with YouTube safety: As the world's 4th-most-visited site on the Web, YouTube is a fact of life in most households. Marian Merritt, parent and Symantec's Net-safety advocate, recently wrote up some meaty advice for families that also, importantly, raises some parental awareness.
  • Google is YouTube's parent, and here's is Google's own advice for "Making YouTube a safer place"
  • Recommended sites for tween girls from Connect with Your Teens blogger and parent Jennifer Wagner.

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  • Wednesday, October 21, 2009

    'Social Media in Plain English'

    Maybe if for a moment people thought about social media as *social ice cream,* the whole concept would seem a little less daunting. To see what on earth I mean, watch a little 3:44 minute video explanation of what social media are all about by the professional explainers at And while we're on the subject of plain English, also check out a clear, comprehensive resource from the UK that was put together with a lot of input from parents themselves: Vodafone's Parents' Guide. It runs the gamut, explaining everything from blogs, Twitter, and social networking to Net-based telephony and Bluetooth – primer-style. Then it runs through the risks in a levelheaded way, explaining what's involved and where to get help. Some of the resources even come from the US, so it's not like this "plain English" from the UK doesn't translate! Parents, you may also want to tell your child's teacher about another UK-based resource with partners from all over the Western world:

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    Homework day at Wolfram Alpha: Today!

    Does Wolfram Alpha sound a little cerebral to you? It does to me, but, well, it is! But it also can act as a plain-old search engine that's especially useful for K-12 (and beyond) homework help. Homework help on steroids, you might say. It's also a "computational knowledge engine," Today, October 21, is Wolfram Alpha Homework Day, a "live interactive Web event [that's bringing] together students and educators from across the [US] to solve your toughest assignments," the site says. I watched the 12-min. explanation of how it works (here) and was pretty amazed. In addition to serious help with math, physics, chemistry, etc. calculations, it also helps with questions around biology, geology, geography, astronomy, and history. A couple of examples in the latter group: the gray wolf's kingdom, phylum, class, order, genus, and species and the nutritional value of a mocha latte (lots more examples here ). Nothing ambitious about all this: The knowledge engine "aims to make the world's collective knowledge more accessible and useable." Check it out.

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    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    Felony online harassment: TX teen charged

    A 16-year-old girl has been charged under a new Texas law that criminalizes online harassment. The law, H.B. 2003, states that "a person commits a third-degree felony if the person posts one or more messages on a social networking site [or via instant messaging or text-messaging by phone] with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten another person," KHOU-TV in Houston reports. Not much detail was available on the case KHOU added, but police said that "the harassment went on for a few months and involved a dispute over a boy."

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    Sweeping parental-control product for phones

    Tell me if you can possibly think of a feature not covered in this new parental-control app for Windows, Symbian, and BlackBerry phones (but especially Windows ones, its creators say). It's actually a little chilling, if a parent were to try to use MyKidIsSafe surreptitiously (though kids would probably figure it out). Features include Text Message Monitoring (scans for approximately 1,500 "words," "slang," and "lingo" and copies parent); Safe List (people ok to call child); GPS Tracking for child's physical location; Geo-Fencing (monitors to see if child leaves set physical boundaries and sends alert – maybe he'd "forget" to take their phone with them?); Kid Arrival (parent notified via email or text when child comes within 500 feet of her destination); Speeding Notification (alerts parent when child is driving fast); Cyberbullying & Predator Monitor (notes an excessive umber of calls/texts from a single person, whom parents can add to block list, but I'm not sure how it distinguishes between gabby friend and strange adult); Time Restrictions for phone use; Restrict Calls and Texting While Driving (now, this is cool); and Sexting Alert (claims to scan images on Windows and Symbian phones for nudity). There's not much more detail on these and other features in the 5+ minute infomercial at YouTube.

    In an email, I asked the company's CEO, Jay Lacny, if they include in their marketing the importance of talking with one's kids about all these features if used. He responded, "Yes, that is the most important thing. We really don’t like the term 'Parental Controls' but have yet to come up with a fresher word. This is engaging your kids and the need to know to be a caring parent. Kids will be exposed to alcohol, drugs, sex unless you live by yourself in the wilderness. We don't want to tell parents how to parent but need to give them the “data.... Parents can spend years instilling their belief systems into a child and have them broken by peer pressure. It’s difficult to have parents wake up to this." Do you agree? How many of this tool's features would you use, and which would you find most useful (or not)? Pls post a comment here or email me via anne[at]

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    Monday, October 19, 2009

    How MIT gets blogs, marketing & students

    Maybe it's that reality is more interesting than fiction? At least reality seems to be a lot more interesting to high school students shopping for colleges and universities. MIT figured that out five years ago. The New York Times reports that MIT hires some of its upperclassman students to blog about life at the Institute for marketing purposes. One such blogger, senior Cristen Chinea has her days when she feels out of place at MIT (e.g., after sleeping through part of a Star Wars marathon, the Times says), but she basically just loves the place. Dozens of other schools, too – including Amherst, Bates, Carleton, Colby, Vassar, Wellesley, and Yale – are similarly linking to highlighted student blogs from their home pages, the Times adds, but none "match the first-hand narratives and direct interaction with current students" that MIT's bloggers have achieved (they get "$10 an hour for up to four hours a week" for their efforts). The bloggers "have different majors, ethnicities, residence halls and, particularly, writing styles. Some post weekly or more; others disappear for months. " But they're celebrities to their high-schooler readers, much sought-out during Campus Preview Weekend. Maybe another trend?: celebrity, as well as marketing, that's real.

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