It's good to be back with you! There is a lot to catch up on from our productive time at the Digital Kids conference in San Francisco to some wonderful, meaty feedback from your fellow subscribers. So here's our lineup this third week of September:
- 'Digital Kids': The big picture
- Family tech: Violence in media; Financial ed on the Web; College search; A word with MP3.com's CEO
- Subscribers write: IM, cell phones, the Olympics (in the classroom)
- Web News Briefs: Taking COPA's temperature; Laptops for NY students; Tech-ed news; Sweden's students tops; Online safety in Canada; Research downloads; Nearing 300 million….
- 3 new privacy resources for grownups & kids
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'Digital Kids': The big picture
We hope the children's Web publishing business isn't going through the kind of consolidation we all saw in kids educational software and CD-ROMs - with less variety and creativity and fewer products - but there were signs of it at Digital Kids last week.
DK is an annual conference where hundreds of people who create content for, interact with, gather data on, and market to online kids and teens every day, all day, gather each hear to get a feel for where their industry's going and what peers are thinking about young Net users. We attend not just for the kids', parents', and teachers' resources on display but for what we and our readers can learn about how online kids are perceived and how they're being marketed to.
The number of attendees seemed about the same, but there were noticeable changes from last year, signs that certainly confirmed it's a wild, woolly world out there in cyberspace! Since the April '99 tech-stocks correction, not as many new faces have appeared either on the Web or at Digital Kids as in previous years. Many familiar ones either were not nearly as visible as in the past or didn't even come - SurfMonkey.com, MaMaMedia.com, JuniorNet.com, Headbone.com. The highest profiles were those of large conventional-media companies - Disney, Mattel, Fox, Cartoon Network, and Children's Television Workshop (just renamed SesameWorkshop) - and deep-pocketed less famous companies such as Knowledge Universe (publisher of the new KidsEdge.com) and Learning Network (from Pearson Plc, an international media company that just acquired FamilyEducation.com and owner of the Financial Times and Penguin books, among others). These signs reminded us of the consolidation in educational software that led to fewer Reader Rabbits and more Hot Wheels and Barbie.
So it was great to see intrepid young Web companies exhibiting at the conference: YourOwnWorld.com, Ask Jeeves for Kids, The Children's Internet, Zeeks.com, MainXchange.com, Aprendiendo.com (from Mexico City), and KOLA.net. More on these and other new and enduring resources for kids in a couple of weeks.
What all of us got was a wide-angle snapshot of where online kids are at the moment. There will be 26.9 million 2- to 18-year-olds online in North America alone by the end of the year, according to Jupiter Communications (these are some of the less conservative numbers you'll hear). Data gatherers at Media Metrix say the number of teens online (representing about 12% of the online population) nearly doubled in the past nine months, 50-50 girls and boys. They go online once every 3 to 3.5 days on average, spending 303 minutes online a month - surprisingly far less time than adults, who are online 631 minutes a month (details in Cyberatlas). Search, email, and instant messaging/chat are the top 3 online activities for teens in general. Tops for boys is downloading free software; No. 1 for girls is e-greetings (email postcards).
Girls communicate and shop (or browse in e-tail sites) on the Web more than boys. They mostly frequent the Web versions of familiar offline "brands" (a "brand" can be anything from a camera to magazine to a musician). The sites they go to most are Seventeen.com (the magazine), Alloy.com (online community/e-tail site with a clothing catalog), dELiAs.com (ditto), Teenpeople.com (the youth spinoff of People magazine, now on AOL, relaunches on the Web in November), AE.com (American Eagle Outfitters), iTurf.com (teen portal and parent of dELiAs), Nsync.om (the boy band's site), Abercrombie.com (Abercrombie & Fitch clothing), Lyrics.com (music portal), and gURLpages.com (free home pages for girls, courtesy of gURL.com, another child of iTurf.com, which appears to have the formula down!).
Boys have specific Web destinations in mind, according to Media Metrix. They surf the Web at large more than girls do, but when they go to individual sites it's for specific information. Overwhelmingly, that information is "cheats" - tips on how to advance in or win offline games, usually Nintendo or Sony console games. Here are their Top 10 (in sheer traffic): Cheat Code Central, CMGSCCC.com, gamesages, OHHLA.com (for "Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive"), Gameshark.com (retailer of console game accessories), Gamefaqs.com (a very personal, grassroots-y game-cheats site with an "original Internet" feel to it), Nintendo.com, Gamewinners.com, Cheatplanet.com, and Game-Revolution.com. It's hard for us to believe that only one of the Top 10 is a non-game-related site! Are you surprised? Tell us!
Whether or not your household or classroom reflects these generalizations, it may be interesting to see what teens' Web-using interests say about teens' interests in general - at least those in countries with high Internet usage numbers. But tell us what your children's/students' favorite Web sites are (or ask them to tell us). It'd be fascinating to know if the interests of our subscribers' children contrast with those above.
An important session at the conference updated us all on regulation for kids' Web publishers and marketers. Besides the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) now protecting kids' privacy and safety ("Privacy and safety do come together under COPPA," said cyberlawyer and online-privacy specialist Parry Aftab), there are some new technologies Web sites are using to keep kids safe. To read more about those and see what kids' Web publishers are saying about COPPA, please visit the special page at NetFamilyNews.org that we've created for this part of our report.
That's the overview. Next week: a look at what marketers are saying about teens - insights into both worlds, advertiser and teen Web users, that we found quite fascinating. Part 3: educational resources on the Web for teachers, parents, and students (an increasingly crowded category). Part 4 will look at great Web sites for kids - new and old friends.
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- It takes a village (and the FTC)
Raising a child in the digital age is no easy task. But there's help out there, says SafeKids.com's Larry Magid in his latest Family Tech column at the San Jose Mercury News. Some of it comes from the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC's just released report, "Marketing Violent Entertainment to Children," concluded that all three industries are guilty of marketing inappropriate content to children.
"We're not talking about sleazy porn sites run by shady characters," Larry writes, "but major media companies who, in some cases, dutifully label the content of their products as inappropriate for children while at the same time promoting them in venues likely to influence children." His article summarizes the FTC's findings, e.g. the fact that electronic games with an "M" rating for "mature audiences" are "typically being marketed to teens and preteens and in some cases to children as young as 6." The FTC recommends a three-step program for marketers, and Larry provides links to sites that provide and explain the rating systems for software, movies, and music. Here's a basic ZDNet report on the FTC's findings.
- Kids' financial ed with the Web's help
In "Encouraging kids to start their own stock portfolios", Larry tells how the Web can help parents work with kids to learn why and how to invest and save. The thought of having a child start his or her own portfolio at an early age might not have crossed too many parents' minds in the past, but Larry says that's all changing: "A new breed of investment services allow you to invest any amount of money in the market, even if the price of a single share of that stock exceeds what you have to invest." Then he tells you which Web sites/services can help.
- The college search
If you have a high school junior in your house, then the search for the right college or university has probably begun in earnest. Larry Magid, whose family is experiencing this phenomenon right now, has looked into how college-search Web sites can help the process (or not). For details, check out his Los Angeles times piece, "College-Search Sites Can Be a Bit Trying".
- MP3.com's fate
For anyone following the fate of MP3.com (vs. entertainment powerhouse Universal) and Net-based music in general, Larry got MP3.com CEO Michael Robertson's side of the story. You can hear the 13-minute interview (while surfing, word-processing, or doing anything else while connected) at Redband Broadcasting.
And for background in text, as opposed to audio, format, here's some coverage of recent Net music developments (watch out, college students who like to swap music files with Napster!):
- From the "Killer Downloads" department of ZDNet, three alternatives to Napster. (But don't forget about the copyright issue! See our report.)
- And while we're on the subject of Napster alternates, see: "4,500 Web Sites Offer Illegal Music" by Reuters (via Techweb) and "Gnutella No Ideal Fix for Napster Fiends," an article in TheStandard.com about a popular alternative to Napster and its flaws.
- Then there are the implications of being a big-time Napster user at college: "RIAA assists in student probe", a Reuters piece on how "an Oklahoma State University student could face criminal charges of copyright infringement after police found as many as 1,000 Internet music files on his computer."
- GartnerGroup research indicates that Napster is now "banned in 34% of US colleges."
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Subscribers write: IM, cell phones, the Olympics
- The instant-messaging challenge
Sharon in Maryland would love to hear how other parents are dealing with the instant-messaging phenomenon. Do help her out by sending your advice and experiences - via email@example.com. Here's her email:
"We need to get rid of 'Guest'or 'Instant Messages.' I find my son addicted to this feature and have done everything to prevent him from using it. Unfortunately, our children are smarter then we think and are able to circumvent any disabling feature we use. How are other parents dealing with this issue? The 'contract' or 'honor system' is a suggestion, but I need to have more control over my son's activities.
- "Dismayed Parent"
- Family cell phone policy
In response to Larry Magid's piece on cell phones and teenagers, Becky in Utah writes:
"I thought I'd share our family plan for cell phone use. We have 2. They are for emergency use only, but emergencies include late-night pick ups. I give our 9th grader the phone if she is going with the team to an away game. She calls us as the bus is nearing school, and then we can be there ready to pick her up when she arrives. This prevents the wait when the bus is late.
"We have a cell phone plan where we only pay for the use of the phone. That is a little more expensive than some plans but we do not use the phone for any social calls, so it becomes reasonable."
- For educators: Two great Olympics resources
Subscriber and teacher Anne in California writes…
"You might inform your readers about the Britannica.com site as a robust source of Olympic information for both kids and adults. In terms of educational content, it's fabulous! It offers great historical and geography content, as well as up-to-date news. In another section, they use animations and movies to show moves from a wide variety of sports in the Olympic competitions, including gymnastics, water sports, weight lifting and team and racket sports. Britannica appears to be one of the few sites that has Olympic approval….
"Also, check out Quokka.com…. They made their name in in-depth coverage of sports such as foot races across the desert, etc. They use a lot of broadband (video, etc.) in their stories. NBC bought something like 100,000 shares in their company and they now are the only site allowed to publish info on the Olympic competitors. It was a tiny little company. They had to beef up their staff with about 200 new employees who are working around the clock to make this all happen…. Quokka had really interesting coverage of the Olympic Torch Relay and the route it covered. It came within an hour's drive of every Australian in the country, crossing the outback, going under sea, across the desert on camel, and to 12 of the little Oceania islands before it even arrived in Australia."
- Olympics for kids
Subscriber, teacher, and Webmaster/editor Carol in Massachusetts wrote to tell us of her dismay about the IOC's ruling that keeps athletes from posting their own stories on the Web. She also told us about the Olympics part of a neat site she manages for Runner's World magazine: KidsRunning.com. Teachers, you might appreciate its child-friendly presentation if you're incorporating the Olympics into your classroom work, and you'll find examples of how Carol's doing so with 1st-graders.
Online-safety alert for parents: Like any good Web site publisher of kids' content, Carol's been in touch with the FTC about the new COPPA rules concerning kids under 13. She wrote as about something she found a bit surprising:
"Here's something interesting: According to the COPPA lawyer I spoke with, it's okay to post race results on the site, including the last names of kids under 13 and towns [where they live] without any permission. Reason? Kids aren't posting these themselves - the information comes in from [race] timing companies or coaches. Interesting. I'm not sure if I will start putting results on the site [KidsRunning.com]. I discourage last names on the site even if parents want them on. I think there is only one last name of a kid under 13. The father really wanted it on, emailed me many times, etc. I had him write me a letter by snail mail and I have saved the letter."
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Web News Briefs
- Taking COPA's temperature
A hearty yawn was Wired News's somewhat sarcastic reaction to the latest meeting of the COPA Commission. Wired reports that contention was the rule as the commissioners hammered out what to recommend to the US Congress for keeping kids safe online. But, gee, they do still have a couple more meetings before their report is due to Congress on Oct. 21. The Associated Press has already stuck its neck out and said the Commission will recommend that an independent research bureau be created to review filtering software and "may also push for a special kid-friendly Internet zone." We think the former - a software-review bureau - is a great idea. It was actually "Net-mom" Jean Armour Polly's idea in her testimony before the Commission this past summer.
By "kid-friendly Internet zone" the AP is referring to the idea of creating a ".kids" top-level domain (TLD), like a ".com" for all children's Web content. The COPA Commission could certainly recommend that to Congress, but the ultimate decisionmaker is ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the also-contentious newly formed international body that controls the Internet's basic functions (see our ICANN update earlier this month). Here's CNET's rewrite of the just-mentioned AP piece.
- Thumbs up for student laptops
The New York City Board of Education is "pushing ahead" with a plan to provide laptops and Net access to nearly every student in the city, the New York Times reports. The cost, put at $900 million over the next 10 years, could represent the biggest non-construction project ever undertaken by the Board. But the good news is every penny would be recouped by advertising on two Board of Education Web sites. Sense some controversy? Tell which you think is more important - getting laptops to students or avoiding their exposure to advertising in school? Email us!
- More Net-in-education news
It's becoming a staple in US kids' schoolwork, a new IDC survey shows. The study found that "more than three-fourths of US PC households with students are accessing the Internet, and almost 70% of online households with students are using it to complete school work."
The question of how kids are learning with the Internet was worked over at a recent major educational-technology conference in the DC area. Wired News's extensive coverage of the two-day conference (hosted by US Education Secretary Richard Riley), started with a scene-setter. Then there was a little anecdotal evidence - "Kids Teaching Kids" about a nonprofit organization called Kidz Online - and a qualifier, "Ed-Tech Success Hard to Assess".
- Sweden's Web-literate students
A survey of 10,000 students aged 12-24 in 16 countries has found that those in Sweden has the highest level of Web literacy, followed closely by Canada's students. According to NewsBytes, 78% of Swedish students were able to go online at school and 80% at home. In Canada, those figures are 74% and 71%, respectively.
- Online safety for Canada's kids
The Canadian government "wants to enact tough new legislation" to protect children from sex and violence on the Net and in video games, according to Wired News. Two ideas provincial justice ministers are exploring is a national rating standard for video games and "stringent measures" to protect children from online contact from sexual predators.
- Research downloads for students
And for those surfing students (who may already know about these!), here are three great reference tools - GuruNet, WinGlobe, and WebFerret - free for the downloading from ZDnet's "Killer Downloads" department.
- Approaching 300 million
That's the latest word on the world Internet population, according to a recent Nielsen/NetRatings survey done in 20 countries. ZDNet says half population is in North America (a third in the US). Europe's closing in with 82 million, with the UK, Germany, and Italy being leading that charge. France lags far behind, but there's speculation that's because of the popularity of Minitel, an information network established in the '80s by France's largest phone company.
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Parents, teachers, kids: 3 new privacy-ed tools
They're popping up in many formats and venues - in the US Congress, in publicly minded Web sites, at teacher conferences, and in kids' e-playgrounds. We're talking about ways to help Net users protect their own privacy.
- For kids
Protecting kids' privacy online is just as confusing for parents as for kids - *if* the issue is even on their radar screens! Here are two new resources, one for parents and teachers and one for kids, that will help clear up some of the confusion.
Lycos Zone (Lycos.com's site for kids) has teamed up with the Federal Trade Commission to create a cartoon of about 90 seconds that explains privacy in a kid-friendly way. Actually, Lycos the labrador retriever does the explaining. You'll find it the "Parents Zone" area.
- For parents and teachers
Classroom Connect and TRUSTe have just released their new brochure, "Parents' and Teachers' Guide to Online Privacy", the PDF version of which can be downloaded directly from either site. Here's the location at Classroom Connect. The guide explains what Web sites' privacy statements are and what to look for; gives an overview of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA, which went into effect last April); and provides a sample contract (listing acceptable, safe Net-use practices) which parents and teachers can sign with kids, print out, and post in a prominent location.
Classroom Connect is a provider of Net-based curriculum, resources, and professional development for K-12 educators. TRUSTe is a nonprofit privacy seal and watchdog organization. Their goal in this project is to build public awareness and to educate, so grownups and kids can take charge of their privacy online.
- For all Internet users from Uncle Sam
When it comes to improving consumer privacy online, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is motivated by two things: a) he thinks educating Net users is better than policing Web sites, and b) he believes Net user concerns about violations of their privacy will slow expansion of the digital economy. So his Committee's staff has prepared a guide for users: "Know the Rules - Use the Tools." They passed the 31-page booklet out at a Privacy Technology Fair in the US Capitol, but those of who couldn't make it to the fair can download it anytime from the Judiciary Committee's Web site. It's a PDF file, readable with Acrobat Reader; if you don't have it, you can download the software for free from this page at Adobe.com.
Useful privacy media reports of the last two weeks:
- "Lawmakers call for Net privacy legislation" in USAToday
- "Private Folks Really Tell All", a Reuters report (via Wired News) about a survey showing how much Net users' behavior online conflicts with their privacy concerns
- If every week isn't "privacy week," last week was, according to TheStandard.com's "Media Grok", who follows how multiple media outlets cover various hot subjects.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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