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Here's our lineup this first week of October:

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Family Tech

  1. Interview with a teen site's CEO

    It's a bit of a scary thought: "Bolt in a lot of ways is similar to hanging out in a high school and what's going on there," said Dan Pelson, CEO of, a (mostly chat and discussion) Web site for teens. He was talking to's Larry Magid in an audio interview for Redband. But we appreciate his candor; it alerts parents to yet another thing they need to check out - especially if their child is frequenting teen sites like Bolt and Alloy (see a parent's comment on Alloy in last week' issue.

    There's a lot of what Pelson calls "explicit language" on Bolt, language that some parents find inappropriate for a public forum. Pelson told Larry, "It's the way teens talk. Explicit language does exist on the site because it's a communications medium, and this is how teens talk - it's how a lot of parents talk, too." But no matter who uses it in what medium (school hallways, phone, Web site), Pelson's right in another point he makes: It's tough to monitor, much less control - if you're running a Web site whose content is nearly 100% teenager-created.

    Do listen to the interview, then email us what you think. We'd love to get your perspective on questions like…. Have you checked out Bolt? Would you let your kids chat there? Is the Internet by definition a virtual high school hallway, coffee klatch, or whatever its users want to make it - inevitable evolution we'd might as well get used to? The address is

  2. 'Fool's Gold': On balance

    "My first reaction was to dismiss the report as yet another Luddite condemnation of technology," writes's Larry Magid in his column for the San Jose Mercury News this week. Larry's referring to the controversial study "Fool's Gold" we reported on last week. But then he read it, thought about his own family's experience, and came to a different conclusion. "I was one of those parents who took great pride in his children's mastery of computers at a young age…. I have no regrets about that … but I'm very grateful that my wife, Patti, had the sense to insist on limiting the amount of time our kids could spend at the PC."

    Whether one agrees with "Fool's Gold" or not, it's always good to be reminded that controversy often leads to more research and better understanding. (Please see item No. 2 in "Subscribers write" below for another view on "Fool's Gold.")

  3. The computer for you

    Help for confused computer shoppers is on the way! In his column for the Los Angeles Times, Larry handily de-mystifies the buying of a computer for your family. Is the array of terms like RAM, VRAM, megahertz, gigahertz putting you in a fog? Larry tells you what's really useful about each of these, and many features and add-ons that the computer stores are hyping.

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'Digital Kids': Home 'n' school

Last year the big trend in the field of child-oriented tech was Web sites for teachers (here's our report on these last year). This year the focus has shifted a bit to what bridges home and school: extracurricular learning for kids - on the Web. Here's our report on newcomers and key players in this space:

If you could choose one of these for yourself, children were asked, which would it be?:

In a study done by Knowledge Universe, 50% of the kids picked "smart," 22% "wealthy," 20% "athletic," and 8% "beautiful" or "handsome." KU concluded that, to kids, smart is now cool (we hope they're right!). The company also concluded that 1) schools are no longer delivering "smart" and 2) parents know this and are looking beyond school for help in fostering their children's learning.

So KU - a nearly $2 billion company that operates Web sites (everything from multilingual online auctions to distance learning to news media), daycare centers, private schools, and consulting businesses - just moved into "the supplemental education market" in a big way with the launch of

The "site" is actually six Web sites, three for kids (preK-K, grades 1-2, and grades 3-4), and one each for parents, teachers, and grandparents. Parents and grandparents share many of the same content topics - from childhood development to "tech talk" and family life (TeachersEdge has yet to debut). The premium stuff in the service - at least, what we found so - is for kids. The graphics are lively and gorgeous, and we think kids will find the environments and animated characters as inviting as we did (there's also a reward system designed to keep them coming back - tell us if it works for your kid). It's clear, though, that these are spaces designed for learning, not entertainment (as with PBS Kids's Teletubbies and Clifford the Big Red Dog features). Kids need their parents with them, because somebody has to be able to read the text that guides kids through the activities. The delightful images on the main pages for each age group are links, not characters with which a child can play, and the pages are basically image-rich link lists, not e-playgrounds.

The niftiest thing about this service - for parents - is that it assesses and tells how a child is doing, on a daily basis. In a year or so, an independent study probably needs to be done on how services like this aid kids' learning and benefit parents (no one knows at this point - so much research needs to be done in the kids/digital media area!). In any case, it might be worth parents' while to work through some of this material with a child and see if they like this groundbreaking service. If you do, tell us what you think!

Another large company - actually a giant, multinational media conglomerate - has moved into the home-school space in a different way, by buying a US Web publisher that is very well-established in the business: Family Education Network. The new parent company (and Web site address), Learning Network, is part of Pearson plc, owner of Penguin books, the UK-based Financial Times, TV stations in Europe, etc. Clearly, Pearson saw, as did KU, that home/school is an important market. What we saw is that Family Education Network was, and is, a leader in the category. FEN covers so many bases, with such great educational services as (online reference), (lesson plans, Web-site building, and other teacher aids), (educational games), (for parents), and (just what it sounds like). If any of you are already using one or more of these, do tell us what you like about it/them.

Other key players in home/school for families with older kids include: was launched by Kaplan - famous for aptitude test prep - about a year ago. Thinking maybe future GRE, GMAT, LSAT, etc., takers wouldn't want to pay for expensive books, they put a lot of their materials online. What they found, interestingly enough, was that teens want books as well as online services. Research showed that kids are willing to pay more for courses that come with books and software. Kaplan told the Digital Kids audience that it "routinely has 16-year-olds buying $700 courses with their own credit cards (as well as Mom and Dad's)." Another interesting factoid: the large and growing overseas demand for US education. Ten percent of's business is overseas, and it's growing, as well as coming from younger and younger people all the time. is for wired high schools, counting 12,474 under its umbrella. Unique to this service is its emphasis on high school sports news (in the US, by region) and on finding a college. (See Larry Magid's recent column on various college-search services on the Web and a New York Times piece on "virtual college fairs.") is home-school connecting for the middle and high school crowd. Calling itself an "educational network" of 43,000 schools, the site works at being all things to all people involved with school. It has sections for teachers, students, school librarians/media specialists, and parents. Its best-known service is HomeworkCentral, a comprehensive free reference resource with links all over the Web. It includes special sections for parents, etc., with a whole category just for homeschoolers.

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US schools, libraries: Mandatory filtering

Looks like it's coming soon, and with this item we link you to two very helpful documents for anyone trying to figure out what mandatory filtering will look like to students, teachers, librarians, and school administrators.

What's happened is, a blended version of mandatory filtering legislation proposed by several members of Congress was tacked on to an appropriations bill that is highly likely to pass (because the overall bill will fund several federal government departments for the coming year). The law would require all schools and libraries receiving "e-rate" funds (federal subsidies for Internet connectivity) to install filtering software on all connected computers used by students under 17.

At first glance, required filtering in places where kids might surf unsupervised seemed fine to us - simple enough to implement and somewhat protective, despite the flaws of filtering software (see our item last week, "Foil the filters?"). Then we found out what the law implies to school and library administrators, in terms of time, paperwork, and any work they've done previously to protect students from inappropriate material on the Net. Here are two documents of interest to most anyone involved with kids and the Internet - whether you wonder about the implications for your local library or want to write your representative to vote yes or no on H.R. 4577. The documents clearly present a negative view of the law but, even for its advocates, they offer perspective.

"Istook-McCain-Santorum 'Compromise' Ends Local Control of Internet Use in Libraries & Schools" at the Consortium for School Networking describes current school and library projects around the US that would be overturned by the law.

"A Step-By-Step Guide to Federal Mandates on Schools & Libraries Under Istook-McCain-Santorum in Labor HHS Approps" describes what schools and libraries will have to do to comply. (Another version can be found at the American Library Association site.

The guide was written and stories compiled by Leslie Harris & Associates, a government affairs firm that works on educational technology issues.

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Subscribers write

  1. Instead of filters…

    In response to our "Foil the filters?" item last week, subscriber Ron in North Dakota responded with a very good question. The basic answer to his first question is no, Congress has not only not put forth an alternative to filtering, it is shortly to vote on legislation requiring filtering on federally funded Net-connected computers in schools and libraries (see just above for details). But Ron has a suggestion following his question, and we'd love to get reactions/answers from any of you. Here's Ron:

    "Is there ANY system proposed/passed by Congress to improve on browser-based filtering? There should not have to be a database of adult Web sites that has to be updated continually! There are already laws to protect youth from inappropriate media from being put on the public airwaves, libraries, video stores, etc. For example, the producers of movies have the responsibility of posting a rating on the film.

    "I think filtering would be very simple for search engines and Web browsers if adult Web sites were required to carry a: '~R' or '~X' in the URL/Web address (example:

    "If federal legislation would simply apply the existing laws to the Internet that are currently used for the motion picture industry, there would be far less of a problem. Even newsgroups could benefit. I know that the host of a newsgroup cannot be held responsible, but the SENDER can be held responsible for inappropriate material being posted to a newsgroup that does NOT have '~R' or '~X' in the address (example: alt.nature.~X-humanbody.pic). Even simple e-mail messages should include the ~R or ~X in the Subject field when the sender is attaching pictures or other explicit material that is currently required to carry an R or X rating in movies. Failure to include the rating can carry the same penalty as dictated by current laws that apply to people that staple adult material on public display areas…."

  2. 'Fool's Gold': As with computers, so with books?

    Referring to our "Ed tech" item last week - on the new study critical of educational technology called "Fool's Gold" - subscriber Bob in Washington, D.C., emailed us:

    "It might well be that computers are being oversold as a panacea to every problem with early childhood education. But 'Fools Gold: A Critical Look at Computers and Childhood' goes over the top when it decries the evils of technology. If you don't believe me, merely do a 'Find and change' operation on the opening section of their summary and insert the word 'books' for 'computers' and 'technology.' You'll find that, word for word, their condemnation of computers is equally true of books. Yet I suspect they aren't calling for an end to the dangerous practice of reading. (Note: I also deleted the phrase 'repetitive stress injuries' since, although it's possible that excessive page turning could induce that ailment, as well as the rest.) [Here's what that word-substitution experiment might look like:]

    " 'Fools Gold: A Critical Look at [Books] and Childhood

    " '[Books] pose serious health hazards to children. The risks include eyestrain, obesity, social isolation, and, for some, long-term physical, emotional, or intellectual developmental damage. Our children, the Surgeon General warns, are the most sedentary generation ever. Will they thrive spending even more time staring at [pages]?

    " 'Children need stronger personal bonds with caring adults. Yet [books] are distracting children and adults from each other.' "

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Ed tech: New US survey, new 'fault lines'

The New York Times continues to cover reactions to the "Fool's Gold" study, saying it has opened up political and academic "fault lines." In this report, the Times takes a closer look at the people behind "Fool's Gold" and, in this one, some classrooms taking advantage of (and avoiding some of the traps of) being well wired.

And Uncle Sam offers the big picture, with the September 2000 National Center for Education Statistics's "Teachers' Tools for the 21st Century: A Report on Teachers' Use of Technology". It describes teachers' use of education technology in their classrooms and schools and looks at the technology's availability to them, their training and preparation for using it, and the barriers they encounter. Our thanks to for alerting us to this.

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Web News Briefs

  1. Dot-com to dot-kids?

    Not just ".kids," actually. A whole bunch of alternatives to ".com," ".org," ".edu," etc. have been submitted. Monday was the deadline for submissions to ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which oversees the Internet address system). The two most prominent in the debate about how to protect kids from smut on the Internet are ".kids," aimed at providing child surfers with a safe e-playground or "green space" on the Web, and ".xxx," a virtual "red light district" that would cordon off all sexually explicit material. According to CNET, several companies have applied to be the registrar for the .kids top-level domain (TLD). One is profiled by Wired News. Here's ICANN's list of proposed TLDs and applicants. Public comment will be accepted at that Web site for two weeks, reports CNN. Wired News offers an explanation for these new TLDs. And here's Wired's coverage of a related event, the Internet's (ICANN's) own election. If you have a comment on .kids or .xxx, we'd like to receive it too.

  2. Death of the library card?

    Probably not, but here's a useful Wired News piece on the ins and outs of electronic libraries, some new commercial ones that charge a fee (what students pay for is credibility, they say) and old noncommercial friends with works in the public domain. Comments on the usefulness of any of these would be most welcome!

  3. Net wizards on VP Gore

    We hope you Bush supporters out there won't "kill the messenger." If we find something like this concerning George Bush, Jr., we'll happily link you to it. Meanwhile, UK-based has reprinted, unedited, a "memo" to an email list from Internet builders Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn about the other presidential candidate, who has fairly graciously taken considerable flak for having "invented the Internet." According to The Register, "it reads somewhat like a PR blurb," but Internet-interested folk might find it useful because "it's also a fair backgrounder on Democratic presidential hopeful Al Gore's legislative contributions to the Net.

  4. 24x7 email (ideas for holiday shopping!)

    If you're like us, you're already at least making lists for holiday shopping. This New York Times piece has some ideas for the avid emailers among us - the BlackBerry and the TalkAbout (wireless email products and services). The caveat: It raises a whole new category of etiquette issues for Ms. Manners to tackle, given wireless-email-device-related antisocial behaviors cited by Rutgers professor James Katz in the article.

  5. Beyond BlackBerry

    And if you're thinking you want more than email on your wireless device, how 'bout "The Wireless Web"? That's what the New York Times headed its article, but the writer is quick to point out that the "Web" we're talking about on these devices doesn't look or provide anything like what we're used to on our desktops and laptops. This piece is a great primer for anyone interested in a more mobile World Wide Web. We were surprised that the following related pieces weren't linked to directly from main article, so we're including the links right here: "PDAs That Go Online", "Pagers That Surf", and "Web-Enabled Cell Phones".

  6. Disney: Next steps for child protection

    Under an agreement with the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the Walt Disney Internet Group is taking firmer steps to keep kids from wandering into parts of its Web sites not appropriate for children. According to the New York Times, "Disney said it would do more to ascertain the ages of children registering for interactive activities on Disney sites" and "bar children under 13 from certain areas, including chat rooms where lusty banter and explicit images can be found." The article details how Disney is tackling Web publishers' tough problem of ascertaining children's real ages.

  7. Techies talk to kids

    Tuesday (Oct. 3) was TechiesDay, a spotlight created by an organization of that name to focus attention on the US's "increasing demand for a qualified technology workforce." According to Wired News, awards are given to people who inspire kids to work toward tech careers and create great technology programs in communities. TechiesDay is a creation of CNET and

  8. Teen site bites the dust

    As if to punctuate Part 1 of our series on "Digital Kids" and struggling dot-coms, a site for teenage girls that presented at the conference, just announced that it's shutting down. According to CNET, admirably and unlike other struggling consumer Web sites, Kibu, based in Redwood City, Calif., decided not to close after burning through all its capital, but rather to return unspent funds to investors. Their final act on the Web is to put up, showcasing the talents of the some 65 staff members who'd worked together at Kibu for about a year and who have just been laid off. Here's a CNET roundup of dot-com struggles.

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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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