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Dear Subscribers:

Next week we'll be peering into the future at a conference in New York on kids' digital TV, so the next issue of the newsletter will arrive in your in-boxes on November 3.

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The Web's growth: A realistic fix

One of the best sources we've found on the number and types of Web sites in cyberspace is that of the Online Computer Library Center in Dublin, Ohio. The OCLC is a 33-year-old nonprofit organization that provides technology tools and services to 38,000 libraries in 76 countries and territories. Every June the OCLC takes a scientific sample of the Web and figures out what proportion is actually available to the public and what the content looks like. The research group's work, published each fall, has been used by the World Wide Web Consortium for its Web characterization research.

This year the OCLC found that the Web, with 2.9 million publicly available Web sites (up from 2.2 million last year), continues to grow at a fairly unprecedented pace, but its growth is slowing. The rate between 1998 and '99 was 80%; this past year it was about 50%. (Click on "Statistics" at the Web Characterization Project page for all the data.)

But it's that "publicly available" figure that stands out amid all the reports of almost unimaginable numbers of Web sites and domain-name registrations. That's the figure meaningful to you and me. Only about 40% of the total Web (7.1 million sites, according to the OCLC) is accessible to the general public. The rest of the sites are what the OCLC calls "private" or "provisional." According to their useful definitions, "private" means sites requiring some kind of authorization to get past the home page. "Provisional" means sites "in a transitory or unfinished state, and/or offering only content that, from a general perspective, is meaningless or trivial."

The growth rate for public sites this past year was only about 33% over the previous year. But the number of private sites is growing faster. They represent about 20% of the Web now, up from 12% two years ago.

Of the 2.9 million public sites out there, about 2%, or 70,000, are sex-related adult sites, the OCLC reports. Interestingly, though the number of adult sites has grown, the proportion has not changed since 1998.

As for use of all those sites, at least in the United States, the Commerce Department has found that the number of US households with Internet access has soared, "hitting 41.5% in August, up from just 26.2% in the previous, 1999, survey," according to the Associated Press (via the New York Times). The number of computer-owning households has grown a lot, too. More than half (51%) - 53.7 million households - have computers now, as opposed to 42.1% in December 1998.

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Family Tech

There's still hope for the littlest Web surfers. In his column for the San Jose Mercury News this week,'s Larry Magid joined us in bidding "A Sad Farewell to Kid-Friendly Offline Provider" (see last week's issue on the Web's latest offerings for kids).

He's referring to, which - if not the best of all worlds for small surfers - was one of the most complete and compelling safe e-playgrounds available. But Larry cites some very viable alternatives that parents of 3-to-7-year-olds will want to check out. If you've tried any of these, tell us what you think.

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Web News Briefs

  1. Parents support school filtering

    US parents are overwhelmingly in favor of having the Internet in school and overwhelming in favor of having it filtered there, according to a just-released survey of "1,900 individuals" by the Digital Media Forum. The New York Times reports that:

    • 86% people said they believe the Net would help their children learn more.
    • 95% said the Internet is vital for developing work skills.
    • 92% said pornography should be blocked on school computers.
    • 79% said filters should be used to bar hate speech.

    "While support for government intervention in the Internet typically breaks down among economic and educational lines - with more affluent and educated individuals opposing government interference - there is broad support across income, race and educational groups for requiring filtering for school computers," the Times reports. Though often called "censorware," filtering software was not considered censorship by those surveyed, the study also found, but rather "protection." The survey results are likely to back up legislators' efforts to mandate filtering on connected school and library computers, although many schools already provide filtering (see our item "Schools, libraries: Mandatory filtering coming" about what a filtering law would entail for schools).

    Reports this week on what Congress will actually do have been a bit conflicting. CNET says "government groups are at odds." The New York Times says support in Congress for mandated filtering in schools is growing. Here's USAToday's version, and that of MSNBC. provided a useful compendium of what several media outlets reported on the subject. If you haven't already, tell us where you stand on this issue in our 2000 survey.

  2. Sex on AOL this week picked up on a not-particularly-surprising muckraking piece by the Village Voice about the America Online's hands-off approach to its steamy side. At least firewalls will go up when TV and Web converge after the AOL-Time Warner merger goes through.

  3. Decoding hate

    To help people detect the signs and language of hatred and extremist groups, the Anti-Defamation League has just unveiled "Hate on Display," reports Wired News. It's a "visual database" of extremists' graphic and number symbols, racist acronyms, and white-power music sources and sample CD covers. The database, part of the ADL's site, also allows users to report incidents of hate and links to the latest ADL reports on hate groups' activities and in-depth information on their causes, Wired reports.

  4. Net-based activism

    "The pen is still mightier than the sword, but so is email, and it's faster," reports ABCNews. It's a thorough article about how organizations like Amnesty International,,, and the Mexico Solidarity Network use the Internet as a powerful tool for publicizing campaigns and mobilizing activists.

  5. The Net in the kitchen

    A whole alliance of companies has now formed to get our homes networked! According to CNET, members such as Cisco Systems, Best Buy, General Motors, Panasonic, and Sun Microsystems have teamed up to sell us on the "Internet lifestyle," one that will "thrive on high-speed, always-on Net access throughout the home." Honeywell has a similar aspiration, as well as a product to prove it: the WebPAD, a wireless Internet appliance. According to the New York Times, it's bigger than a palmtop, smaller than a laptop, looks like an Etch-a-Sketch, and connects via any Internet service provider. But it's not a Blackberry - it can't be more than 150 feet beyond its "Proxim Access Point Base Station," also by Honeywell. That's what sets it apart from other (less expensive Internet appliances) - the home network part. It allows users to control household lighting, heating, and security. 3Com's "Audrey", ZDNet says, is for "the most computerphobic family." While we're on the subject, here's an interesting Los Angeles Times piece about the man at the MIT Media Lab whose peering into the kitchen's future, running the Lab's "Counter Intelligence Project" ("counter" as in kitchen counter, of course). Tell us if you're excited or skeptical about this purported future for our homes.

  6. Computers for Brooklyn's students

    They're not free in terms of parents' time, but otherwise it's a great deal! New York Times this week offered early anecdotes on the impact on families of a $2 million Chase Manhattan Bank-sponsored program to put free desktop PCs in every student's home. For one thing, the program forces parents to get involved in their kids' school experience. They have to take three hours' PC training before their kids get a computer. The program's goals is "to improve student achievement by getting students to spend less time at home watching television and more time writing," the Times reports.

  7. Disney's e-auction

    A $500 Poisoned Apple Purse, a $50 Mickey vest, and a $40 Little Mermaid watch are among the items available in the online auction that Disney and eBay unveiled this week. According to CNET, Disney has 90,000 items in the auction site at the moment, from low-end merchandise to five-figure collector's items from the Disney Vault (checks accepted only for items priced at $5,000 and up!).

    Sounds to us as if "hosted auctions" like this are a smart way for eBay to avoid lawsuits like the one refiled this week by eBay users. According to the New York Times, the plaintiffs are accusing eBay of neglecting to protect consumers from sales of forged sports memorabilia in its online auctions.

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Educational witches, bats, ghosts, pumpkins

Kids, parents and teachers can enjoy three media-rich Halloween-themed learning experiences at [Please note: "Ghosts" is for everyone. We suggest that grownups preview the vampires and witches features because the former includes the story of a child's death and the latter is simply historically accurate.]

"Ghosts in the Castle!" features Marcus the Mouse, our guide through a castle peopled by ghosts who teach us all about life throughout Worcestershire Castle (each visitor names his/her castle) at the drawbridge. The tour ends with links to a National Geographic magazine feature on "The King who was Crazy for Castles" (Ludwig II), other castle Web sites, and castle book titles.

The "Vampire Bats" and "Salem Witchcraft Hysteria" features are pure education and for bigger kids. In "Vampires", users accompany National Geo producers and Florida Bat Center researchers to Nicaragua to experience bats-in-caves via video, stills, and producers' field notes. "Salem" is "not for the faint of heart," as National Geo puts it, because it's designed to let the user "relive the terrors of the infamous 17th-century witch hunt trials in Salem, Massachusetts" - all based on historical record. The user becomes one of the alleged witches, and the experience is indeed nightmarish.

As for pumpkins, there's hope for first-time carvers (or those who want an illustrated guide). Our thanks to for pointing out Pumpkin Carving 101 in's Grownups pages, which includes other tips and costume-customization ideas for a preschooler's Halloween.

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Teaching critical thinking with the Web

No medium in history required critical thinking more than the Internet. But many teachers are finding that there's no better solution than the problem itself! The Web is a wonderful tool for teaching children how to evaluate the information they're consuming.

In her latest column, author and early childhood educator Evelyn Petersen offers a checklist parents and teachers can use with children to evaluate Web sites together.

Evelyn's most recent and seventh book on parenting and childhood development - which she co-authored with her daughter and Webmaster, Karin Petersen - is "Sams Teach Yourself e-Parenting Today."

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Copyrights & home pages: Not just for teachers

The headline reads, "The Educator's Guide to Copyright and Fair Use," but this is a topic of interest to anyone planning to use other people's artwork, photos, or text in his or her Web site or Net-researched homework. Teachers are increasingly faced with the need to have classroom copyright policies and teach kids the ethics involved. But they're not alone in needing to get up to speed on the subject.

Our thanks to (a site with more than 6,000 lesson plans for teachers) for pointing out the latest - and very thorough - report: a five-part series at Education World, "The Educator's Guide to Copyright and Fair Use".

That series is more for grownups. For a much broader audience, there's a whole Web site on the subject: "From Pokemon to Picasso: Art Rights & Wrongs", with a how-to guide for citing and using others' work, writing permission letters, keeping a log of content and permissions, and more. The site was created last year by New York City 5th- and 6th-graders Madeline, Katie, and Kim for the ThinkQuest competition (see our profile of Madeline last June).

As for copyright law from a consumer's perspective, here's a Wired News piece about the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's implications for us Internet users. Critics of the law want to preserve traditional fair-use and free-speech rights by "carving out exceptions to it," Wired reports. Otherwise, the critics say, the entertainment industry will have more control than the Constitution allows. "One concern is that this could lead to a pay-per-use world where consumers don't truly own the books, movies, and music they purchase."

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Subscribers write: Ratings, console games & the Web

  1. Rating Web sites a tough task

    Adding to the recent string of comments on Web ratings, subscriber and librarian Mindy in Michigan emailed us a response to a North Dakota subscriber's feedback:

    "In response to Ron's ideas to assign ratings to Internet sites, similar to those used on motion pictures: Although the idea appears simple, the method for accomplishing a task of this magnitude would be near impossible. There are currently an estimated 2.8 billion Web pages in existence, with an additional 7 million added daily. Many of these pages are created and maintained in countries other than the US. In the end, we would be left with the same problem we now face when using filtering/blocking software, indexing the Web, or enforcing existing law in regards to pornography: The magnitude of the Internet is such that it would be impossible for any human or computer program to keep up with its ever-changing content. Even the largest search engine ( is estimated to index only 50% of the Web. Until there is a massive improvement in technology, rating the Web seems, to me, to be impossible."

  2. The Web & console games

    Jason in Utah emailed us:

    "I have an idea that I hope someday will be put into force. I have the Sony PlayStation. It is fun, but many of the games are not appropriate for kids. So, as you're aware, they came up with a rating system so you know what kind of contents are in the game before you buy or rent it. It would be a great idea if these same rating symbols were posted on the home page of every Web site so every Web surfer knows what they're getting into if they decide to go beyond the home page."

[Editor's Note on Ratings Systems: You are not alone, Jason. In fact, the Entertainment Software Rating Board, an independent ratings board that works with the gaming software industry, has moved into cyberspace - here's their Web site. There are other Web ratings systems, too - here's a page at GetNetWise describing the concept and linking to two other, Web-only, rating systems. We'll go into more depth on Web ratings with a full feature on it later this fall.]

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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