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Here's our lineup for this first week of July:

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High School Geometry CD-ROM (FREE after Instant Rebate)
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Just for 'tweens

This week we got to talking with author and editor Jess Brallier, now editorial director of Kids' Learning Network, about 'tweens - those people many of us know who are not really kids and not quite teenagers. They're the audience this new Web site is targeting (9-14-year-olds), a wonderful, interesting age group that, curiously, still likes to talk with grownups! At least, that has been Jess's experience.

"I think they're still trying to figure us out," he told us, acknowledging that KLN mainly focuses on 12-year-olds. "It has kind of surprised me that some of them are fascinated with talking to adults; maybe it's because they don't have to look us in the eye. They ask me if I'm married, have kids, etc." It's almost as if adults - who they are, how they'll react, what their interests are - are still important in pre-teenagers' lives, at least until they begin determining their own fates. Meanwhile, "the family's really important here," Jess added, "I'm talking about kids who have relationships with their parents,...who need to influence their parents." He got us to thinking about the opportunity we all have with the 'tweeners in our lives.

That's just one of the subjects in this wide-ranging conversation. The people behind sites like KLN are learning important things about kids and how they interact with technology, lessons we like to record for you here.

KLN launched this past May. The Learning Network pulled author/editor, parent, and "reluctant adult" Jess away from another part of parent company and media giant Pearson LLC at a very good time: "After doing [15] books for kids for the last six years [e.g., the popular Planet Dexter series, as well as "Lawyers and Other Reptiles," "Thumbs Up Science," and other books, including one that "disappears"], he told us, "I felt I'd pushed the medium as far as I could push it. I was watching my kids going to a computer instead of to books." It was time, Jess said, to figure out how to make Web content, not just text, "intersect with kids."

He'd long worked at making learning fun, but now - with smart programmers and game designers like KLN's Jeff Kinney and "kid-driven talk show" host "Zan," he could make learning interactive too. Mind you, KLN doesn't mean "interactive" like sites such as or that target teens with email accounts, discussion boards, and real-time chat (posts in "KLN Live" get cleared by moderator Zan before "airing"). KLN solved the whole COPPA-compliance issue by simply not collecting or retaining any kid data or email. ("COPPA," the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act , started protecting kids under 13 in April 2000; search for "COPPA" at the top of this page for background and past reports on the law.)

At KLN, "interactive" means mostly games (interacting with content) and what Jess calls "gamicles" - interactive articles (see the one about hiccups). All interaction with people - besides kids' emails to the producers suggesting new games and topics, which are not retained - is that of the moderator-controlled talk-show sort. The goal is to deliver something between "fluff" and what kids get in school - material that's both substantive and fun, presented in a way that they like and that is also safe and constructive. But Jess describes it better:

"Here's my theory," he explained. "Kids keep showing up. And they've got to learn about the world. Imagine there's a great reservoir of knowledge out there that's got to be delivered to kids. Educators scoop knowledge out of it according to curriculum - math, American history, science, etc. But outside of school, kids' curiosity drives them to discover their world on their own terms, in ways that 'don't smell like school.' "

Jess says he's trying to give this latest, new media, project of his a similar voice and tone to those of his books. The opportunity, he believes, is to replace something kids have lost: "At one time, as children grew up, maybe a couple of generations ago, they were introduced to their world by older and caring siblings, cousins, neighbors, etc. It's how they learned to climb a tree, wax a sled runner, deal with bullies, all that wonderful non-school stuff that makes being a kid so wonderful. But today ... children's lives are so heavily programmed and scheduled, so co-opted by parents. I like to think that this medium can recapture, in part, what's lost. The Boys' and Girls' Guides to Life on our site are reminiscent of the voices of those older, hopefully responsible, and caring cousins and siblings."

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Family Tech: Genealogy online

Whether you're eagerly filling in the family tree or mildly curious about when an immigrating grandparent arrived in the US, the Web is a terrific genealogy resource.'s Larry Magid would fall in the latter category, and - as he shows in this week's Family Tech column for the San Jose Mercury News - it took him only a short time to find out when his maternal grandparents arrived at Ellis Island, what ship they were on, and what their port of emigration was. Those facts were found in moments at the new Larry provides genealogy links for people with African, Chinese, and Hispanic, as well as European roots. He also points you to "Cyndi's [huge] List" of links to genealogy sites.

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Web News Briefs

  1. Games across the Web

    Picture four grownup brothers in Idaho, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin logging on to the Net a couple times a week to "get together" by playing fighter jocks in a World War II fighter squadron game. That's exactly what the Hazzard brothers - Thomas, Tim, Ron, and George - are doing, reports the New York Times in a useful, readable update on online gaming. It hasn't always been as much fun as the Hazzards are now finding it to be, "but as game design has improved, gaming sites have grown more accommodating and home computers have gained in speed and power, playing online is becoming much simpler," according to the Times, mentioning specific game title, consoles, and Web sites that are helping to make it fun. CNET adds Wall Street's perspective on Web-based gaming.

  2. Helping kids avoid solicitations

    At MSNBC there's a brief video from NBC's Today Show providing parents tips on how to help kids avoid unwanted solicitations while using instant-messaging (IM). We hope the most basic three, found in a bit of text on that page, will sound familiar to parents: "Don't talk to strangers; conceal identifying information; and consider using filters."

  3. World's online populations

    For any geographer or demographer of cyberspace (important new academic disciplines, we think), CyberAtlas conveniently indexes a whole lot of data right on one page. It includes a chart showing the percentage of the population that access the Net from work and from home and a list of more than 60 countries, linking to the latest online population figure for each. The brief intro confirms Nielsen/NetRatings's latest global figure of 420 million and gives the regional breakdown: 441% of users in North America; 27% for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa; 20% for the Asia-Pacific region; and 4% for Latin America.

  4. 'Dot-kids' could happen yet

    Two US legislators weren't happy with a recent ICANN decision not to approve a ".kids" top-level domain (TLD) for the Web. According to, Reps. John Shimkus (R-IL) and Edward Markey (D-MA) last Friday introduced legislation that would force the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the Internet's Web addressing authority, to add .kids to .net, .gov, .edu, .org, .com, and other, newer, TLDs. The two lawmakers don't appear to agree with's Larry Magid on the effectiveness (or lack thereof), in terms of kids' online safety, of segregating kids' and adult content from the rest of the Web (see "Family Tech" in our 6/15 issue).

  5. How to detect Net plagiarism

    One school librarian found the original of a student's plagiarized paper within seconds by typing the first five words into a search engine, the New York Times reports. He was allowed to rewrite it and hand it in a week later. High school appears to be where the problem is most concentrated. In a recent survey of 4,500 students in 25 schools in the US, "more than half of the ... students surveyed admitted either downloading a paper from a Web site or copying a few sentences from a Web site without citation," the Times story says. The figure was 10-20% in a similar college-level survey. And in "Teachers mull ways to fight plagiarism," the Associated Press reports (via CNET) that "a handful of teachers, gathered for the National Education Association's annual meeting ... talked about their experiences. They stressed that the vast bazaar of information online requires not only eternal vigilance but also a back-to-basics emphasis on drafts, outlines, note cards and other skills to produce solid writing from students."

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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