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April 12, 2002

Dear Subscribers:

It's good to be back, after a remarkable spring break celebrating the Cable & Wireless Childnet Awards winners in Paris last week. For a more personal account or to tell us about a favorite kids' Web site you'd like to see awarded, feel free to email me. Here's our lineup for this second week of April:


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Family Tech: Extraordinary Web designers of all ages

Among the children and educators we were honored to meet at the Cable & Wireless Childnet Awards in Paris last week were...

The sites these young people represented were the first-place winners, respectively, for the "New to the Net," nonprofit, individual, and school categories of the Childnet Awards. They were joined in Paris by fellow Web designers from South Africa, Sweden, Russia, Australia, Brazil, South Africa, Hong Kong, the US, and other countries.

As's Larry Magid, one of the awards' judges, puts it in his latest Family Tech column for the San Jose Mercury News, "It is inspiring that most of the sites represented at the Childnet Awards are operating with little or no outside funding. They are truly labors of love from people who have invested their time and creativity.... In many ways, [the Childnet Awards are] the realization of what the Net promised long before it was taken over by commercial interests - the ability to link people on a global basis."

This remarkable connectedness and diversity is seen and felt in the Web sites as well as in the extraordinary group of people Childnet gathers each year to celebrate two things: what the Internet can do for children and what children can do for the Internet.

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Web News Briefs

  1. Another step for dot-kids

    The idea of a safe Web playground for children got unanimous approval by a "powerful House panel" this week, the Washington Post reports. With the US House Energy and Commerce Committee's unanimous vote for the "Dot-Kids Implementation and Efficiency Act of 2002," the legislation now goes to the full House of Representatives for vote. The act would establish a kids' area under the US's "sovereign '.us' Internet domain." Quick action on the measure is expected because of the strong backing it received this week, the Post reports, adding this description of the law's implications: Going by the bill's latest wording, "no Web site with a address would be permitted to post hyperlinks to locations outside of the domain. The legislation also now prohibits chat and instant messaging features, except in cases where a site operator can guarantee the features adhere to kid-friendly standards developed for the domain."

  2. 'Generation IM'

    For a large and rapidly growing number of teenagers, giving out one's phone number is *so* old-school. Now a boy will ask a girl for her "SN" (screen name) so he can IM (chat via instant-messaging) with her after school, Yahoo Internet Life points out. The report cites estimates of 150 million IM users worldwide, "about one-third of all people who use the Net in any capacity," and the two biggest user groups are teens and business users. The article gives examples of how IM is changing the way people interact in both social and business arenas, the way email did before it. One memorable anecdote is that of a first-generation Asian-American girl who, at 18, did not own a computer and was not allowed to receive phone calls after 7 pm. But she persuaded her "traditionally minded" parents to buy her a computer "for schoolwork." Soon she was IM-ing from arrival home from school till 2:30 am. Check out the article to see what happened when this teenager's parents caught on. The article is the most thorough we've seen on the instant-messaging phenomenon (our thanks to for pointing it out).

  3. 'Legal child porn'?

    Web sites featuring "preteen models" operating in "the gray area between innocent imagery and child pornography" have caught the attention of the US Justice Department and "prompted a congressman to declare war on the 'reckless endangerment' of such kids by their parents and Web site operators," MSNBC reports. Representative Mark Foley (R) of Florida refers to sites showing pictures of girls as young as six wearing revealing clothes and striking sexually suggestive poses but which don't display nudity or overt sexual material. The article includes comments by parents who are encouraging or allowing their children to create or to "star" in these "fan sites" that may be targeting audiences other than kids. Our thanks to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children for pointing this story out.

  4. Wire-free classrooms

    Beyond the lack of spaghetti-style jumbles of computer wires and cables, eSchool News offers a view of what wireless looks like in Maine classrooms and schools. For example, look at the difference in cost alone between wired and wireless in one school: "In Guilford, which received laptop computers two years ago,... it would have taken 25 ethernet jacks in each of the 23 classrooms to achieve the same [effect] as wireless technology. That could have cost upward of $50,000, if electricians did the work. With 239 middle schools statewide, that could have added $10 million or so to the overall laptop price tag." Wireless does involve the cost of wireless connection cards and hubs (not given in the Guilford case), but at least electricians' labor costs aren't an issue. And, eSchool News reports, the costs of wireless are coming down.

  5. Warning: Pop-up downloads

    Not a pleasant prospect: If you thought pop-up ads annoying, get ready for worse. Here's how pop-up downloads work, according to CNET: "When visiting a site a person may receive a pop-up box that appears as a security warning with the message: 'Do you accept this download?' If the consumer clicks 'Yes,' an application is automatically installed" on her PC's hard drive. The creators of these ads are banking on the fact that most people automatically click on "Yes" when they get computer prompts. Parents and kids might want to be on the alert because, CNET reports, "Some Net users have complained of receiving downloads containing a virus that automatically redirects them to adult-related sites. Such downloads also have been known to install new dial-up programs replacing the existing accounts. The Federal Trade Commission recently brought a case against people who were using such tactics to install a dial-up account for expensive 1-900 numbers."

  6. E-citizenship

    The latest study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project looked at how many and how people use government agencies' Web sites and services. Use is certainly on the rise. The survey found that "fully 68 million American adults have used government agency Web sites," up from the 40 million figure of Pew's March 2000 survey on this subject. These cyber-citizens use the Web to "find information to further their civic, professional, and personal lives," Pew says, adding: "Some also use government Web sites to apply for benefits, engage public officials, and complete transactions such as filing taxes." Pew found that personal needs are the focus, typically, but "there is abundant evidence that a new "e-citizenship" is taking hold." Here are some examples Pew offers:

    • 42 million Americans have used government Web sites to research public policy issues.
    • 23 million have used the Net to send comments to public officials about policy choices.
    • 14 million have used government Web sites to gather information to help them decide how to cast their votes.
    • 13 million have participated in online lobbying campaigns.

    Here's CyberAtlas's coverage of the Pew report.

  7. Nigeria's new tech youth ambassador

    Gbenga Sesan, a Web designer and Nigeria's first technology youth ambassador, doesn't have a computer, the BBC reports. But he's not alone in this country of few fixed phone lines and very low personal computer ownership, and he's undaunted by such conditions, the BBC reports. Mr. Sesan was asked to take on the two-year assignment after winning a contest designed "to identify young Nigerians who, in spite of the country's poor infrastructure, possess the potential to develop computer skills." He hopes to train 4,000 young Nigerians in info tech by 2003, the BBC adds.

  8. Is the Net color-blind?

    Yes and no, suggests the writer of "Cyberspace and Race" at MIT's Technology Review. Yes, given the superficial anonymity of Net communications, but no to many ethnic-minority members of online forums, reportedly. "Often, they'd found that people simply assumed all participants in an online discussion were white unless they identified themselves otherwise," says the writer. "One Asian American talked of having a white online acquaintance email him a racist joke, which he would never have sent if he had known the recipient's race."

  9. Senior surfers

    They're the fastest-growing group of Internet users in the United Kingdom, the BBC reports. The number of UK Netizens aged 55+ has increased by nearly 90% just in the past year, representing 13% of the total UK online population. "Only tech-savvy Sweden and Denmark have more with 17.4% and 16.3% respectively," the BBC adds. Banking and genealogy are cited as among senior surfers' favorite online activities.

  10. Deaf students online in Kazakh

    The heart of this very international story (at the BBC concerning a US government program in Kazakh) is one of the first computer labs set up for deaf students in the former Soviet Union. Teachers at the school in question "are impressed with how the Internet has increased the children's vocabulary, made them more curious about the world, and given them career aspirations far and above what they had before," the BBC reports. These were the results, apparently, of those teachers having taken the initiative to get computers donated to the school, winning a grant, and then creating a Web site that defined in sign language tech- and Net-related terms that deaf students needed to understand in order to gain this new sort of literacy - terms such as "browser," "host," and "Internet." "The teachers worked with deaf scholars to create this language and make it available on their Web site," the BBC adds.

  11. Is online privacy improving?

    On the one hand we hear it is. Witness a just-released survey from the Progress and Freedom Foundation finding that "among the most popular 100 domains in the US, the proportion collecting personal information fell from 96% in May 2000 to 84% in December 2001," reports Nua Internet Surveys. The survey also reported that "privacy notices [were] 'more prevalent, more prominent and more complete' on Web sites than in May 2000." (Here's the Washington Post's article on the survey.)

    On the other hand, the New York Times reports that "pressed for profits, Internet companies are increasingly selling access to their users' postal mail addresses and telephone numbers, in addition to flooding their email boxes with junk mail." The Times cites Yahoo!'s recent change in its privacy policy as a key example. Yahoo! says it hasn't loosened its privacy policy, only made it more explicit.

  12. Less searching for sex

    Search engine users are searching less for sex-related content and more for jobs and business- and travel-related material. "In May 1997, 16.8% of searches on the Excite search engine were for sex-related or pornographic Web sites. By May 2001, that percentage had dropped almost in half to 8.5%. During the same period, searches related to commerce, travel, employment, and the economy rose from 13.3% in1997 to 24.7% in 2001," reports CNN. CNN was citing a report in IEEE Computer, a journal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Expert sources for the article said part of the explanation is that Web demographics increasingly reflect the mainstream population. But sex-related searching is still high, they add, and "people looking for pornography today are more likely to go to newsgroups than to a search engine," CNN reports.

  13. Open source, sorta

    Given what happened to 15-year-old software writer Finlay Dobbie in the UK, Apple's open-source software development project is open only to people 18 and older. Dobbie was banned from contributing to the development of the Mac OS X when Apple found out he was 15. The story in VNUNET indicates it's all just a legal issue, but Dobbie's experience just may help define exactly what "open source" means. For example, the young programmer asks, where's the openness if non-disclosure agreements have to be signed?

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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