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May 23, 2003

Dear Subscribers:

A reader kindly emailed us that the link in last week's issue to all 4 parts of our series, "Conversations with teens about tech," was broken. Here's the correct link.

And here's our lineup for this third week of May:

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Family Tech

  1. Getting blogged

    Parents have "gotten blogged"; boyfriends, best friends, and enemies have gotten blogged; and of course celebrities have. Getting blogged means having oneself discussed by somebody else in a place where anybody can read about you - the World Wide Web - also a place where one's casual comments and private confidences can go (and stay) on public record. (For an example of teenage public humiliation gone out of control via blogging, see this Wired News piece.)

    Blogging is reaching epidemic proportions - in fact, Wired News reports search engines are getting blog-clogged - except blogs are not necessarily destructive (some are intelligent, well-written, and have bigger followings than Newsweek or People magazine. A lot of them are lightweight, gossipy, sometimes a bit inwardly focused, others vindictive. Psychologists are beginning to study them. One, cited in the New York Times this week, has found that bloggers often offer "intimate details of their lives as a ploy to build readership." Some of them say petty or mean things about family or friends who the writer thinks wouldn't know how to find his/her revelations. Some just don't care if the subjects of their musings find the material. The result, in some cases, was hard lessons being learned - or family and friends feeling "a need to watch themselves, for fear that casual comments ... might make tomorrow's entry." Some friends now sound like journalist's sources speaking off the record, saying things like: "What I'm about to say is not for blogging."

    Back to the part about tough lessons learned - lessons that might be gentler if a blogger's parents are still in the picture and can help ease sticky situations (by asking if a child has a blog and talking about subject material and implications). The Times piece cites examples of bloggers who alienated family members and friends and one who lost her job because her managers found out she was writing about life at the office. Pretty soon, though, as more and more people read articles like this, they'll figure out that, even if their writing subjects don't know how to find their blog on the Web, friends who do know can email the link or print out a page and send it to them.

    Of course there would have to be a New York school of blogging. And the blogs in this genre have everything from sidewalk celebrity sightings to restaurant reviews to "The Elevator Chronicles" - missives posted by Conde Nast employees writing of their elevator rides in the presence of Anna Wintour, Vogue's editor in chief. This readable Times piece lists a number of New York-school blogs.

  2. IM-ing middle-schoolers

    Instant messaging is yet another medium for gossip, of course - schoolmate gossip, locker room-style chatter, teacher ratings, etc. In "Middle Schoolers, Letting Their Fingers Do the Talking," the Washington Post looks at how IM-ing has completely taken off with 10-to-13-year-olds. Don't miss some good family rules established, including at 13-year-old Lucy's house, where "IMing got so all-consuming for Lucy several years ago that her parents installed software to limit her online time. Now she gets an hour a day of IMing, an hour of Internet time for checking her e-mails and Web sites, and additional offline computer time for typing her homework." The article illustrates how sophisticated IM use has gotten among "tweens." In some cases, parents note that IM-ing is eclipsing normal in-person social development - yet another thing for parents to look out for (see p. 2 of the article). The New York Times looks at a piece of the online teen gossip phenomenon with "Telling Tales Out of School."

    Our most recent report on the dark side of this issue, "Parents rally to stop cyber-bullying", featured, a site that parents in southern California got shut down. But the Times piece correctly points out that students don't need sites with names like to gossip online - they'll go to any community Web site. An example is, named after a school district and created by a community Web publisher simply because students were clogging general message boards meant for the broader community. Previous articles we've published on this include "Bad teen behavior on the Net" and "Teen sex gossip on the Web."

  3. Family digital slide shows's Larry Magid recently lost his sweet father-in-law and wrote in his syndicated column an account of how wonderful it was to be able to put together for the family a slide show commemorating Clarence's life. "The process of creating the presentation certainly brought tears to my eyes, and the display seemed to have a pretty big impact on the family and friends who attended the service," Larry writes, providing a step-by-step explanation of how the digital slide show came together.

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Web News Briefs

  1. certified

    The Web version of 50+-year-old Highlights for Children magazine is the first site to receive official CARU Kids' Privacy certification (CARU is short for the Better Business Bureau's Children's Advertising Review Unit). Its regulatory guidelines helped shape the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA, which went into effect in 2000), and CARU was the first organization chosen by the US Federal Trade Commission to help enforce COPPA through the FTC's Safe Harbor program. A number of other kids Web publishers' applications for certification are in the works, said CARU's director, Elizabeth Lascoutx. To get a feel for how they have to measure up, here's CARU's checklist for COPPA compliance. (The other two organizations later given Safe Harbor status by the FTC are TRUSTe and the Entertainment Software Rating Board.)

    As for, besides games, puzzles, stories, and scientific experiments, the site also "teaches kids how to use search engines and message boards, and how to be good online citizens," Highlights says (and we suspect it's more effective to teach kids these things in media they already know and love than in untested online-safety sites targeting kids). Highlights also says the company monitors all online communications, approving all screen names to ensure users' privacy, and doesn't allow advertising targeting children. Here's's press release about this recent recognition.

  2. Potential challenges to the PROTECT Act

    The PROTECT Act, signed by President Bush this month, does more than nationalize and coordinate the America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) alert system. Among other things, the law "includes a section titled 'Truth in Domain Names' and a new ban on so-called virtual child pornography" that could well be challenged in the courts on constitutional grounds, according to a CNET columnist. One of the phrases in the law that could run into constitutional trouble is "prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole." "On the Internet, which has no geographic boundaries, it's quite uncertain whether such prevailing standards can really exist," CNET indicates, and "community standards" was the stumbling block with the Child Online Protection Act (see "COPA on hold - again" in Net Family News a year ago). Another problem with the law could be broadly defined or imprecise language, such as "misleading domain name," the writer points out. "It is not defined in the new law. One can imagine, for example, many domain names with the words 'girls' or 'boys,' that could be used for Web sites that might contain illegal child pornography or innocuous fashion, sports and entertainment information for high school students. If the law is not precise, it may violate the First Amendment."

  3. Parents on video games

    The trade association that represents the $10 billion video game industry says "most parents view their children's game playing as positive and nearly all monitor what they buy," Reuters reports. The Interactive Digital Software Association is in the middle of several court battles challenging local and state governments that aim to restrict retail sales of violent games, Reuters adds. Here are some of the study's findings announced by IDSA:

    • Parents say they are with their children when games are purchased nearly 90% of the time.
    • 60% percent of parents say they play video games with their kids at least once a month.
    • Two-thirds of parents believe games have a positive effect on their children's lives.
    • 38% of console video game players were under age 18, down from 46% in 2002.
    • Of those who buy games, 92% of console game buyers and 98% of PC game buyers are over 18, while 47% of console game buyers and 57% of PC game buyers are women.

  4. The anthropology of teens & cell phones

    Picture teenagers so immersed in using cell phones that they stop seeing any difference between meeting face-to-face and talking on the phone. It actually doesn't sound much different from when we were teenagers. But there's a coolness factor with cell phones, now - you're a nobody if you don't have one, according to a recent study of 144 cell-phone users between 16 and 40 in several countries. "In the study, reports Wired News, "teens who had no cell phones and whose numbers were not included in someone's phone book could pretty much write off the possibility of speaking with any of the teens with cell phones." The researchers - at Context-Based Research Group (which uses anthropologists to study consumer trends} - call heavy users of wireless technology "mobiles" - people who use cell phones, wirelessly enabled laptops, and personal digital assistants. An interesting thing we picked up on in the piece is the lack of a generation gap where cell phones are concerned. The study found that "almost everyone [16-40] - including those whom the Context study considers moderate cell-phone users - felt anxious during the phase of the study termed 'deprivation,' that required them to give up their phones for a few days."

  5. 'Viral marketing'

    If you ever wondered just exactly what "viral marketing" means, - conceived as "a branded virtual meeting place for teens with a passion for music" - is a great example. "Word of the site has spread rampantly by word-of- mouth," reports. "The numbers speak for themselves: well over a million page views a day, an average growth of over 200,000 unique visitors per month, and average visits lasting longer than 25 minutes." Teens are an obvious favorite target of viral marketing because they're such amazing communicators. But besides the target audience, Coke got some other things "right": 1) it featured new and emerging musicians rather than "the biggest stars" (teens in focus groups said they "lacked a reliable place to find out what the next big band is going to be"), 2) Coke's awareness that it had to be always new/cutting edge to attract and keep users, and 3) Coke Studios, with the role-playing and user customization it allows.

    "Coke Studios," according to, "is a virtual meeting place where registered site users create their own music mixes and customized avatars, called V-egos. Each visitor's V-ego allows the person to extend his or her personality into the Web sphere. For example, a visitor can literally stroll through a virtual club where other V-egos are 'standing,' chat with those users, and play the tunes he or she has mixed for them. When a user plays a mix at a virtual club, other denizens vote on the mix, and the DJ wins 'decibels' based on his or her number of 'thumbs-up.' Decibels are the currency of Coke Studios and can be exchanged for furniture items. These in turn can be used to enhance users' private rooms, virtual spaces where groups of avatars [animated virtual people] listen to music and engage in impromptu games."

  6. RIAA apologizes

    In a rare move, the Recording Industry Association of America recently apologized to Penn State, it was widely reported (including at ZDNet UK). "A mistaken notification message to the ... university threatened to shut down access to a crucial server in the middle of exams," according to ZDNet, which added that "the incident shows just how easily automated programs that search for copyrighted material can be fooled, as well as how disruptive such notices can be on college campuses." (Here's Wired News on one of the four students recently sued by the RIAA - Michigan Technological Institute junior Joseph Nievelt, who settled only because he wanted to put the case behind him and still hasn't paid his $5,000 fine.)

    Speaking of student tune-swappers, CNET recently took a measure of "the mood among campus file-sharers". "This is not a group to alienate," says CNET, finding that the group is "increasingly perturbed by what they see as an attempt by the record labels to infringe on their legitimate right to make copies of digital media." CNET also recently profiled a low-key but influential lawyer, Russ Frackman. "Over the course of four years, he and his legal team have made a deep mark on Net culture and history, stopping in their tracks some of the all-time fastest-growing and most- popular online services" (e.g., file-sharing pioneer Napster).

    Here's a Reuters report on Germany's first file-sharing bust. A 25-year-old computer programming students 25-year-old computer programming student was allegedly using a Napster clone to distribute more than a million MP3 music files daily to some 3,000 individual users over a period of weeks. "The man has been charged with copyright infringement and faces possible jail time. (Our thanks to BNA Internet Law for pointing this story out.) Meanwhile, close to having had its file-sharing software downloaded 230 million times, Kazaa is close to a record - that of being the Web's most popular free software program ever. Reuters reports that the record's beaten when Kazaa surpasses ICQ, AOL's popular instant-messaging program.

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News


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