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January 13, 2006
Here's our lineup for this second week of January:
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18-year-old blogger Amanda on blogging
Teen blogging is definitely on parents', educators', reporters' radar screens now (it has been on law-enforcement ones a while longer). Stories about it - good, bad, and somewhere in between - are popping up in local news sites nationwide.
The story of Karen, mother of a MySpacer in California, represents that snowball effect. Last August she talked with me about her concerns for her teen blogger. After NetFamilyNews featured her story, a Wall Street Journal reporter called me for sources on the subject, and Karen gave permission for him to call her. Since that article ran, national-level TV interest kicked in. Karen told me this week she's had calls from producers at The Oprah Winfrey Show and Good Morning America. Below you'll find just a sampler of the best recent coverage and resources from around country, including a Business Week cover story.
But first: a blogger's own perspective, that of Amanda, 18, an American au pair in The Netherlands and user of three blogging sites. She emailed me in response to Karen's story, "A mom writes: Teen solicited in MySpace"....
"Of course there are creeps on MySpace," Amanda wrote, but there are creeps everywhere. Not just on the Internet. Besides, blogging teaches important job skills! Many kids learn how to edit style sheets and html because of blogs.
"They are also a great place to make friends that you can tell everything. You have times when you just can't tell your real-life friends about the things going on in your life."
I emailed her back, wondering if she'd talk about her own blogging experience, and she sent back some great insights:
NetFamilyNews: Where do you blog? Why did you pick that service?
Amanda: "I have 3 different blogs: a livejournal, a xanga, and a myspace. I have three because my friends all have different blog spaces and this helps me stay in touch with them."
NFN: How much do you share - pretty private stuff? Do you use privacy features in the sites?
A: "I put a lot in them. When I am angry with someone, that goes in. Something funny happened today, that goes in. Sometimes I cut stuff out of one journal because of the friends I have on it. My best friend is on my livejournal and not my xanga. So when I am mad at her, it goes into my xanga. I don't usually, I used to, but I don't have my ex-boyfriend's mom reading my journal either."
NFN: Have you been contacted by strangers? What do you do about it - just ignore them?
A: "If they are nice, I might talk to them. If someone posts a really useful comment on my journal, I usually skim through their journal. Sometimes you get creepy people trying to contact you, but I just block them."
NFN: Do your parents know you blog - have you all talked about it at all? What's their position?
A: "I haven't lived with my parents since I was 15, so they have no control of my Internet usage."
NFN: So are the people in your blogging community mostly people you met online, i.e. 'strangers'? Is your purpose in blogging mainly to explore stuff you wouldn't share with people you've met in person, or is that just part of it?
A: "Some of my real-life friends are on my blogs also, a lot of people from old schools, people from concerts. Some people are from forums. It's really nice to read about how someone else's life is going. I met my best friend online. We talked on a fourm for a long time, and then we talked on AIM, then we met in person. You can find people interested in the same things you are - music, books, animals, etc., so much easier than in person. You're not limited to just people in your own city."
NFN: Do your real-life friends (at school, for example) not know about your blog?
A: "Some of them do, the ones that also have blogs. When I was in school anyway."
NFN: Does blogging kind of replace the social life you had when you were in school?
A: "No I go out a lot. I had the same online life when I was in school. I have been a pretty heavy Internet user for a couple years now. It's an easy way to find things to do. I found my favorite coffee house in Oklahoma over the Internet. We all take our laptops and watch webtoons and help each other with coding for our blogs."
Readers: I love hearing from you. Email me anytime about this article, blogging at your house or school, or any other kid-tech issue you'd like to air. My address: email@example.com.
* * *Sampler of coverage/resources on blogging
- "'A place for friends' and foes: Students, schools struggle with Myspace" in Verde, a magazine by and for students of Palo Alto High School ("Paly")
- "'There are some real creeps out there': Some North Coast parents are ramping up their Internet savvy as more local children log on and converse with strangers" in the Daily Astorian (Ore.)
- "Boy meets girl, and the Internet goes wild: Jackson native faces Web 'Will she or won't she?'" in the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun
- "Lesson for Murdoch: Keep the Bloggers Happy" - the New York Times looking into how/whether MySpace.com changed after News Corp. acquired it last year for $580 million
- "In the blink of an eye, blogs became big" - the Philadelphia Inquirer looks into blogging's growth
- "Sites are the new parenting frontier: But hardly one to despair over, so long as you take precaution" at the Lexington Herald-Leader
- "Online confessions: A growing number of teens are using their online blogs to express themselves" at the Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News
- "Website's power to overexpose teens stirs a warning: Parents alerted to MySpace.com" in the Boston Globe
- Security is becoming an issue for bloggers themselves: "Student blogs on the rise, despite security risks" in Washington University's Student Life newspaper
- "Give & Take" at StaySafe.org: A mom and her 14-year-old blogger talk to SafeKids.com's Larry Magid about their takes on teen blogging
- Back doors to MySpace: Blogger Randy Charles Morin provides work-arounds for students seeking "alternative access" to MySpace at schools where it's blocked by school network filters (I was surprised that Randy emailed me his instructions for students - did he feel parents and educators should know of the workarounds too?)
- "What to Do When Your Mom Discovers Your Blog" in Blogger.com's Help section
- "The MySpace Generation" - Business Week cover story, including the sidebar, "Protecting Your Kids From Cyber-Predators: Tips for parents as their teenagers venture into social networks." Business Week reports that "last spring, MySpace created an algorithm to identify underage users and eradicated 330,000 profiles." MySpace says "about a quarter" of its 165 employees monitor safety through customer service." The article doesn't say how it does that, but a cybersafety consultant and attorney MySpace hired for the purpose, Parry Aftab, said the site "reviews photographs and removes snapshots showing members topless or in offensive t-shirts." Facebook also "employs algorithms to remove problematic users and follows up on reports of user abuse." Another protection is that "college users also must have an email address ending in "edu" [and basically communicate only with people on their campus] and high school users can join only if a member invites them in."
* * * *Web News Briefs
- Everywhere TV
Move over, iTunes - now there's Google Video. The online video store, already offering popular CBS programs like "Survivor" and NBA basketball games 24 hours after they aired, is bringing the goal of everywhere TV a little closer. But with Google Video, TV-producer wannabees can also upload their own video and set their own prices for their shows (including free). It's a remarkable opportunity for creative young media mavens to experiment with TV as they're learning to be actors or journalists or animators. And they can do so in the comfort of their own homes, as well as other places, where parents may not be aware of what they're uploading. As with all technology there's a huge upside, but also a downside of which parents will want to be aware. Here's the BBC on the Google development, and a 1/6 item in this newsletter about several Web sites where video can be uploaded and stored for free (Google says it screens all videos, the other two have anti-porn policies but do not screen). Meanwhile, we're barely into the "Everywhere TV" era, and already there are tools for putting TV on the video iPod and Playstation Portable, The Register reports. First it cites TiVoToGo and blinkx.tv To Go, adding that "four other US companies, Hauppauge Computer Works, InterVideo, Proxure and Bling Software have launched products this week that do something similar, mostly citing the Video iPod, but all able to work just as well targeting the Sony PSP." [Watch out, programmers! Only TiVo provides any copyright protection so far.]
- iTunes issues
Privacy concerns have surfaced with the latest version of iTunes, CNET reports. In the new iTunes, when you click on a song in your playlist, a little "MiniStore" window on your screen turns up links to tunes you might like to buy. "To provide those recommendations, the software sends information about the selected song, such as artist, title and genre, back to Apple," according to CNET, which adds that the iTunes software is also sending Apple "a string of data that is linked to a computer user's unique iTunes account ID." There's speculation it includes info like credit card numbers and email addresses. However, an Apple representative told CNET that the company "does not save or store any information used to create recommendations for the MiniStore." Meanwhile, because video iPod users are going to be more and more itchy to download video beyond the so far meager offerings in iTunes, CNET's Declan McCullagh looks at the software options for otherwise downloading TV shows or copying ("ripping") them from DVDs (it looks like, for now, the options are either pricey or legally murky).
- For music-loving families
Making iPods work when there are several in one house is not an easy task. Out of the box, it won't help copy a music collection to multiple computers, and it won't help you put multiple music collections on a single computer. But the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg reviews low-cost software programs that can help. For the multi-computer problem, he explains how these apps help: CopyPod for Windows, PodWorks for Mac, and PodUtil for both. For the problem of copying parts of a family music collection to Mom's, Dad's, and Junior's iPods, he suggests a workaround or a $10 utility program called Libra. BTW, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced this week that 42 million iPods have been sold so far, 14 million of them just in the last few months, the Washington Post reports. In the UK, a study by researchers at Leicester, York, and Surrey Universities found that, because of easy and constant exposure to music (via iPods and the Internet), people today don't value it as much as they did in the past. Reporting on this, a commentator at The Register writes that the findings were predictable. "Still, it's good to have it down in black and white, all statistically verified and everything. And it keeps academics off the streets."
- Student reporters catch sex offender
A 22-year-old man occasionally visits a Minnesota high school and poses as a 17-year-old "prospective student" and British royalty - until smart school newspaper reporters do a little Web research on him. That's the story told by KARE TV in the Twin Cities. "At the school newspaper, they thought, if Caspian's story were true, it certainly would make an interesting feature." They found his MySpace.com page, headed the "Earl of Scooby." Next he turned up in Florida's registry of sex offenders. He turned out to be Joshua Gardner, of Austin, Minnesota, "convicted of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct in Winona County in 2003." Though the principal said there were no reports of any student harassment during his three visits to the school, KARE reports that he's been charged for violating probation, and " his probation officer is recommending that he go to prison for 21 months, which is the sentence that was stayed after his conviction back in 2003."
- Microsoft to debug software
Last week's PC security flaw that caused a storm of confusion and controversy, as well as an early patch from Microsoft, is causing the company to treat such flaws differently from now on. MS said it will scour all its software for similar bugs, ZDNET reports. Last week's flaw was different from anything that went before in the world of Windows PCs, Microsoft says. "Typical flaws are unforeseen gaps in programs that hackers can take advantage of and run code. By contrast, [this flaw] lies in a software feature being used in an unintended way." So MS is "pledging to take a look at its programs, old and new, to avoid similar side effects." Here's my latest coverage of how PC security has gotten even more complicated (and don't forget the 3 basic rules: firewall, anti-virus, and up-to-date patches on family PCs!).
- The thing about texting
...is it's asynchronous, teens will tell you. When they're on the fly and don't want to talk to somebody because that could suck up sooo much time - but there's something brief they have to tell that person - they'll text. That's what 16-year-old Cybil told the Sacramento Bee, in a story that starts out being about the jaw-dropping cost of teen texting to parents not yet familiar with its attractions to teenagers. So, as with phone bills for parents, ironically, texting is all about control and predictability for teens. They can control the length of the connection when they're busy - they don't get sucked into the black hole of a phone conversation. As for parents' control over phone bills? Well, there's the prepaid option, so that when the communicator runs out of minutes and text messages paid for upfront, that's it. Parents can actually budget for that amount. The other option, which I looked for but didn't see in the article, is not allowing texting. I asked my service (Verizon) to turn off texting on our family plan, so we don't have to pay the $.02 for every incoming message, the $.10 for every outgoing one, or the $7-10-or-so/month for unlimited texting. Something to look into, anyway. [See also "The appeal of text to teens."]
- iPod-compatible jeans
Jeans and iPods are now sharing more than their universality, according to news reports from the US, UK, India, Romania, Germany, Australia, the fashion industry, and Geek.com. That last media outlet says this new line of Levi's jeans (due out next fall) will include "a watch pocket with a special joystick that allows for the operation of an iPod within." The iPod itself will have its own special pocket that includes a built-in docking cradle. The BBC adds that the jeans will also sport retractable headphones. But never fear, parents, they're washable (after the iPod's removed). What is a little scary is the price: about $200. I can't resist quoting Levi Strauss's own description (from the iLounge, news site for iPod users): "The new Levi's RedWire DLX jeans have been developed to be practical and leading-edge in their aesthetic. A crisp white leather patch and joystick, bluffed back pockets with hidden stitching, and clean minimalist buttons and rivets allude to the iPod's famously pure design." But what the fashion-conscious will really be glad to hear, thanks to Geek.com, is: "Levi Strauss has designed the jeans to hide the iPod 'bump,' so as not to injure the aesthetic appeal of the jeans." Whew!
- Whither childhood?
If you're one of many parents a bit puzzled about "KGOY" ("Kids Getting Older Younger" - kids wanting iPods at age 8 is part of it), you might find two New York Times commentaries interesting. In her "Domestic Disturbances" blog, Judith Warner (author and XM Radio host) writes about how girls are ditching (sometimes violently so) their Barbies at younger and younger ages. She asks, "With competitive soccer now starting in kindergarten, academic tutoring beginning in preschool, and catty parlor games now a part of girl life as early as the third grade, what's left of the years that can properly be called childhood? Does little-girlhood end now at 4?" [Don't miss the many parents' responses below her post.] And in a column about how we took the child out of childhood, Peter Applebome asks the questions: "How did we get to the point where few kids ever get to play with friends outside of a play date, to walk to a neighbor's house without parental escort or to have free, unsupervised time in which they're not tethered to a television set, computer or Xbox? How is it that Mr. Bernstein's friends in their 40's go out to play soccer every Saturday but their children wouldn't know how to organize a game on their own without parents around?
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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