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June 16, 2006
Here's our line-up for this second week of June:
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Web News Briefs
- Social networking for kids 9-14!
But don't be dismayed - this is not MySpace for 9-to-14-year-olds. California startup Industrious Kid is about to launch Imbee.com, a safe social-networking service for kids. This is actually big kid-tech news, the first product I've seen of its kind and a great idea (NetFamilyNews doesn't have the resources to properly test software and services, but I always want to alert you to new ones with good thinking behind them). Based on a run-through of product and parental-control features and a long conversation with Industrious Kid, Imbee.com does two things: 1) It gives budding online socializers a safe place to blog and socialize, and 2) it gives parents on-the-job training (with teachable moments) in parenting on this highly participatory, kid-driven phase of the Web we all face. If a parent is lucky enough to be embarking on this journey with a 9-year-old instead of a teenager, here is some real help. What I like about Imbee.com, from what I can tell so far, is that it supports parent-child communication, demystifies social networking for parents, and looks to be an interesting, viable product for kids. (I'm pretty sure on that last one - I need to try it out on my 9-year-old - but the point is I as a mom want to; I've been wanting to get him a safe email-type tool of his own to talk with his buddy in Chicago, but until now nothing grabbed me.) The Industrious Kid presentation convinced me that this product, for once, is not about controlling kids, like so many "solutions" that have come down the pike; it's about giving kids the tool for self-expression and socializing that MySpace is but with age-appropriate safeguards. Check it out - you can take Imbee's parent tour on Imbee's home page (bottom right-hand corner).
- Social Web: Only the beginning
Social networking isn't going anywhere, parents. That's the basic parental take-away from the Global Internet Summit in Laguna Beach, Calif., this week: The social Web, with all its faces - from social networking to blogging to media-sharing - is "poised to shape [the] Web's future," CNET reports. "Social networks such as MySpace.com are already challenging traditional portals. MySpace, for example, has surpassed MSN and AOL by measure of monthly page views ... and its traffic equals roughly 75% of Yahoo's, the No. 1 site on the Web," CNET added, citing remarks by Safa Rashtchy, managing director and senior analyst at investment firm Piper Jaffray. MySpace had 50 million visitors in March. Not that these monster Web 2.0 sites or anyone else knows how they'll turn their huge traffic numbers into comparable revenues, but it's a safe bet they'll figure it out. Meanwhile, this week comScore MediaMetrix released its latest social-networking figures, with MySpace the Web's 7th most high-traffic site (after giants such as Google, eBay, and Yahoo). May's Top 6 SN sites were MySpace.com, Classmates.com, Facebook.com, YouTube.com, MSN Spaces, and Xanga.com, respectively.
- Teen reputations, jobs at risk
The two biggest risks for kids on social networks are cyberbullying (among young teens) and reputation tarnish for high school and college students. Teens need to become their own spin doctors in this age of overexposure - fast. "Researching students through social networking sites [is] now fairly typical," reports the New York Times in a front-page article Sunday. "Many career counselors have been urging students to review their pages on Facebook and other sites with fresh eyes, removing photographs or text that may be inappropriate to show to their grandmother or potential employers. Counselors are also encouraging students to apply settings on Facebook that can significantly limit access to their pages." The Times points to one new graduate who was passed up for a summer internship because of "interests" listed in his online profile such as "'smokin' blunts' (cigars ... stuffed with marijuana), shooting people and obsessive sex.... It did not matter that the student was clearly posturing. He was done." High school students' experiences with summer jobs and applying for college admission will be no different, if their profiles and blogs aren't already being searched for "background checks." It has never been more important for social networkers to think before they post. If they're in denial about how public these sites are and not using privacy controls, they need to come out of it. (Parental caveat: Privacy features also reduce parents' ability to monitor social networkers, which is why parent-child communication is also more important than ever.)
- Young and uber-connected
First there was Generation X, then GenY, and now it's GenTech, as CBS News puts it in some of the best, most balanced coverage I've seen yet on our ultra-connected teens. We, CBS says, are "adult culture," kind of a new way to describe today's generation gap, since baby boomer moms and dads had unimaginably minimal options for socializing as kids: in person, by phone, and in writing (on paper). There is no leveling off of teen socializing online, of course: 24% more teenagers are online now than four years ago, CBS reports. One article in the CBS series is about MySpace, reported by its writer, Sean Alfano, *from* MySpace. Note one observation from a mom on MySpace about her teen MySpacer - that her daughter was kind of processing her feelings and issues on MySpace first, that things could come out more in person *because* of that process (it wasn't clear if the mom was monitoring her daughter's MySpace use, but she was a member herself). Another mom said her son Matt (15) was learning "the responsibilities attached to speaking your mind," and Matt told Sean that "he appreciated his mom checking on him to make sure he does nothing stupid," though he would tolerate no censorship of his "R-rated" profile. You can get to all pieces in the series from that first link in this item.
- Teens & 'terrorist' charges
It's becoming widely known that teens act out in social-networking sites. As I reported last week, police in Dallas know there's a difference between gang members and gangsta wannabees in MySpace. Still, in this post-9/11 era, charges are escalating. "Schools cracking down on students who plot violent attacks against classmates and educators are increasingly turning to a new form of prosecution: charging the suspects as terrorists," USATODAY reports. "Typically, students involved in such crimes are charged with offenses such as conspiracy, attempted assault or making bomb threats. But prosecutors say state legislatures now allow them to get tough -- with charges that permit longer sentences -- to prevent attacks such as the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., which left 15 people dead, including the two teenage gunmen.
- RIAA might sue less
That's my take-away upon seeing that the recording industry is saying illegal file-sharing has been "contained." RIAA CEO Mitch Bainwol said the industry's P2P problem isn't over, but online music sales are "thriving" and file-sharing is "flat," USATODAY reports. "The RIAA has sued just over 18,000 individuals for sharing songs online, with 4,500 settling for about $4,000 per case. Album sales are still down -- about 3% this year. But Bainwol says digital sales -- up 77% -- make up for the shortfall." A San Jose Mercury News blogger interviewed an analyst who offers some possible explanations (some with tongue in cheek) for what looks to be a major strategy shift. Across the pond, Sweden's justice minister said his government might legalize file-sharing and, to compensate music companies, impose a surcharge on broadband Internet service, Sweden's English-language news service The Local reports.
- Windows patches, zombies, etc.
More than 60% of Windows computers have been turned into zombies, ZDNET reports, and a lot of those are home PCs. Zombies are computers that have been taken over by malicious hackers who use them to send out zillions of spam messages or to launch denial-of-service attacks that shut down Web sites (often in extortion schemes). PCs usually get hijacked when owners click on links in emails or IMs that download worms or viruses carrying Trojan software that allows remote PC manipulation. The latest PC security risk is malicious Web sites that send your computer spyware and other "malware" automatically when you click to them from a Web search engine (people need to be careful what they click on from search engines now too, not just emails and IMs). The BBC reports on that. Meanwhile, Microsoft Tuesday released it biggest bundle of security patches of 2006, the Washington Post reports - 12 security updates "to fix at least 21 vulnerabilities in its Windows operating system and other software, including 12 flaws Redmond labeled "critical." PC owners, if you haven't automated patching, go to WindowsUpdate.com (patches can help keep your PC from becoming a zombie). Meanwhile, CNET reports that phishing attacks and botnets (the networks of zombie PCs that malicious hackers manipulate) are outpacing law enforcement.
- Alternate-reality *school*?
Might make sense, since - as ABC News reports - 96% of boys and 78% of girls play videogames on a regular basis (that's from a Journal of Adolescence study). CNET write Stefanie Olsen looks at whether virtual world games are the future of the classroom. She lead with how "this summer, as many as a million virtual kids could catch an infectious virus known as Whypox, causing them to break out in red welts and spout 'Achoo' whenever chatting with friends." Only virtually, though. She's talking about a game, sort of, a multiuser virtual environoment (MUVE) called Whyville, which has a population of about 1.6 million 8-to-12-year-olds. MUVEs are "a genre of software games created to inspire children to learn about math and science, among other subjects." In other gaming news:
- Sexual role-playing game. ABC News reports that the new "Naughty America: The Game" is "poised to go where few games gone before: the bedroom." It's a multiplayer online game that combines "one-on-one chat functions, player profiles and multiplayer dating games with options to interact both online as well as in the real world." Its makers say they're working on age verification for the online version (doesn't sound like they've got it set up yet).
- OK law challenged. As with at least a half-dozen other states' laws, the Entertainment Software Association immediately challenged a just-signed Oklahoma law that prohibits stores from selling M-rated games to minors and requiring them to check IDs as with alcohol and tobacco sales, the OK University Daily reported.
- Gamemakers clueless? CNET ran a report on gender issues from the Sex in Videogames conference.
- Ad growth expected. The San Francisco Chronicle ran a story on how huge product-placement advertising is going to be in videogames: huge.
- 'MySpaceMail - not email, thanks'
A lot of parents could tell, but research now shows that "for the first time, teen email use is dropping - apparently in favor of more 'instant' alternatives," IM-ing, MySpace mail and posting, phone texting, the San Jose Mercury News reports. Some kids who do have email accounts say they got them just so they could sign up for a social-networking account. Even IM growth is slowing, compared to MySpace mail. ComScore Media Metrix found that, in April teen email use nationwide dropped the same month in 2005, since February, teen e-mail use nationwide has been dropping compared with a year earlier. "Even though the average time spent online by teens increased 11.6% from April 2005, to 22.5 hours a month, time on Web mail declined 9%.... Total IM users increased only 1%, while the number of teen users declined 8% - in part, some experts say, because of the rise of MySpace, which allows users to send comments and messages to each other." What's interesting, here, is that MySpace is a separate "universe." If adults don't have an account, they can't contact their child through it - different from being able to IM or email a child through "old-fashioned" channels.
- Understanding emo
A music genre is now also a teen social group that's often targeted by bullies. "On LiveJournal... one of the top blogs is called 'Die Emo Kids'," the Toronto Star reports. According to the Chicago Tribune, mood swings and therapy are now cool, and both the emotions and an almost stylized neediness are readily depicted on social-networking sites. "You can find the ever-more-youthful emo trend in cities and suburbs. And it has spread, thanks to the Internet, faster than you can type, 'Seeking desolate landscape populated by preteens.'... You can Google 'emo' and find step-by-step pictorial guides for 'emo makeovers.' That is, how to transform a geeky guy with a pencil tucked behind his ear, working at a copy store, to a 'bona fide emo boy' ... shown dying his hair black, ditching the smile, slipping on a black T-shirt and scarf and, in the final photo, putting razor blade to wrist, from which something red is spilling." Besides the bullying and cutting, another risk the Tribune cites is kids swapping prescriptions the way they used to swap Twinkies for chips in school lunches. Don't miss the insights into all this from Trib source Michael Lacocque, school counselor at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, "who has been working with 7th graders for much of his professional life." (Now kids as young as 12 are experimenting with being emo.)
- 'Mosquitotone' on your kid's phone?
Have you heard about this ringtone yet? Mosquitotone is a ringtone that most adults can't hear, and it's propagating among teen cellphone users wordwide as we speak. Reportedly it all started with a shopowner broadcasting this sound outside this store to repel teen loiterers who apparently were scaring off customers. "The original Mosquito device is a small black box that looks like a speaker and emits pulsating sounds at a frequency around 17 kilohertz -- a range that is audible to relatively undamaged young ears but generally harder to hear for those older than 20," the Washington Post reports. The Post discusses how it went from there to a wildly popular line of subversive ringtones that do a great job of getting back at the original concept. The Post quotes a school security officer as saying he could see it becoming a problem in the fall, when a lot of kids will be "running to the bathroom" to answer their phones, which will be ringing in class under teachers' radar. Here's the New York Times's coverage.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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