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November 3, 2006
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GottaFlirt.com: Not for teens
Kris Gowen, an expert in child and adolescent development in Oregon, recently posted in our BlogSafety.com forum about some consulting she did with a high school that uses MySpace to teach students HTML coding. She wrote, "this side of the story needs to come out more in order to balance out the panic that has emerged from this issue." I emailed her a thank you and a request for information about her work, and a conversation ensued.
Dr. Gowen asked me if I knew anything about GottaFlirt.com. I didn't, but checked it out and told her that, though the site's minimum age is 17, I strongly suspected younger people would go there because teens love quizzes about love and dating, but I was interested to note there was no reference in the site to safety or privacy, even though it offered opportunities for private chat. She replied, "I like your 'teens love quizzes' point. To me, since it looks as though females play for free and males pay, it is a recipe for older man/younger woman (teen) disaster."
Kris told me one of her undergraduate interns was reviewing sites teenagers frequent and could review GottaFlirt.com and other such sites for NetFamilyNews.org. I told her that would be great. So meet Ann Moylan-McAulay. She's a third-year student at Portland State University majoring in Community Health Education. Her internship focuses on educating teens about smart and healthy use of the Net. Here's a synopsis of the first of her reviews. A growing archive of Ann's reviews can be found on Dr. Kris Gowen's page at MySpace.com.
A look at GottaFlirt
A new Web site launched in May 2006, GottaFlirt says in its press release that it's for "'the MySpace generation'," who want to experience the exciting world of flirting from the privacy and convenience of home." People 17 and older are allowed to register. As of this writing, there are 678 pages of profiles, 64 are girls 17-19, 103 are boys of the same ages. The largest population on this site is men aged 20-25 with a total of 214 pages.
Here's how it works: Women who want to play a flirting game sign up and invite people to play along, either from the GottaFlirt site or from their MySpace or Facebook friends lists. At game time, only 5 guys can participate; if more guys want to play than there are spots, they have to pay in order to get a chance to play - and guys who weren't even invited can also pay to play if they are on the site at game time. The game consists of 10 multiple-choice questions, and as each guy answers them, the "hostess" (the woman who initiated the game) rates each answer on a scale from 1 to 10. Other game viewers can participate by rating the guy's answers too. At the end of the game the guy with the highest score receives the hostess's email address and she receives his. She also gets the runner-up's email, but he doesn't get hers.
This is a site poised perfectly for disaster in the teen realm. This site should be geared toward people older than 21 because it is not a safe or healthy teen environment. My three major complaints (and believe me there are many more minor ones) are:
Readers, send in your comments on this or any site teens at your house or school use. I appreciate their and your perspective. The address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- This site has no form of age or email verification upon registration. Not only does this allow tweens and younger teens to participate, it also allows anyone to participate. This is scary when you consider that upon winning a flirting game these men are given the hostess's email!
- After signing up at the site, within minutes I was sent an email confirming my registration and providing the game's rules. The email said: "Our only request is that if the winner contacts you and you aren't interested, please reply to him out of courtesy and say no thanks." I don't think it is right to make people feel obligated to return a message - it encourages a conversation with a perfect stranger. And teens may feel especially bad about turning someone down or ignoring him all together. I don't think all teens have the kind of judgment that will help them decide when to disregard this message.
- This site was created by three young male entrepreneurs who have business and popularity on their minds, not your teen's best interests. I'll let them speak for themselves: "Since women are more often initially attracted intellectually and men physically, the game clicks instantly for both genders. Men spot a hot woman and want to play in her game. Women judge the men and get the guy who best connects with her. In the end, it's a match based on real personalities instead of a carefully scripted profile of a prospective date." These are not the kind of men that I want designing a site for any teenager that I care about.
* * * *Web News Briefs
- The legalization of YouTube?
Apparently being acquired for $1.65 billion is good news and bad news for YouTube. As for the latter, there's the ongoing copyright battle, apparently leading to the deletion of tens of thousands of video clips from TV shows, the next challenge being X-rated video, no doubt. But the big news at this point is YouTube's purging of video from Comedy Central, including clips from "YouTube stalwarts like 'The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,' 'The Colbert Report' and 'South Park'," the New York Times reports. "A week earlier, nearly 30,000 clips of TV shows, movies and music videos were taken down after the Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers cited copyright infringement." Who knows what these purges will do to the "People's Republic of YouTube," as the Los Angeles Times recently put it in an in-depth article on this "great leap forward in the democratization of pop culture." Will the Google acquisition shut down this latest iteration "people power"? Examples from the L.A. Times: "The best-known gotcha YouTube post came from an Indian American student tailing U.S. Sen. George Allen (R-Va.). The student recently captured an irritated Allen pointing him out and telling his supporters, 'Let's give a welcome to macaca here - welcome to America.' The slur prompted a tsunami of media coverage that sent Allen's campaign into a tailspin. Another popular series of clips shows U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) on the campaign trail, joshing about his Guatemalan gardener and struggling to stay awake during a Senate hearing." Or does it not even matter, as Steve Maich (I'm thinking the next Clifford Stoll-style Net critic), a senior editor at Canada's Macleans magazine, suggests at length in ""Pornography, gambling, lies, theft and terrorism: The Internet sucks." BTW, Comedy Central clips reappeared on YouTube after their owner Viacom signed a deal with YouTube, a media blog reported two days after the Times piece appeared. [MySpace, too, is cracking down on copyright infringement. It announced this week it would block copyrighted music and videos from being uploaded to user profiles, the BBC reports.]
- Messy time for music
It's messy and confusing on all fronts, it seems, from not knowing what player tunes will play on to not knowing what is and isn't legal. In "simpler times," one pretty much knew the file-sharing networks were virtually all illegal. Now sites like MySpace and YouTube are both threat and opportunity to the music industry, the Washington Post reports. MySpace, on which more than 3 million bands and musicians have profiles, announced this week it would now "identify and block copyrighted music from being uploaded" by users, CBSNews.com reports. "If an infringing file is found it will be removed and if the user is a repeat offender, he or she could have their profile deleted." Meanwhile, "the CD is dead," a music industry CEO said in a recent speech, the CBC reports, and the Washington Post ably illustrates. EMI Music CEO Alain Levy said the control over content that the industry once wielded by virtue of controlling the means of distribution is rapidly slipping from its grasp" - into the hands of consumers. So the consumers are being educated. Take the Boy Scouts, for example. In the Los Angeles area, Boy Scouts now have a "Respect Copyrights" activity patch, the Associated Press reports. Then there's litigation education, which continues. Earlier this month, the IFPI, the London-based umbrella organization for the recording industry worldwide, launched 8,000 more lawsuits in 17 countries, "including its first legal forays into South America and Eastern Europe," the AP reports in another article.
- Critical thinking critical: Educators
US school administrators are at least as concerned about information literacy as about online safety for their Web-researching students, a new study found. "Four out of five (79%) school principals and administrators see danger for students on the Internet increasing, and commercial and pay sites rank as their greatest concern," said the press release from tech education company Thinkronize, which commissioned the study. "When asked to rate the specific types of dangers facing students on the Internet, 61% of survey respondents said pornography and 58% said adult predators were a great or significant danger. Concern over getting useless or irrelevant results when using search engines was also high at 59%. The issue rated highest, however, at 76% was concern over unauthorized redirection to commercial or pay sites when conducting online research." A tech educator in Sacramento quoted in the release said she's worried about the 50,000 students in her district being "bombarded by inappropriate ads in the one place that should be all about learning" - as well as the distraction and time waste these irrelevant sites represent.
- Wiki-ing, Google-style
Google is adding another app to its put-people's-whole-lives-on-the-Web agenda. Along with Writely for word-processing, YouTube for video-sharing, Google Spreadsheets for collaborative budgeting, among others, Google just acquired the JotSpot wiki service for collaborative publishing (eBay uses JotSpot for its member wiki), CNET reports. Google's acquisition may be a sign wikis (besides the already very mainstream Wikipedia.org) are going mainstream, maybe even classroom wikis (see this Boston Globe article), which might be considered dynamic "textbooks" that students and teachers write collaboratively as class knowledge evolves. [It's the way science is going. Prof. Richard Karp at University of California, Berkeley, recently said that, "increasingly, scientific research seeks to understand dynamic processes" (described by algorithms) as opposed to static phenomena (described by equations), the New York Times reports.] Here's a definition of "wiki" at eBayWiki.com: "The word Wiki is a shorter form of Wiki Wiki (weekie, weekie) which is from the native language of Hawaii, where it is commonly used as an adjective to denote something 'quick' or 'fast'."
- Social Web: Research 'treasure trove'
Buried in a New York Times article about the future of computing are some interesting comments about behavioral research on the social Web. That includes research about teen users. In social-networking sites behavior "can be tracked on a scale never before possible," says the Times in its coverage of a symposium held in Washington this past month by the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board. "Social networking research promises a rich trove for marketers and politicians, as well as sociologists, economists, anthropologists, psychologists, and educators." Pretty soon, researchers say, people will be wearing a tiny digital device with a mic and a camera and "essentially record his or her life. The potential for communication, media and personal enrichment is striking." It may bring self-awareness to a whole new level, the way social networking is enhancing people's social situational awareness. But there's a downside to consider: a growing tension between people's privacy and researchers' hunger for knowledge.
- The essential cellphone
British young people see their cellphones as "a key part of their identity," the BBC reports, citing a new study by the Trust for Study of Adolescence. "They are private, personal devices which give young people independence of both movement and communication." According to UK communications regulator Ofcom, 82% of UK 12-to-15-year-olds and 49% of 8-to-11-year-olds do. Both these age groups make an average of eight calls and 25 text messages a week. A few highlights from the Trust study: UK parents say young people are safer with phones than without them, despite concerns about text bullying; youth are more concerned about text bullying than their parents (67% said they had either been a victim or knew someone who had been); parents typically buy their kids phones to keep track of them and for emergencies; parents prefer to talk with their kids, while kids preferred texting with parents. "The research also showed having a mobile increased young people's feeling of independence and was frequently used to plan arrangements both with parents and friends."
- Social 'scrapbooking'
It could also be called multimedia blogging. Facebook's new "Share" feature "allows its 11 million users to collect scraps of published content from affiliated sites -photos, news, videos - and paste these items on their own ... pages," Reuters reports. It's an easy way to do what so many of us do - link to and comment on what we see on the Web, except many of us adults just send URLs in emails so someone has to take the extra step of clicking to the Web page and finding what we're emailing about. Any site that links to Facebook can participate, but to kickstart the "scrapbooking," Facebook has partnered with the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, NBC Sports, PhotoBucket.com, StupidVideos.com, GameSpot.com, The Onion, CollegeHumor.com, etc. Another new product in the social scrapbooking category is Vox.com. It makes multimedia blogging much easier and offers lots of privacy levels. In a single blog or online journal, you can choose what post or even "asset" (a photo, a video, a chunk of text, etc.) can be for family only, for a wider group of friends, totally public, etc. So if you're on a trip, and you want everyone to see your amazing shot of pictograph on a canyon wall but only family to see another shot of it with 4-year-old Sally staring at it, family will see both and the Web public only the former. One blog, several publics. It was just launched by SixApart, creators of LiveJournal.com (popular among young bloggers) and TypePad (a favorite of online pundits and professional bloggers).
- 'Ads' on the social Web
Remember the old AT&T Friends & Family program, where you got a better rate if you get others to sign up? Well, the concept, a form of "viral marketing," is now used in social-networking sites. One example, cited by the New York Times: "Chase has a promotion on Facebook that implicitly uses a person's friends to endorse its credit cards. When people join the Chase '+1' group on Facebook, they see a list of their other friends who have joined the group. The program gives members points when they do things like apply for a card and get others to sign up." Another Web 2.0-style "ad" is for Axe deodorant on MySpace - part of a campaign about "Gamekillers" - "people who get in the way of a seduction, like a guy with a British accent who gets all the attention. The pitch is that Axe helps men stay cool in the face of the Gamekillers," the Times says. People could post complaints and tips about Gamekillers on the Axe profile whose "online host was Christine Dolce, a busty model who was already a celebrity thanks to MySpace, where she has accumulated more than a million friends." The Times says 74,000 MySpacers have added the Axe profile to their friends lists. I wonder how many teenagers identify with the cool guy undeterred by Gamekillers or cultivate Gamekiller skills or who aspire to being the next Christine Dolce. In any case, it's probably all a big game to most teens exposed to these campaigns.
- Gambling ban questioned
Banning online gambling in the US is like the ban on alcohol during the Prohibition, said Britain's culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, in the run-up to an international conference on Internet gambling. According to the Associated Press, she said the ban "would make unregulated offshore sites the 'modern equivalent of speakeasies','' those secretive backroom bars of the 1920s. Congress tacked the legislation onto an unrelated law that was signed by President Bush earlier this month. The UK handles online gambling differently: "Under new British gambling laws, online operators have a 'social responsibility'' duty written into licenses and policed by the independent Gambling Commission watchdog," the AP reports. "It requires them to work to prevent underage gambling, give prominent warnings about addiction and inform users how much time and money they have spent on the site."
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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