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December 15, 2006

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A 20-something's view of mobile social networking

By Ann Moylan-McAulay

The second part in our series about social Web sites and services from the perspective of a university student studying their impact.

The September 15th issue of Net Family News introduced a new category of social networking called "location-based SN," also known as mobile social networking. These sites are different than most social networking sites because they add cell phones, physical location, and text messaging to the mix. This sounded particularly interesting to me because I had never heard of anything quite like that, and certainly never used it. is one of these location-based SN sites, and I decided to check it out.

Dodgeball (DB) first asks you to provide some personal information, plus information about your cellphone when you sign up. It does not ask for your age. On the DB Web site, you have the option of putting up a profile. This includes describing your "scene": a list of places you frequent. Once you are signed up, the point is to go out in the world and hang out in your scene rather than socialize strictly online. This is one of the things the site brags about, and in fact claims it is the reason this site is better than the other computer-dependent networking sites.

DB works when you "check in" by text messaging your location (usually a popular hangout, like a coffee shop, bar, or club) to the site and to everyone on your friend list. It then gives you a list of all your friends of friends within a 10-block radius and lets you know where they are and how these people are connected to you. If you have a camera phone and you agree to let DB send you photos on it, you can receive photos of anyone nearby.

Another feature worth mentioning is that you can choose up to 5 "crushes," who are notified whenever you're within 10 blocks of them. The message they get includes your name and location and says you have a crush on them. You also get a message saying, "One of your crushes is nearby- Make yourself look nice!"

Because people's ages aren't given on their profiles, it's impossible to get a feel for how many teenagers are using this site. From the looks of things, most of the users are over 21. Most of the venues listed on people's profiles are bars, and the site itself makes multiple references to meeting friends for drinks. This does not mean that teens are not on this site. It is still in its early stages and could experience an increase of younger users if the concept takes off. Right now DB is available in 22 major cities across the US.

I think this site will really appeal to teenagers if it becomes well-known. The site combines different technologies - the Internet, cellphones, and text messaging - all of which play a major role in many teen social lives. It also might appeal to teens because the focus is on people who want to "see and been seen," and young people often like to show off their popularity by letting everyone know where they are, what they're doing, and who they're with. And the "crush" feature feels like it's catering to teens specifically.

I would recommend that parents really take an active role, knowing what their child is doing with DB if they sign up. Because this site broadcasts the exact location of a user, it is very important to know who is on your child's friend list. It is also crucial to understand that friends of friends are given notice to the user's location, so it would be good to know who they (that 2nd tier of friends) are too. I could see this working within a small group of teen friends, but it is almost impossible to monitor, once the list of friends grows, which it can do fast and exponentially. Also, although the site is free, the usual fees apply when it comes to text messages. Extensive use of DB could become quite expensive! All of this information should be taken into account when deciding upon individual family rules for online socializing.

Ann Moylan-McAulay is a third-year student at Portland State University majoring in Community Health Education. Her internship under Dr. Kris Gowen focuses on educating teens about smart and healthy use of the Net. Her first review in the series looked at

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Web News Briefs
  1. Mobile-y social teens & the future

    I've just seen another piece of the (near) future. I was reading this press release about how "The N" (MTV's "nighttime network for teens"), mobile social site, and online research firm OTX are together creating "the first-ever wireless teen research panel" called "Teens Everywhere." "This new methodology gives the network direct access to a panel of 10,000 young people for immediate feedback about their lifestyles as well as network programming, advertising, events and other information" - something their parents may want to know about. In exchange, the teens get access to a new social-networking microsite (micro to fit on a phone screen), where they can upload and download phone content via computer or phone (ringtones, photos, videos, songs, info, etc.) and socialize with one another (the press release doesn't say if they get new phones too, which would be quite a draw). They'll be recruited from the existing community as well as and (a popular profile-decorating site). But the piece of the future I'm seeing, here, is Mbuzzy. It mashes up a whole lot of elements and parties interested in converging - teenagers, content, devices (phone and computer), and professional content providers (record labels, game producers, film and TV producers, etc.). Because Mbuzzy is both a social site and a distribution service of both professional and homemade media for both phone and computer, it makes everybody very happy. Teens can create and distribute their own content as well as socialize around it, plus they can download (and buy) "cool content" for their sites and phones from their favorite artists and labels. For the digitally literate, it's getting increasingly annoying not to be able to move whatever content you have around to and from whatever device and share it with whoever you want, whenever you want. Mbuzzy fixes that. People in music, TV, and film probably get that, but they wish they could just sell it, not have it shared quite so much! [For example, see "UK kids' tune-swapping on phones."]

  2. 2006: 'Tsunami of self-expression'

    That's from Jon Pareles of the New York Times. He adds: "Simply unleashing it could be the easy part. Now we have to figure out what to do with it," and I think he's right. Individual media producers (your kids and mine) have to figure it out, as do professional artists, lawyers, parents, media companies, educators, judges. "The music business in particular is going to have to remake itself with lower and more sustainable expectations, along the lines of how independent labels already work. But let the business take care of itself; it's the culture that matters." And Jon goes on to describe the fragmentation, or segmentation, of the music scene, as well as the "tabulation" - the way "sites featuring user-generated content prominently display their own most-viewed and most-played lists" or sites like and "that gather hard-to-find songs for listeners to download" - the now slower (but maybe more authentic?) ways we get to the "top of the charts." But that's the question - is the grassroots way a better way to get to good art than huge marketing dollars on the record companies' part? Maybe. Check out The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki. And stay tuned to the user-driven Internet - I'll be watching right along with you. ;-) [Thanks to Michael Geist of BNA Internet Law for pointing Jon's article out.]

  3. Va.'s online-teen protection plan

    Echoing Sens. Schumer and McCain's announcement last week (see this item), Virginia is now looking at a proposal to bar sex offenders from social-networking sites. The state attorney general, Robert McDonnell, is proposing requiring the state's 13,500 sex offenders to register their email addresses and IM screen names," InformationWeek reports, adding that "the proposal was immediately endorsed by" The proposal, which will go to Virginia's General Assembly for approval, calls for the offenders' electronic IDs to be turned over to social sites for blocking. Here are reactions to the McCain-drafted legislation at CNET.

  4. FTC: Disclose online stealth ads

    You might call it digital word-of-mouth. Probably since the beginning of blogs, advertisers have been creating ad blogs - blogs that look like any other pundit blog or music-fan blog, but that are really more like banners ads or billboards. Now, in a milestone development for Internet marketing, the Federal Trade Commission is going to require that advertisers disclose their relationships with paid bloggers, the Washington Post reports. "In October 2005, Commercial Alert, an advertising and marketing watchdog group in Portland, Ore., petitioned the FTC to consider taking action against word-of-mouth marketers," according to the Post. Among the practices Commercial Alert has spotlighted since then are Procter & Gamble's use of "a volunteer force of 250,000 teenagers to promote the company's products to friends and relatives." Procter & Gamble says the participants in its "Tremor" marketing division are free to be positive or negative when they talk about products and only receive products to sample, no other compensation. The FTC's action appears to address the online version of existing word-of-mouth regulations.

  5. Left Behind Games: New game & social site

    Among the rapidly multiplying niche social-networking sites is the just-launched It's another brainchild of Left Behind Games, "evangelical Christian software corporation spun off the best-selling book series," CNET reports. Left Behind is promoting it as a "safe and profanity-free alternative to services like MySpace that have largely unregulated content." As for the company's just-released game Left Behind: Eternal Forces, I decided to see how much coverage it has been getting and a search of Google News turned up more than 200 news outlets around the US and overseas picking up the story about the controversy it has sparked. A couple of examples are from Reuters and the Associated Press, the latter a brief item on a Presbyterian minister's protest against the game. Reuters earlier described the game this way: It's "set in New York City after millions of Christians have been transported to heaven. Players are charged with recruiting, and converting, an army that will engage in physical and spiritual warfare with the antichrist and his evil followers."

  6. Update your Windows!

    We all just experienced "patch Tuesday" again. Microsoft released seven PC security patches this month. "The software maker originally planned to release only six security bulletins as part of its monthly patch cycle. However, it added a seventh to deliver a fix for two flaws that affect the Windows Media Format," ZDNET reports, adding that they were to take care of 11 security flaws, most in the Windows operating system. "However, there were no fixes Tuesday for a pair of known flaws in Microsoft Word that are also being exploited in malicious software." If you need to download the patches manually, just go to Microsoft Update. Washington Post security writer Brian Krebs offers protection advice for the long term at the bottom of his coverage of patch Tuesday.

  7. Views on Vista

    For family PC owners wondering about whether or not to upgrade to the new Vista operating system, here are multiple perspectives on the subject - from smart people who have been following Microsoft developments for years. The bottom line from's Larry Magid, writing in the New York Times is: "Even if your PC is Vista-ready, that doesn't mean you should buy the upgrade kit. For most users, especially those whose hardware isn't quite up to speed, it might make sense to wait until it's time for a new PC" (after January 30). PBS tech pundit Robert X. Cringely echoes that thought with a bit more bite: "Will people upgrade their existing systems? Of course not. Microsoft operating systems are always designed for future PC's, not for the installed base. Part of the plan is to make Vista work poorly on current computers so we'll all have to buy new ones." CNET looks at whether the PC security component of Vista is a privacy intrusion, and the Associated Press and the whole picture of Vista security.

  8. Game industry to parents...

    Check out the ratings! With the help of Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) on Capitol Hill recently, the videogame industry launched a new consumer-awareness campaign. Senator Lieberman "said parents must play a central role in learning about the ratings and what games their children should be playing," Fox News reports. CNET adds that "both senators have been vocal critics of the game industry in the past." The videogame ratings are at the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Meanwhile, London's reports that Left Behind: Eternal Forces, which "depicts a crusade of violence by Christians could be heading for the bestseller charts this Christmas, even though it has been condemned by Muslims and secularists." And two mainstream news outlets looked at the latest research on videogames' effects on teenage brains: NBC and USATODAY, leading with the story of a high school history teacher's own thoughtful test of whether videogames teach anything and, if so, what and how well?

  9. For young game developers

    Microsoft wants to create the YouTube of videogames, the BBC reports. The difference is, though, a lot more people know how to shoot and produce videos (and post them in a site like YouTube) than know how to design games. So Microsoft made its game-development tools available to everyone - including students. Five UK universities "were involved in the initial trial of the software, suggesting tweak to the tools." A computer science lecturer at Hull University got started right away on working the game-development tools into his curriculum, he told the BBC. "While the games that can be created by these new tools will be rudimentary in comparison to the best-sellers, it would hark back to the days when games were made on a shoestring budget." The development software can be downloaded for free, "but many may want to join the XNA Creators Club, which allows [game] developers access to technical support, white papers, starter kits and other assets to help turn the games into reality. This will cost 65 [about $128] for an annual subscription, or 30 for a four-month subscription."

  10. Police on the social Web

    Law-enforcement people are using the social Web more and more in their work, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. "Most commonly it's detectives in the gang and intelligence units who troll the sites, but ... more officers are getting trained because the sites have become so popular - and young people are so frank on them." If a kid has a photo of himself holding a gun, police won't start a file on him, but they'll definitely add what they find online to a file if the person is already the subject of an investigation. They also use the social Web to find out what kids are thinking and talking about in schools and neighborhoods, the News & Observer adds. But police also know that kids can act out online, that what they say and depict is not necessarily true. One officer told the News & Observer that it isn't illegal to pose with a gun "unless you are a convicted felon. Even then, he said, it would be difficult to prove the gun is real," and photos can be altered.

  11. 'Trust with verification'

    That's the parenting approach PC World writer and licensed family therapist Steve Bass recommends to his friends, along with monitoring software. The friend he leads his article with has five kids 16 and under. "You've probably guessed I abhor programs that spy on users - but Mom and Dad really need to know what's cooking online," Steve writes (though, ideally, we don't need spyware to know that). "Philosophically, though, I'm okay with watching what people do on their PC provided they're fully aware that it's happening." I tell parents that too. If you're concerned, you're not getting the picture directly from your kids, and you have to use monitoring software, be up front with them about it, if possible - because if you monitor secretly, how much harder is it to work together after you've found them doing something inappropriate and have to confront them with it? Readers, how about you - what's your approach to protecting your online kids? Email me anytime. [BTW, Steve goes on to explain in the article how his monitoring program of choice works - check it out.]

  12. High-school-sports social site

    Sports Illustrated has invested in its future. It struck a deal with, a social-networking site that's all about high school sports. "Under the alliance announced today, sports fans can go to to nominate candidates for SI's Faces in the Crowd, a longstanding department of the magazine that recognizes student athletes," reports. SI will also feature a pick-of-the-week athlete video chosen among videos posted on Here's the press release from the two companies.

  13. UK kids' tune-swapping on phones

    Note what kids in the UK are doing on phones and you'll see what's coming to the US. Copyright law isn't exactly on the minds of British child cellphone users. A recent survey found that almost a third of UK 8-to-13-year-olds share music with their phones - "using the built-in Bluetooth wireless feature of many phones ... but without the consent of copyright holders," the BBC reports, and "almost a half (45%) of children who said they did not swap music via their phones said they would like to." A quarter of British children under (more than 1 million) have a mobile phone, "and newer models are commonly used as MP3 players to listen to digital music."

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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