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April 6, 2007

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Social-networking meets virtual worlds

If anyone's wondering if virtual worlds are the next social frontier for teens, they might want to look at the evidence. At least, the evidence of how much one virtual world - Second Life - has infiltrated the "real world" and vice versa (I'll get to the teen part in a moment):

And while Second Life passes the 5 million-resident mark, long-time members with something of a "we were here first" attitude are getting annoyed about the commercialization and all these new avatars walking and flying around, the Los Angeles Times reports - though their message is more about wanting more say in the virtual world's fate. So now there's a "Second Life Liberation Army" blowing up storefronts (I'll explain) and saying that "80% of long-term residents support their cause." The L.A. Times reports that: "The [Liberation] Army has staged a number of protests.... Three gun-toting members shot customers outside American Apparel - bullet wounds in Second Life are not fatal but merely disrupt a user's experience - and Reebok stores last year. Then they stepped up the campaign, exploding nukes, which manifested themselves in swirling fireballs that thrust users at the scene into motionless limbo."

But there are other worlds in existence, including Teen Second Life with 40,000+ members, as well as new worlds in development. Lego's working on a kids' world that will add the social element to its creative construction focus. It will join worlds for kids already in place: e.g., and (even Neopets, ClubPenguin, Habbo, and Cyworld have virtual-world elements). Many older teens play in the more game-like World of Warcraft, which has battles to fight and levels to attain.

MTV has all kinds of virtual-world plans - worlds tied to its titles in TV land. It's planning a Virtual Pimp My Ride, which it will link by virtual highway to existing worlds Virtual Laguna Beach and Virtual Hills. "These take the story lines of hit shows Laguna Beach and The Hills, respectively," CNET reports "and weave them into a large, public 3D digital environment in which users can meet the shows' stars, or "live" the lifestyles of the programs."

Other grownup worlds include the more sci-fi, Sweden-based Entropia Universe (more like Second Life than World of Warcraft). Sony has announced its "Home" world for PlayStation 3, CNET reports, but people won't be able to build stores and residences in it; it's more a combination forum and virtual home for players (where they can store artifacts and other virtual possessions they acquire in PS3 games), sort of like Xbox Live but with avatars and their "homes." A brand-new world + social networking combined is, "which extends a profile system" like MySpace's "into a three-dimensional world" (probably moving a bit beyond South Korea-based Cyworld with its avatars and "homes" (which launched in the US last summer). "Kaneva, Latin for 'canvas,' certainly isn't as immersive as the world of Second Life, but its simple design and controls may draw a much larger, less tech-savvy crowd, reports.

Related links

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Web News Briefs
  1. Dot-XXX domain: Final nix

    Well, final except that ICM - the would-be dot-xxx registrar that has been working on the establishment of a Web "red-light district" for seven years - says a lawsuit against ICANN is "likely," the International Herald Tribune reports. ICANN, which manages the Web's domain names, first rejected the dot-xxx domain in 2000, and ICM resubmitted its proposal in 2004. Key to ICANN's final decision this time was the Canadian government's warning this past week that "a decision to approve dot-xxx, could put the agency, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, in the tricky business of content regulation, having to decide which sites are pornographic and which are not." The final decision was 9-5 against in "an open board meeting, with each of the voting members explaining their reasoning." In his commentary,'s co-director Larry Magid writes, "Despite years of advocacy on the part of its sponsors, I remain unconvinced that that the .XXX top level domain would have furthered the causes of child protection or free speech. It might have been effective had it been mandatory for all porn sites, but that would have brought up enormous free speech issues that many of us would not fathom. Because it would have been voluntary, there would continue to be porn sites with .com TLDs, possibly giving parents a false sense of security by believing that all porn was walled off."

  2. Social mapping, Google-style

    Google brings new meaning to the term "social mapping" with My Maps. We knew about Google Maps and we knew about social-mapping on cellphones with GPS tech in services like and Google's Dodgeball. But this blogger in Australia (and others) has picked up on the social element of personalized mapping on the Web. "Google Maps is certain to attract much more attention as it becomes a place for locals to share their wealth of knowledge about their neighborhood and surrounding community." Because My Maps allows you to add photos and video, people can create photo and video records of their trips and "share them with the 'My Maps' community." Here's Google's users' guide for My Maps.

  3. UK's cyberbullied teachers

    In British classrooms, it's the teachers who are getting bullied (well, in North America too, actually see "We're all on Candid Camera"). In its usual irreverent style, The Register reports on its investigation into what was really being said in about "front-line educator" Andy Brown when he spoke about his and other educators' experiences at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference (yes, there were some meanies, but there were also some nice ones about how "witty, intelligent, inspiring, encouraging, kind and creative" Mr. Brown is. It's an entertaining article that might be pointing to the lessons of the social Web: We're all going to be increasingly "out there" (more public), so, as they are for our teen social networkers, our options are: a) be glad if the balance sheet of Web public opinion is more positive than negative, and b) develop a thicker skin and be who we are, or c) just be nice all the time (which of course is also no guarantee of an all-positive balance sheet). See also "The social Web's digital divide" between self-exposing teens and their privacy prone elders.

  4. Phones: Life's 'remote control'?

    That's what a CBS executive told the New York Times cellphones are becoming to us (or maybe our kids): a kind of "digital remote control." "In Japan, McDonald's customers can already point their cellphones at the wrapping on their hamburgers and get nutrition information on their screens. Users there can also point their phones at magazine ads to receive insurance quotes, and board airplanes using their phones rather than paper tickets." Pretty soon, using the Web won't be something you head to the office or find a wi-fi hotspot to do, it'll simply happen on a whim, or whenever anybody needs a little more info, a reservation, an address, or a map. "Links" won't just be on Web pages. A researcher at Hewlett-Packard in the UK calls them "physical hyperlinks" - bits of information that everything in the real world is associated with. Phones will be the way to connect objects with their info - like the nutritional info for a bottle of juice that will no longer have to be on the packaging. We'll also no longer need to go to an ATM for money; our phones will be our teller machines.

  5. MPAA's college black list

    The film industry's trade association has announced its Top 25 movie piracy schools, as well as its support for the Curb Illegal Downloading on College Campuses Act of 2007, reports. "This is a page straight out of the RIAA's playbook," according to ArsTechnica (see the RIAA's latest anti-student-file-sharer news here). Columbia, Penn, B.U., UCLA, and Purdue top the MPAA's "dishonor roll."

  6. Phone for 'tweens'

    Heard of Kajeet? You may from your kids soon. It's a new cellphone, a rare one specifically aimed at 8-to-16-year-olds (but probably more appealing to, say, 8-to-11-year-olds). It has a "mature look and simple pricing," the Washington Post reports. "Parents can set monthly allowances" for minutes, ring tones, games, and text messaging on the $99 phone's "pay-as-you-go cellphone service" on the Sprint Nextel network. No contracts or cancellation fees. And there's a "wallets" option, so that calls to family members are covered by Mom, for example, but ring tones come out of the kid's wallet. Kajeet has three phone styles available, the Post says, at Best Buy, Limited Too, and - on the West Coast - Longs Drug Stores. As for kid phones, The Olympian describes popular brands like Wherify, Disney Phone, Firefly, and Tic Talk.

  7. Kid phone fashionistas

    Having a cellphone is something of a fashion statement or status symbol for US 8-to-12-year-olds. For many of their parents, it's something of a security blanket, the New York Times reports, in a thoughtful trend piece. Of course, what's fashionable changes pretty fast in that age group, since the children, the tech, and the coolness factor are all changing at once. Here are some numbers: Nearly a third of this age group had cellphones by the end of last year (about 6.6 million out of 20 million), the Times cites Yankee Group figures as showing. It projects that'll be 10.5 million preteen phone owners by 2010. For eight-year-olds, the number more than doubled over the past four years and for 9-year-olds it went from 501,000 to 1.25 million in that time period.

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


Anne Collier, Editor

Net Family News

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