Here's our lineup for this second week of February:
- Two great sites (maybe 3): One for the kids, one+ for us
- For Valentines - how e-mail affects real romances
- The Internet in the classroom: A teacher reports
- A CBS MarketWatch survey disagrees
- Good (interim) news on Y2K and travel
- Free computers: Here's the catch
- Another new Web space for women
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Sites on the family scene
This week an in-depth look at two new Web offerings you should know about - one for 6-12-year-olds and some great material for much bigger kids (us!). We talked to two of their creators to get the inside story:
New world in the CTW Web universe.
You might call it a "GeoCities for the younger set." At least, that's one way to get a handle on Sticker World, Children's Television Workshop's newest Web venture, just launched this week. Created for bigger kids than the little guys CTW traditionally speaks to, it's a whole "society" within the CTW Web world - already populated by more than 2,500 Web sites designed by its 6-12-year-old residents themselves, said Tina Sharkey, executive vice president of CTW's online group.
"Kids are signing up on an average of every three minutes," Tina told us in an interview yesterday. "We were all here late last night just watching the servers. I was obsessed with my page and wanted to get more points! I was having a really good time with it - I'm even getting e-mail," she said (from her fellow Sticker World designers). After telling us she's seven months pregnant, she added, "The staff tells me I built a pregnant page because I put dancing pickles [sticker] on my page!"
It's all those child-made Web pages that makes Sticker World a little like grownup GeoCities, the giant community of personal Web pages (now in the process of being acquired by Yahoo!). But the comparison pretty much stops there. Sticker World, Tina says, is "safe and private and educational." It's not just a huge conglomeration of sites loosely called community; it's interest community - people gathering around a common interest (which is what many of us would call a real community in cyberspace). The current sticker subjects are Adventure, Animals, Cool Stuff, Machines, Nature, Pets, Science, Space, Sports, Transportation, Whaddaya Say?. Each sticker is worth points (we picked a very cool one worth 80, which took our starting total all the way down to 220, but it was worth it).
Stickers can be traded, sold, and…well, played! Some of them are little interactive games. Kids visit each other's pages; we visited KATTZ's page (each participant makes up a name for this world), and s/he got two points just for entertaining a visitor!
We left KATTZ a message ("Visit my page!), which showed us two things: 1) the area is very safe, and 2) safety somewhat limits self-expression. It's safe because it's a "controlled environment," as Tina put it. Participants can only leave a message that's offered in a list of about 150 one-liners (everything from "I like movies, do you?" to names of rock bands and stars, indicating serious fan-ship). The limitations are obvious. But there's plenty of opportunity for revising one's page (adding new stickers, swapping old ones, changing one's motto (Girl Power!) and background, visiting and leaving messages, and chalking up more points. We think that'll hold 6-12-year-olds' interest for a good while.
We asked Tina why CTW's doing this. "The 6-12 area was very much an open space for us. The question was, what could we do that was significant and empowering and in keeping with our mission to educate and entertain kids and their families." It also turns their children's magazines - KidCity for 6-9-year-olds (Sticker World's umbrella section in the CTW site) and Contact Kids for 9-14-year-olds - into multimedia offerings. "We'll be moving content back and forth between the magazines and the Web site," Tina said.
We see some similarities between Sticker World and other pioneering children's "controlled environments" on the Web - for example, MaMaMedia for a similar age group and Purple Moon for pre-teen girls. All of these well-intentioned efforts are worthy of parents' support. If you've been to any of them and have strong feelings in any direction, please e-mail us, and tell us what they are!
For soccer moms and dads.
Sports Illustrated Kids had a logical idea: Help parents support their children's sporting experiences. It's really the parents-as-gateway concept we hear a lot about in the online industry, but here's someone actually doing something about it! SIKids had been bundling a parents' supplement with the magazine twice a year since it launched in 1994. Last November, they increased that frequency exponentially to "always open," launching a Web site just for parents: SportsParents.
We called up the site's editor, Amy Lennard Goehner, to ask her how frequently they update: "We put a new feature story up every week and change something in the site daily," she told us, adding that feedback from parents comes right into her mailbox, so she knows what her readers are looking for.
Topics we found in our visit this week included "Coaching your own child," "Feeding your young athlete," "Ten things parents don't get about sports," and "When your kid is on the bench." The goal: "to offer information and advice that will help you enrich - and survive! - your children's sports activities." Contributors include a sports medicine specialist and a psychologist.
The definitive source for BBall fans?
Finally, if you're into pro sports as much as kid sports, by the looks of it, NBA.com has every imaginable information and community resource a basketball fan could ever need. Now, mind you, this comes from surfing soccer moms who won't be able to fit too many televised games into their schedules this season. If you disagree with us and think there are better BB Web sites than NBA.com, would you e-mail us the URLs? We'd appreciate your expertise!
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Beyond 'You've Got Mail'
For Valentines, the New York Times ran a fun story on the role e-mail is playing in several real-life romances. This piece is not about people meeting online; it's about using e-mail to work out some of the issues couples have a tough time addressing in person. It's also about how e-mail is changing the world of love letters. Or, as the Times's Katie Hafner puts it, it's about "the revival of the epistolary romance." Epistolary romance of a different sort, that is, with communication happening in a more informal style that's half way between speech and writing and with no visual cues from body language. It's fun to hear real people describe the advantages and disadvantages to the presence of e-mail in courtship.
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The Internet & the classroom: A teacher's view
Last school year we had a wonderful time interviewing teachers about how they used the Internet in their classrooms, and we want to keep you posted on the subject as fresh information comes out. Here's the very latest - a scholarly study by Ted Nellen, a New York City high school teacher: "Education and Community: The Collective Wisdom of Teachers, Parents, and Community Members".
Ted discusses how "real connections between communities and schools can be made by the Internet" using tools such as telementoring (involving communities members outside the school in classroom work via e-mail). He's talking about using e-mail to connect schools and their physical communities. E-mail is also a wonderful tool for connecting members of interest communities. By that we mean connecting students with professionals and researchers with expertise in a particular topic - whether they're local or anywhere in the US or world! Chicago junior high science teacher Judy Whitcomb illustrated this use of telementoring (and her successes with it) in interviews with us at the start and the end of last school year. She is one of more than 100 teachers participating in Northwestern University's "CoVis" project for improving science education by "approaching the learning of science more like the doing of science."
BTW, Ted Nellen's paper is found in First Monday, the first peer-reviewed scholarly journal about the Internet published solely on the Internet - a fascinating experiment in and of itself. Actually, it's a well-established experiment that began in May '96. Other topics of interest in this month's issue are an in-depth look at the constructive side of hackers (there really is one, despite the picture conventional media paint) and a paper on how non-profits can make better use of the Internet for fundraising.
If you know of a classroom teacher who's had real successes teaching with the Internet, do e-mail us about it (via email@example.com)!
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Just how revolutionary is the 'Net?
Contrary to teacher Ted Nellen's position that the Internet is a tool that enhances the learning experience, a CBS MarketWatch poll shows that almost two-thirds of those surveyed see the 'Net as "a whole new approach" that changes the way people do things, rather than a tool that helps people do what they already do. "Whether or not people use the 'Net," CBS pollster say, "they agree on the revolutionary nature of it."
And while we're on the subject of tech in school, the CBS survey found that - "while more than half think it's important for school-age children to be able to use the Internet, 45% don't think so. And more than half of those without computer access think it's NOT important for children to have computer abilities." Meanwhile, another survey - by a research firm in California called DataQuest - shows that fully half of all US households now have a computer. And AOL's certainly persuaded a lot of people that there's some value in connecting those computers; it announced this week that its subscribership has passed the 16 million mark.
Here are the complete CBS poll highlights - including people's thoughts on the Internet's value as a medium, demographics, and user/non-user concern about pornography on the 'Net.
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Good news for the travel industry, good news for us - for now.
The world travel industry apparently breathed a collective sigh of relief this week, after passing its first Year 2000 milestone. Feb. 4, 1999 - "the first day customers could book tickets on big airline reservation systems for flights departing on Jan. 1, 2000" - came and went uneventfully, according to Reuters via Time. The report said that the more than 100,00 travel agencies that book about 80% of all world travel rely on three computer reservations systems: Galileo, Sabre, and Amadeus. The companies that own those systems have been working on Y2K compliance since the mid-'90s. The way last Thursday went bodes well for the next big hurdle: Jan. 1, 2000. Still, if you agree with Steven Marks, the Y2K expert we interviewed last week, you'll tend not to book transportation on that day.
Gartner Group gives pause.
Since we published the interview, Steven sent us the URL of another site he recommends: Gartner Group's bottom line on Y2K. Two statements in it are worth noting: 1) "Much of the world's technology will experience some level of failure. Leaders must accept that widespread failures will occur." 2) "The likelihood of failures will become widespread public knowledge over the next 12 to 18 months. Panic may cause more damage than technology failures." Steven Marks echoed that last item: precautions are good, panic is definitely counter-productive. Anyway, the reason why Gartner's worth heeding because of the credibility its info-tech research has in the corporate community worldwide (11,000 corporate clients).
Asia lags behind.
And a recommendation Steven made that did appear in last week's issue was Yardeni.com, the Y2K site of Wall Street economist Ed Yardeni. Well, Yardeni's in the news this week quoting something Sun Microsystems chief Scott McNealy said before the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last week. It made headlines: McNealy "said that everyone in the room should buy the computers they need this year because his company might not be able to produce them in 2000," Yardeni posted in his site. He added that McNealy said Sun's component suppliers in Asia are "one to three years behind in fixing their Year 2000 Problem." The full story's at Wired, and Yardeni's comments are in his site.
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What price a free computer?
It's now clear that our personal data - age, income, family status, shopping habits, etc. - is worth more to Internet marketers than the price of a computer! A new company called Free-PC, Inc., the brainchild of Internet company incubator idealab!, is giving away Compaq Presario computers complete with Windows 98 and free local Internet access. The catch is, recipients get a special screen that includes advertising stored on the computers' hard drives (here's what it looks like). It never goes away, whether the user online or offline. That's what pays for the computers. But recipients also pay, in a sense, with all the personal information they provide in the questionnaire they're required to fill out in order to receive the computer.
Wired News has the lowdown. It's nothing nefarious, really; this is just another example of the fact that there's no free lunch! The business model isn't particularly new. It's similar to one that has been used by cell phone companies: to get people to sign up for cellular phone service, give them the phone for free; their use of the service is more valuable than their one-time payment for a phone. In this case, consumer data and habits is the real value to the provider. It's also just a step behind the free-e-mail business model of Hotmail.com and Email.com - users pay by allowing advertising to be tacked on to the bottom of every message they send.
What do you think of the free-PC concept? Do e-mail us if you've already gone to free-PC.com and filled out the questionnaire!
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Yet another Web choice for women
Move over iVillage and Oxygen Media (on AOL). MSN has joined the content-for-women fray with WomenCentral, launched just this week. The content looks familiar: career, financial, health, family, and personal issues, according to Wired News. Much of the material is supplied by Women.com, which itself partners with Hearst New Media's HomeArts.com and Astronet.
Do any of you have a favorite women's site yet? Or do you use the Web for other types of content? Please e-mail us your thoughts.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend.
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