Dear Subscribers:

Here's our lineup for this final week of February:

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Is advertising the biggest threat to kids on the Web?

The New York Times ran one of those milestone articles late last week that is worth our collective consideration. It suggested that, despite widespread parental concern about pornography on the 'Net, advertising may actually be a greater threat to children. It includes views from all key perspectives: the Center for Media Education, a child psychiatrist, the Children's Advertising Review Unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, a children's Web site, and a unit of the Saatchi & Saatchi ad agency that does "the most intensive research into the Internet's power as a means of selling to children." The piece also includes six tips for parents on how to deal with Web advertising aimed at children and a list of the Top 10 most popular kids' sites (their traffic was measured by Media Metrix). Here's the list, with a brief look at the sites on it:

  1. - Nickelodeon's umbrella site, which advertises all of the cable channel's shows and the RugRats movie, then "adds value" by offering interactive games, nominations of the Kids Choice Awards, a contest, and a kids poll. It also carries ads of companies selling products to children, such as Gap Kids. This is a fairly ubiquitous model for organizations - like Disney and Children's Television Workshop - that are "extending their brands" into new media and basically marketing their original kids programming on TV.
  2. - This site markets Nintendo character Pokemon, with "his" games, comics, trading cards, and other ancillary products. It's like an interactive fan-zine, offering Pokemon news and Web-based games. It doesn't sell products in the site, but it describes them in detail and tells users where to buy them. It's different from and because it's marketing product rather than programming for kids, but it too is extending a brand.
  3. - In the same category as mostly marketing TV shows and the channel as a whole.
  4. - The younger version of, marketing Blue's Clues and other good shows for the littler ones. Like Children's Television Workshop, it emphasizes parent-child collaborative online time.
  5. - This site makes no bones about the fact that it's selling Lego products. It does so fair 'n' square, with a privacy policy compliant with FTC recommendations, pages for parents on child development and toys, and an About page that predictably explains the corporate mission. This is typical Web marketing: promotion + "value add" (Web games).
  6. - This one's interesting. The site of ANTAGONIST, Inc., "an underground incorporation of die-hard computer and video game fanatics," it bills itself as "the Internet's No. 1 Gaming Community." This group seems to understand the power of the Internet more than most marketers in conventional media, building as it does on a passionate interest community: "This ANT community festers and thrives under the cybersoil, shunning the contaminated corporate gaming sites found elsewhere across the World Wide Web." It's a conspiracy! :-) And that's exactly why its constituents like it. They are enlisted to seek new games and report what they find (with rewards for "breaking news"), participate in game-playing and debate, and recruit new ants. How parents feel about this is entirely individual, but the site isn't selling any single company's product. It demos many games and encourages community members to review them. It's independent "niche journalism," cyber-style.
  7. - In the same category as, marketing the company's products.
  8. - It took some digging (because there's no "About Us" page), but this site is produced by a video game accessories manufacturer, InterAct Accessories, Inc., a subsidiary of another, multinational company. InterAct was founded in 1991 by 23-year-old Todd Hays. It definitely markets accessories; its "value-add" is reviews of games that run on various companies' products (Sony PlayStation and GameBoy, Nintendo 64, etc.) and reprints of users' letters. It's also a kind of "help site" for all kinds of gamesters' questions on the products. And given the site's popularity, users find it genuinely useful.
  9. - This is an e-fan-zine for the NSYNC vocal group, pure and simple. It's marketing the group, and it carries plenty of banner ads from other sources on the Web, such as Mining Co. It also sells NSYNC merchandise: CDs, posters, T-shirts, etc.
  10. - Brand extension (into the children's demographic group) beyond the original grownup version: Yahoo!. This is original, made-for-the-Web "programming" for kids - it's a directory to kids' resources out on the Web, an e-zine (HyperSite), games, and a place download "cool stuff." We don't see any advertising on it (from other sources). The only thing it appears to be marketing is the Yahoo! brand.

Now we'd love to hear from you on this! Do you find Web marketing to kids a greater concern than sites that are sexually explicit or violent? An interesting critical-evaluation project both for teachers and for families would be to visit a group of sites like the above Top 10 and figure out what's being marketed and how. If you do such a session, we'd love to hear what teacher/parent and children have learned together on the subject! High school students might be assigned the New York Times piece. We would love to be flies on the wall during class discussion on how the Internet is changing marketing (if it is) and what impact it's having on children and teens. Do e-mail us!

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Web News Briefs

The Web at college.
According to Student Monitor, a market research firm that surveys student Web use twice a year, 95% of university students now uses the Internet. And use is growing so fast that the firm has had to revise its definition of "heavy Web user," says the article in MSNBC. The definition used to be "someone who uses the 'Net once a day"; now it's "10 or more hours a week." And what do those heavy users do on the 'Net? The No. 1 use is research for classes. After that, it's ESPN, MTV, CNN, New York Times, MSNBC, and JOBTRAK (a job database for college students).

Purple Moon shuts down.
It was a big surprise to us. Purple Moon, the pioneering girls community site that also marketed preteen girls CD-ROMs, is closing up shop, according to Wired News. It was a high-profile project of Internal Research, a technology incubator funded by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. The article cites Mattel's market dominance, but no real explanation is given for Purple Moon's sudden demise.

Colored Macs, matching Web sites.
The Macintosh has not really changed. Now that it's available in a rainbow of colors, its users are demanding that their color of choice be reflected in the Web sites they surf. Well, one Web site, anyway. According to Wired News, now offers a choice of background color to users on request. They pick a color, and a "cookie" makes it appear each time they return. The data shows that tangerine is hot in Denver (you know - Broncos, orange uniforms…).

So what else is new?
Consider cyberspace as being divided into two parts - receivers and servers. We're the receivers and all those Web sites out there are the "servers," the number of computers connected to the 'Net that are serving up data. Well, according to Wired News, that latter number grew by 43 million "unique machines" last year, or about 46% over '97. At the current rate, says Network Wizard, who measures the 'Net's growth semiannually with "spider" software that crawls around and counts hosts, the Internet will be 100 million machines big by 2001. Of course, the biggest domain was .com, but - at 18% - it wasn't the fastest-growing. Puerto Rico (.pr) has the winning growth rate of a whopping 1,177%.

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Interview with a librarian

Librarians are, in many ways, our Internet scouts - our advance guard - as mainstream North America goes online. So every now and then we check in with a librarian to see how the Internet is "taking" in his or her community. This week: Marilyn Tsirigotis, reference librarian at the Sumter County Library in South Carolina.

Marilyn is one of those librarians who thinks the Internet is great. She has several reasons: "It's a great tool," it's fun to teach ("I like the one-to-one"), and its use is backed by an eminently sensible Internet use policy that the Sumter County Library has in place.

Let's start with that policy - one reason why we think, as Marilyn tells it, the Internet has been so well-received there. The county library system (the main library, two branches, and a bookmobile) has been connected for about two and a half years, with 10 connected computers overall in the three libraries. "The first year we had the Internet we had at least 700 registered users, and there are several thousand now," Marilyn told us.

Registered, we asked? Yes, Marilyn said. "First they read the usage policy and our list of rules and regulations, then they sign a Statement of Liability saying they agree with what they've read. If they're 18 and older, they can sign up for themselves. If they're 17 or younger, they have to have their parents sign with or for them."

One of the most sensible practices of Sumter County Library that Marilyn told us about, we think, is circulating librarians! "There's always somebody walking around. We've always tried to make ourselves visible in the stacks, so we just do this more now because of the Internet."

The lack of controversy in Sumter County is in contrast to nearby Greenville and Pickens Counties, Marilyn said. In the latter, that County Council ordered that the Internet computer be put "behind closed doors," she said, "where the staff couldn't monitor people's Internet activities or even tell if they were changing the hardware settings!"

Marilyn has had "several conversations with parents about what's available on the Internet. Now we have one computer in the children's room with filtering software on it [Net Nanny, she said]. This was an answer to those parents' concerns, though we do say that parents are responsible for what children do on the 'Net." And overall, "maybe five or six people have had their Internet privileges revoked" in the past 2.5 years," Marilyn said. She added that, when people do get caught abusing the privilege and are told they could no longer have access, "they don't usually put up a fuss because they know they're in the wrong."

And as for those children, we asked, are you teaching them how to use the Internet more and more? Yes, Marilyn said, but it's about 50-50 children and adults. Adults are coming in and asking about the 'Net just as much as children, she said - and many of them because they want to buy a computer and come to the library to figure out e-mail and the Web first [we noted Marilyn's indication that the Internet is why they want to buy a computer!]. The library doesn't do many formal classes simply due to lack of space ("all those books in the way," we suggested, and she laughed). "Whenever someone comes in," Marilyn added, "a reference librarian can guide them and teach general research techniques. If we're not too busy we can spend 30 minutes or so with them - otherwise a few minutes, then we'll check back."

Has the Internet's arrival changed the library? we asked Marilyn. "Well for one, we're able to provide access to information now that we weren't able to before." She mentioned world statistics, information on other countries, archived newspapers and periodicals, business directories nationwide. "And it's changed the librarian's role in that we're having more of a teaching role…." Many of their "students" are parents. Marilyn added that they're now making a concerted effort to have on hand good materials for parents about online safety for kids.

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This week from CyberAngels' K. Beatty, some advice on using message boards: "On the Internet, one means of communication is via message boards. Like a bulletin board at school, people post messages and thoughts on the 'board' and others comment and give their opinions.

"One of the problems that newcomers to online bulletin boards face is the sharing of their email address and personal information with the world. If a board or online form by which you post a message asks for your name and email address, should you input them? Only if you don't mind 'anyone' seeing them. But what if you post something that someone else disagrees with? You could end up being what they call 'email bombed.'

"This is when someone who disagree with you fills your email box with 'spam' (unsolicited mail). To an Internet-savvy user your e-mail address can identify your area of residence. Putting it with your real name makes you very easy to track down. What to do? First, be careful not to get into a "flame war" on a board (arguing back and forth with people over an issue). It invites trouble and really doesn't accomplish anything. When you post to a board, use an alias or 'nickname' and, when asked for your e-mail address, either leave it blank or use what is called a 'remailer.' A remailer is a third-party e-mail program that is Internet-based and keeps your personal address personal. Some examples are Hotmail, Yahoo! mail and Netscape mail. If you see a flame war starting on a bulletin board, stay clear; the Internet should be fun and educational, and there are thousands of boards that are just that."

[Material supplied by our partners, CyberAngels, reflects their views, not necessarily those of The Sage Family. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email us.]

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


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