Dear Subscribers:

We have lots of news for you this week, including great news of our own. Here's our lineup for this first full week of April:

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The latest on Sage

We have news of great things to come! The Sage Family is growing - adding new subscribers, launching a new name (soon), and introducing a new contributor. Right now, we'll give you a brief overview and focus on what's happening Sage-wise this month….

The Sage Letter will soon have a new name more descriptive of what we do: 'Net Family News. We now have two award-winning partners: old friend CyberAngels (winners of a Points of Light Foundation 1998 President's Service Award) and new partner The Online Safety Project, operators of and (nominees of the 1999 ComputerWorld/Smithsonian Award to be announced later this month).

This week we'll be merging the SageFamily and SafeKids subscriber lists. Since last October we've been providing content for the SafeKids newsletter, so it made sense simply to combine lists and send the same information to you and SafeKids' subscribers all at once. The only content change will be occasional contributions from our partner and SafeKids founder Larry Magid, author, syndicated columnist, and nationally known expert on online safety (Larry gets around - you'll enjoy reading of his travels!). Nothing else has changed. This list will not be sold or bartered, and your privacy will continue to be protected. As you know, we appreciate your feedback any time (as usual, via! And if you ever want to stop your subscription, simply send a message to

Our new contributor!

We're delighted to tell you that Trent Spiner (13) of New York City will shortly be a regular contributor to the Sage Letter. We welcome his perspective, because we feel parents and other mentors of Web-literate kids can't be fully informed about things online without including those Web-literate kids in the discussion! Trent has more online experience than most adults - in fact, he can't even remember how much: "I went online as soon as I could type," he told us, "four or five years ago, maybe."

Trent is a fluent user of both AOL and the Web at large, has his own home page and chat room on Homestead, and is a journalist in his own right. He's a reporter for Children's Express, a top-quality non-profit news agency that publishes news and information "by children for everyone."

We thought you and your kids might be interested in his reasons for picking Homestead as his home page and chat room hosting service. It's far better, he says, than Angelfire or GeoCities. "Homestead is so far the best page maker I've ever seen," he says, referring to the page construction tools on the site. "It gives you all these templates you can use. You can make tons of stuff [in Homestead], and it's for free. I've heard bad things about Angelfire - that it's sometimes really slow because a lot of people are going on, and its pagemakers aren't as good. I don't like Geocities either. They put an ad on your page, and with Homestead you can put other people's ads on your page, if you want, and get paid for it." The editors of PC Magazine agree with Trent; Homestead is the "Editors' Choice" for free home pages and communities in this week's issue of PC.

Another bit of perspective we picked up in this week's discussion with Trent: why he uses both an ISP and AOL "pretty much equally." He chats with his friends at school and from summer camp almost exclusively, both on AOL and in his own chat room. "AOL is pretty much the only thing that my friends know about; nobody really likes it, though." Why? we asked. "It's not fun. All you can ever do is type in words. In other sites you can send pictures, change the font size and color. And if you go into a chat room on AOL, you get junk mail no matter what." We asked him why. "Spammers get your address there. They hang out in chat rooms and gather e-mail addresses. I stopped using AOL for e-mail, too [he uses Yahoo!'s free e-mail service], because of all the junk mail I got."

He set up his own chat room ("It's free, and it takes about five minutes to set up.") on Homestead partly out of frustration and partly because "it allows me to do more stuff." Examples he gave was the ability to change his user name any time he wants and the opportunity to put up a banner ad that earns him money (at $.08 a "click-through" from his chat room, he's earned $5 so far, via a banner-placement/online marketing firm once called Shout! Advertising, now merged with a US startup and called Click Agents Corporation.

AOL has its advantages, too, Trent says. 1) There's always someone there to chat with (if you get busy at school and don't have time to keep things going in your own micro-chat service). 2) AOL has technologies like Instant Messenger that let you know when your friends are online too.

Trent's first piece, probably next week, will be on favorite interactive game sites in his circle of friends. If someone in your house or classroom would like to tell us of a favorite site in the gaming category, please have him or her e-mail us.

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For the students among us

Now, here's a great idea for an online auction service: one just for college students. is a brand-new company hatched by students at Harvard Business School. It's the online version of that six-layer-deep bulletin board in the Student Union with zillions of dog-eared index cards offering apartments, roommates, rides to the Rockies, and used everything. We place this idea firmly in the "No Better Use for the Web" category. And we wish we had it when we were in college!

It looks like these young entrepreneurs have really thought it through. Campus24 includes classifieds, so students can advertise and sell services as well as goods online. Content is community-appropriate: not beanie babies, but rather CDs, bicycles, books, and computer equipment. It's more local than national (it'd be tough to ship that futon across the country). The service is starting in the Boston area (400,000+ university students) and rolling out next to metro New York, then Southern California.

We're seeing the "nichefication" of auction sites. It combines the fairly amazing technology of big general-interest e-auctioneers like eBay and Onsale with the insights of people who individual markets very well. For a press release on Campus24, see CBSMarketWatch.

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The full scoop on distance learning

Ever wonder just exactly what "distance learning" is - and how it might affect the students in your house? Well, it's a lot of things - in-house corporate training, professional enrichment, college courses for credit, etc.

The New York Times ran a wonderful comprehensive look at the subject this past Sunday - complete with a sidebar on the morphing of Britain's premier "non-campus," called Open University; a list of non-'Net tech tools profs use, such as CD-ROMs; sampler of URLs to universities and university clusters on the Web; and a list of questions to ask oneself in considering non-campus options.

The main piece, by Peter Applebome, opens with Northeastern University professor David Sonnenschein's delight over teaching Music 1101 online. He's been teaching the course for 25 years, Peter writes, and it's apparently never been better - if only because self-paced learning works very well in matching sound to music lingo.

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Even-more-universal access

While we're on the subject, Wired News alerted us to a worthy "universal access" ed-tech project. It's so universal as to serve students, educators, and schools in developing countries. The intended benefits: 1) collaborating with peers and connecting to Web resources in developed countries, and 2) becoming hubs in their own countries for community training and enrichment. The Alliance for Global Learning (made up of Schools Online, I*Earn, and World Links for Development of the World Bank Institute) will put a "network cluster" - resource center and five satellite schools - in each country. The resource center will help train teachers and develop curricula.

The Wired piece doesn't tell us which countries, or how many, but Schools Online has helped more than 5,000 schools in under-privileged areas of this country, I*Earn is active in more than 3,000 schools and youth organizations in 52 countries, and the World Bank Institute has helped schools in 14 developing countries.

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Help our teachers (from CyberAngels)

It's education theme week at the Sage Letter! This week's report from Parry Aftab of CyberAngels just happens to be about teachers and online safety:

"We get e-mails from teachers all the time. They want us to recommend course materials and classroom resources on online safety. They want our opinion on Web-filtering products, closed-systems services, and their acceptable use policies. But, most significantly, they want to know what liability they face, personally, if kids get into trouble online while under their supervision.

"How sad that teachers who are already overworked, underpaid, and without adequate support from us parents feel they face legal liability for information our children might access. How schools are dealing with the whole Internet access issue might be at the core of this fear.

"Keeping our children safe requires a team effort. Schools, libraries, and parents have to join forces if we are going to make sure that all children will be safe and get the full benefit of the Internet. But many schools are either ignoring the problem, thinking that filtering software alone is the solution, or are making decisions behind closed doors. This is a community issue, and everyone has to take part and understand what the schools are doing online.

"In our survey of parents from the Baltimore County schools last year, the one comment all parents had in common was wanting to know more about what their children are doing in school online. Yet, when teachers face 25-30 children in their class, and someone now installs one computer in the back of the room, what are they supposed to do? Who will be training them? How is the computer supposed to be used - for recess or for learning? How are they supposed to fix it when the computer goes down? (Most are now relying on talented "techie" students to repair applications and hardware.)

"The answers won't come all at once, and there is no single set of answers for all classrooms and schools. Arriving at them will take time, patience, and flexibility on the part of educators and parents alike. Schools have to sit down with parents and teachers and design an acceptable use policy that works for them [here's a well-thought-out example - the acceptable-use policies of the Baltimore County Public Schools ]. The policy should make it very clear that parents are consenting to their child's access to the Internet. It should describe the filtering software used, or firewalls employed. It should also make it very clear that nothing will fully guarantee that their children won't stumble across an adult site or share personal information with unsavory characters online. It has to explain the risks and make sure that parents have all the information they need to evaluate those risks. The policy needs to make clear that parental consent means parents are responsible for anything their children do wrong online that might have impact on others.

"Teachers should be able to sleep at night without worrying that irate parents will try to sue them for what their children do online. As a cyberspace lawyer, I see more than my share of adversarial situations. Let's make sure that our teachers are not afraid to use this wonderful technology. Let's support them so they can lead our children into the next millennium. To help in this effort, CyberAngels will be designing a new area just for schools and teachers, where we will discuss acceptable use policies and the legal issues involved. We welcome ideas and comments from teachers. We are here to show our support for all the hard work you do, and to thank you for all you've done for our children. We welcome anyone who wants to join us as a volunteer in this new project. I'll be heading it up. We'll also be looking for model acceptable-use policies. We'll use them as examples, good and bad. You can contact me at or"

[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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Web News Briefs

  1. War on the Web The tragic situation in Kosovo is all over the conventional media - we won't address that here. But the Internet part of the coverage could fuel some serious dinner-table or classroom discussion, not to mention a lively school debate. The New York Times reports that last week MSNBC held an online chat featuring Arkan, "the notorious Serbian paramilitary leader who is believed to be responsible for some of the worst atrocities of the Bosnian war," as the Times put it. A question for debate: Should an alleged international war criminal (he's since been indicted by the international war crimes tribunal) be featured in a chat event like any other personality? Sub-questions: Is this an ethical issue? If Serbian views are presented, should someone from the other side (say, the Kosova Liberation Army) be present in the chat session? One other noteworthy Times piece on the subject was about other ways the war is being waged on the Web: The Serbs actually managed to "temporarily disable" NATO's Web site.

  2. COPA appealed Here's a followup on the Children's Online Protection Act (COPA), the law passed last year which Congress said was designed to shield minors from graphic sexual material on the Internet. Wired News reports that the Justice Department is appealing a federal court's decision in February that COPA violates free-speech rights. Wired writes, "A three-judge panel chosen from the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is likely to rule on the case by the end of the year.

  3. Gotcha It didn't take long. The alleged creator of Melissa, the fastest-spreading computer virus in history, has been caught. Two stories on the subject can be found at Wired News and the New York Times. The most interesting part of all this is the story about how spawning e-viruses has become a hobby. It's the hobby of a programmers subculture. The hobby has spawned something else: a whole industry of companies that develop antidotes to the "15,000-20,000 viruses" circulating out on the 'Net, the Times reports.

  4. 'Net-savvy Virginia The AOP Bulletin had two interesting items in it this week. First, the state of Virginia is setting itself up as the model state for Internet support. Gov. James Gilmore signed into law "the nation's first comprehensive state Internet policy this week." It includes seven bills and creates the first state cabinet-level position (Secretary of Technology).

  5. Fail-proof (Christian) filtering The AOP also brought to our attention an ISP called American Family Online. Owned by the Tupelo, MS-based American Family Association, it offers filtered Internet service that is virtually impossible to over-ride. The filtering system blocks more than 1.7 million Internet sites, the AOP says. A brief review of the blocking service can be found in Christianity Today, which is not affiliated with the American Family Association. AFA's "About Us" page says they are a non-profit organization founded in 1977 which "stands for traditional family values, focusing primarily on the influence of television and other media - including pornography - on our society."

  6. All women, all the time? CNNfn has a report this week on all the "portal" sites targeting women. We're bringing it to your attention because of its one-stop-shopping nature. It's a complete rundown of the major players, with links to boot. Do you have a favorite? Do e-mail us the URL and your reasons. We love to hear our readers' prefs!

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Share with a Friend!! If you find the newsletter useful, won't you share that information with your friends and relatives? We would much appreciate your referral.

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


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