Here's our lineup for this second week of May:
- Of games (hard-core or 'edutainment')
- One very connected school
- The FTC wants you
- State-imposed filtering (in public spaces)
- A look inside Yahoo!
- Calling all teens
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Questions on games
The gaming industry (Nintendo, Sony, Sega, etc.) and the toy industry (Mattel, Hasbro, etc.) are poised to embrace the Internet in a big way. First of all, they'll tell you that toys and technology are converging offline. Soon they'll be folding in the Internet, seeing opportunities to:
- Make their interactive toys more attractive (e.g., with chat for players or just more players to play with across the 'Net), then…
- Bring in new revenue streams (e.g., subscriptions to Web-based multi-player games), or just…
- Solidify their customers' loyalty (but letting the Web put and keep them in touch with each other and the manufacturer).
All this was being discussed in L.A. this week at E3 Expo, a big game industry conference. The discussion is also aired in depth and very readably at ZDNet, which points out that nearly 70% of US households either own or rent computer games. Just what those games are can be discovered in a useful "Top 10" chart in a story headed, "New tricks for education software makers".
Even more topical these days is the part of the ZDNet series headed, "Game violence: All in the family?". The White House held a summit on kids and violence this past Monday, and anybody involved in the subject of children and the media is either asking or being asked a lot of questions about whether or how the media - including games on and off the 'Net - are influencing children's behavior. Our partners, the Center for Media Education, foresightedly called a conference on the subject last fall (see our report on their last conference on the subject).
Most arresting in the ZDNet piece on game violence are results from a recent study it cited: "While more than half the parents surveyed thought video games had a negative effect on their children, only two in five actually used the established rating system more than occasionally in making purchase decisions." The study was by the media watchdog National Institute on Media and the Family. It referred to games like "Carmaggedon," in which players run over pedestrians for points. A little irony: At the bottom of the ZDNet story parents are invited to post comments right on that page, in a "Talkback" bulletin board feature, and the only posters (as of Tuesday) are kids (their comments are worth reading). If you'd rather "post" comments here, please do! Just e-mail us your thoughts.
Two recent pieces in the New York Times offer insight into so-called "hard-core gaming" (we're not talking about Mattel, which has parents in mind when it creates and sells its brands). "Off-screen hero of the video game" is a profile of "the god of gaming," Higeru Miyamoto, veteran game designer at Nintendo. It'll give you a feel for how Nintendo has stayed on top of the console (as opposed to PC) game market (console games still out-sell PC games 2-to-1, the Times reports).
The second article, "Mania for 'Pocket Monsters' Yields Billions for Nintendo", is about the Pokemon phenomenon, "one of the hottest fads of the 1990s among the preteen-age set," the Times says. Pokemon cartridges alone - not Pokemon trading cards, T-shirts, comic books, lunch boxes, bean-bag toys, or any of the other ancillary products - "has totaled $70 million in just seven months," the Times reports. The article quotes market researchers trying to explain Pokemon's popularity in the 5-12 age group, as well as parents trying to cope with the fad. Some schools have banned the trading cards, the hand-held game, or both.
Do you have a Pokemon trainer (i.e. someone who plays Pokemon and thus trains the little Pokemon monsters) in your house? Care to e-mail us (via firstname.lastname@example.org) your feelings about the game or about the level of your child's interest?
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One very connected school
Ever think about what impact Internet connectivity in schools is having on the students? Here's a little anecdotal evidence: the experience of Logan Elementary School (pre-K-5) and its fifth-graders.
In an interview this week with Carol Martin, Logan's tech coordinator, we found quite a success story at this little school (enrollment of 550) in a low-income suburb of Baltimore. It started back in 1996, when these fifth-graders were going into the third grade. The governor's office challenged Bell Atlantic to help Maryland achieve something really worthwhile with the Internet in its schools. Logan Elementary was picked, partly because of the district's low-income status and the chance to increase students' opportunities. Other companies joined Bell Atlantic, providing hardware, software, and Internet access to the school, as well as the homes of all the third-graders.
Carol told us that, during the summer prior, students and parents were taught how to use the Internet (e-mail and Web) together. Third-grade teachers were trained, too, and they began incorporating the Internet into their lesson plans (if they didn't want to, they were offered jobs elsewhere in the district). By the end of that year the third-graders' reading and writing skills had improved by 1.5 reading levels. "Using computers is very motivating for the students," Carol said. For one thing, she added, "you can't really use the computer without being able to read."
Last fall, Logan's one-time third-graders (now fifth-graders) participated in the America Links Up national town meeting (also attended by Education Secretary Richard Riley and 'Net industry leaders). Della Curtis, technology coordinator for the whole Baltimore County school system told us, "It was [Carol] who organized a group of students and parents for me to go to the America Links Up in Washington, DC, last fall. It was a very proud moment for children and parents as they sat on the stage behind Secretary Riley when he spoke about their accomplishments in reading achievement!"
From what Carol tells us, the most important ingredient in Logan's success was a strong commitment on everybody's part - students', teachers', parents', administration, and corporate supporters' - to blending the Internet into everybody's work and communications. Teachers and parents stayed in touch via e-mail, students' assignments were given in the classroom and via e-mail, research and lesson plans were done with the 'Net, good 'Net-use policies were put together and communicated via the 'Net. You name it - they all thought it through and implemented it together, using the 'Net. Good tech support on the part of Bell Atlantic didn't hurt either, nor did having caring teachers follow students from one year to the next. And having students connected at home was a major factor (increasing parent involvement) - that was the most unique thing about the project, Carol told us.
Are your children's schools using the Internet in this integrated way? We'd love to hear your family's experience with school connectivity. E-mail us your thoughts, and we'll consider them for publication (with your permission!).
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The FTC wants you
The FTC's looking for a few good comments - well, a lot of parents' comments, actually. By e-mailing the Commission with our reactions to the regs it has proposed for protecting children's online privacy, we can either lock those regs in (if we like them) or help make them better. That's the message CyberAngels sent us this week:
"The Federal Trade Commission has issued proposed regulations detailing how commercial Web sites need to proceed if they want to gather personal information from children under 13. Personal information includes names, email or physical addresses, and other information by which someone can identify or contact a child. Most notably, the proposed regulations generally require that parents give verifiable consent before any such information is collected. According to the FTC, 'the main goal' of the proposed regulations 'is to put parents in control of information collected online from children under 13.'
"The FTC is encouraging parents to comment on the proposed regulations. The comments will be considered and may result in revisions to the proposed rule before it takes effect. Comments must be in writing, including e-mail, and must be submitted by June 11. You can e-mail them to KidsRule@ftc.gov or send a letter (original plus five copies, if feasible) to Secretary, FTC, Room H-159, 600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20580.
"The full text of the proposed regulations can be found in the Federal Register. Hard copies can be obtained via the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580; 202-FTC-HELP (202-382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired 202-326-2502, or in the Federal Register, April 27, 1999 (Volume 64, Number 80), pages 22749-22767."
CyberAngels is a partner of 'Net Family News.
A very busy Commission
The FTC has indeed been busy! Regarding everyone's online privacy (not just children's), Wednesday (5/12) the FTC unveiled its "privacy report card," a study of how 150 randomly selected, consumer-oriented Web sites were protecting consumers' privacy. ZDNet has the story, saying the report card will offer some clues about whether government will end up regulating privacy on the Web.
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We noticed a brief item in this week's AOP Bulletin (Association of Online Professionals):
"Arizona Governor Jane Hull signed a law this week mandating the use of filtering software for school and library computers. Similar bills are under consideration in Georgia and Michigan."
If that includes public libraries, the state law flies in the face of the American Library Association's position on filtering in public libraries - that it's basically a violation of free-speech rights. Do you have strong feelings on the subject of filtering in public libraries? If so, do share them.
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A look inside Yahoo!
This is just a fun profile to read - even more so if you're interested in Internet culture, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, or how a very young person helped shape a success story unique to the Web. It's about 27-year-old Srinija Srinivasan ("Ninj" for short), Yahoo!'s fifth employee, the one who created the information hierarchy that is the backbone of Yahoo!'s directory of Web sites. She now heads up the team that "sorts through millions of Web sites to determine what is worth including in Yahoo's directory, and where in the hierarchy it should go," reports the San Jose Mercury News in its profile. The story tells how Ninj got to know Jerry Yang and David Filo in Japan when they were all Stanford students on a tech-biz-abroad program.
The story also says something about where the Web is right now. Ninj's biggest (and growing) challenge is keeping Yahoo!'s core business - its directory - vital and viable with a finite staff of sorters as the number of Web sites grows exponentially. The competition is the Open Directory system of 8,800 volunteer editors worldwide; it's used by AOL and other sites offering directories as well as search engines. It all boils down to editorial control vs. comprehensiveness. Ninj feels Yahoo! offers users something "uniquely valuable" (editorial judgment), while the Open Directory people say they offer a more complete directory of Web sites. Which is more important to you? Let us know.
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Calling all teen sites
A subscriber and grandfather of a teenager wrote us this week, saying, "It seems really difficult to find Web sites that are stimulating enough but not overly mature for young teens. It actually holds true in daily life in general that the age range somehow gets very little positive attention. If there is anything you can do, I'm sure it would be very welcome."
Well, one thing we can do is ask all you other subscribers who are parents of teens for sites you can recommend to this thoughtful grandfather. Tell us the URLs of Web places which your teen-age son or daughter frequents and of which you approve. Just e-mail us anytime.
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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.
To subscribe, they can just send an e-mail to email@example.com (SafeKids is our partner site) - no need to type anything in the Subject field or the body of the message.
That does it for this week. Have a great weekend.
Net Family News
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