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Friday, October 08, 2004

The IM life of middle-schoolers: A school's role

Of course, young Net users will tell you that their social scene is not limited to instant-messaging via AIM, Yahoo, MSN, or ICQ. Depending on their social network, it's also at,,,, the angrier, etc. Besides IM, MySpace is the online hangout of choice at Amanda's school, an independent middle school in Salt Lake City (which she asked not to be named); at Evergreen High School in San Jose, Calif., it's Xanga (see my 7/16 issue). Cell phones play a role too, and occasionally email. It's all very fluid.

So naturally what goes on in this online space spills over into school, "in the sense that they have to show up and sit next to one another the next day and they have to make eye contact and interact with each other," said Amanda, a kind, youthful, tech-literate, very professional school counselor. "Sometimes I'll sit the whole buddy list down" to work through one of the social emergencies she described for Part 1 of this series) but asked not to be detailed in order to protect counselor-student confidences. Please click here for more on how one school handles students' online social emergencies.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

E-rate on hold

The Washington Post called it "schoolhouse shock," the Federal Communications Commission's quiet decision two months ago to put the e-rate on hold. The decision, with no notice, is "causing significant hardships at schools and libraries," the Post adds. The New York Times reports that "by one estimate, as much as $1 billion in expected grants could be suspended by the end of the year," and the FCC came under sharp criticism from Congress this week because of its decision. This may be good news for the Alliance for Childhood, which just released a report that "the high-tech, screen-centered life style of today’s children - at home and at school - is a health hazard and the polar opposite of the education they need to take part in making ethical choices in a high-tech democracy." The report, "Tech Tonic: Towards [sic] a New Literacy of Technology," can be found here. The Alliance's controversial previous report, "Fool's Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood," sent a similar message in 2000.

EarthLink: Too much spyware

The average Net-connected PC has 26 spyware programs on it, EarthLink, one of the US's largest Internet service providers, has found. That's unwanted malicious software on computers like yours and mine. "Spyware programs hide in PCs and secretly monitor user activity. Typically, spyware arrives bundled with freeware or shareware, or through email or instant messages. The programs are difficult to remove and may cause computers to run slowly or even crash," CNET reports. EarthLink worked with PC security company Webroot to scan more than 3 million computers between January and last month, finding 83 million instances of spyware." For anti-spyware help and a family perspective on the spyware problem, see "Spyware & an 8-year-old," 7/09, and Two popular free spyware-detect-and-destroy programs are Spybot and Ad-Aware; download them at and Tucows, respectively.

Anti-P2P: Carrot & stick

There was lots of online music news this week, not least of which was the latest round of record-industry lawsuits against US file-sharers (762), Reuters reports, and European ones (459). In Europe, recording industry ire was directed mostly at users of eDonkey, Kazaa, and Gnutella, according to a separate Reuters report. Meanwhile, the New York Post reports that the thousands of lawsuits to date have barely made a dent - "23 million people are still using peer-to-peer services ... and worse yet, experts say the RIAA's scare tactics are beginning to be ignored."

The much more interesting *carrot* part of the industry's strategy was chronicled by the Washington Post in its look at Warner Bros. allows its musicians' work to be previewed at MySpace, where users can "post personal profiles with pictures, set up blogs, chat on bulletin boards, play games and so on, combining elements of,, and America Online," according to the Post. The idea is to get R.E.M.'s 13th album exposure with a younger crowd, MySpace's official "sweet spot" of 16-to-24-year-olds, who can also "see band tour dates, buy the album at, download cell-phone ring tones, and read a band biography. MySpace drew 2.5 million visitors in August, the Post reports. On Capitol Hill, one of Congress's efforts to crackdown on file-sharing by going after its enablers (the P2P networks) has have been delayed. "The Senate Judiciary Committee has postponed a final review of the Induce Act after negotiations among the principal parties involved in crafting the bill collapsed," Wired News reports.

Global gaming competition

Is this where a gamer at your house is headed?: Professional gamers - young people who actually make a living playing games - faced off at the World Cyber Games finals in San Francisco this week. "That a small number of this generation's pinball wizards can support themselves playing video games comes as a surprise even to some of those doing so," the New York Times reports. The article zooms in on competitor 20-year-old Matt Leto of Allen, Tex., "recognized by many as the world's greatest Halo player." Halo, I learned from the Times, is an Xbox first-personOf course there are other roles besides gamers in this growing industry. For example, Andrei Mooi is USA vice president of the Seoul-based World Cyber Games, one of the largest organizations running international gaming leagues or tournaments. Some 700 gamers from more than 60 countries competed in San Francisco this week. Here's coverage from the BBC too.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Teen's life an open blog

At Xanga, LiveJournal, MySpace, DeadJournal, Blurty, etc., minute details of teenagers' lives are available to anybody, anytime. We've heard it before, but this article from The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has some arresting new numbers and insights. Internet market researchers Perseus Development projects that there will be more than 10 million blogs by the end of this year, 52% of them by people aged 10 to 19, 40% by 20-somethings. But this is what parents need to know: "In his study of teen blogs, researcher David Huffaker of Georgetown University found that 20% of teens posted their full names, 67% listed their ages, 59% revealed their locations, and 61% divulged some sort of contact information." Bloggers' full names can be Googled by future college admissions decisionmakers and employers, not to mention people with ill intentions. Many kids are using photo blogs as well, such as, posting pictures of themselves in various states of dress (for more, see,, and's Best Photo Blogs). BTW, you probably already know this, but one way to find out if your child is using his or her full name on the Web is to search for that full name at a few search engines.

In other teen-blogging coverage at Net Family News: "Daughter's blog, mom's dilemma"; "Kid Web developers"; "Teens' blog life"; "Marketing to kids with blogs"; and "Parents getting blogged" (think about it: a parent's prospective employer googles her and finds a disgruntled child's family tell-all).

Hip data storage?!

And what could be hip about data storage? a parent logically might ask. Well, the makers of the teen-only hip-e computer get it (see my 9/10 issue). If you're a teenage early adopter, having a "flash drive" means you can store your tunes in a lipstick-size tube dangling "from key chains and backpacks - or even from the necks of users - as if pendants signifying a cult of convenient computing," the New York Times reports. In fact, I predict flash drives will be mainstream for teenagers in no time. Because of their high capacity, IPods are used as flash drives - people store Word docs and Quicken files on them to carry back and forth between home and office PCs (the way we used to use floppy disks). Floppies stored 1.4 megabytes of data, while flash drives store 32 megabytes to 2 gigabytes, the Times explains. That's a lot of tunes and photos! Seriously, some students are required to have them for school - a dad and Office Depot manager in Annapolis, Md., discovered that recently, the Times reports, when he saw "a gaggle of teenagers" clustered around a flash drive display case.

New search tool: Clusty

The slightly odd name is for the way it "cluster searches," USA TODAY reports. "For instance, entering 'San Francisco' into's search box produces a set of general results at the center of the Web page, with a list of more specific categories, such as 'Bay,' 'Hotel,' 'Art,' 'University' and 'Giants' featured at the left. Clicking on any of the subgroups delivers a new list of links in the center of the page while still preserving the different groups. Ask Jeeves's also cluster searches, but Clusty - four years in the making - is more "sophisticated and user-friendly," USA TODAY adds. Which points to the goal all search engines are after these days: the best way to narrow down the flood of information available to us all on the Internet.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Gaming an addiction?

For some kids, reportedly. The Washington Post illustrates with one Washington state teenager's experience. After she noticed her 16-year-old was playing Socom II sometimes in the middle of the night, his mom had him work with a therapist who had about eight other gaming-addiction patients (not her main practice, but part of it). The therapist points to "the God effect" as one of the main attractions of these games for teenagers - how they empower players by giving them the feeling they're at the "center of the universe." Symptoms of addiction (to most anything) to look out for: withdrawal and isolation. Setting limits is offered as a key solution. For further information, The Post refers to Online Gamers Anonymous (the site wouldn't load when I tried to go there), and there's a sidebar, "Signs of Trouble," and the Post's roundup of articles on gaming.

Monday, October 04, 2004

4-H site by kids, for kids

National 4-H Week (10/3-9) is all about the Internet this year, because 93% of 10-to-18-year-olds "are actively online and want to find the information they need from online sources," the Monroe [Wisc.] Times reports. Part of the celebration will be the unveiling of, redesigned over the summer by 14 teen 4-H members throughout the US. "The site features the most complete list of 4-H Web sites available, organized by state, and many interactive elements, including a national calendar of events and featured news headlines. Coming soon are games, message boards, Web logs and e-mail aliases," according to the Monroe Times. With some 7 million participants nationwide, 4-H is an educational program for youth 5-19 associated with the US Department of Agriculture.

The site "boasts ratings for 887,000 public and private schoolteachers in four countries" and last week received its 6-millionth teacher rating, up from just 1 million about a year ago, the Christian Science Monitor reports. RateMyTeachers "relies on hundreds of student volunteers who monitor postings for accuracy and taste in the US, Canada and now Britain and Ireland," according to the Monitor. "Anyone can click a tiny red flag next to a comment to automatically remove it from the site pending review by a staff member." What do teachers think of this? The Monitor found that, generally, teachers with high ratings think it's fine, and vice versa. If nothing else, it certainly must force some soul-searching. Is that fair? One teacher mentioned in the article says yes, because teachers rate students all the time. Guess he has a point!

Kids & the new MSN Messenger

Chances are - if they already use MSN Messenger (as opposed to AOL's or Yahoo's) - your kids already have it. Even though it's not officially "in beta" (being tested by the average Net user), it's unofficially all over the place, CNET reports. Here's MSN's download page. If your child (or her whole buddy list!) is one of those early adopters, have her show you the cool new features - avatars (little animations that represent the IMer); "winks" and "nudges" (the latter makes an IM partner's screen shake); and a search bar (so IMers can search for things while chatting). Kids love to "express their personal style," as MSN's ad copy puts it, which is why it's quite likely kids will be rushing to download this latest iteration. Just make sure they don't put any personally identifiable information in their IM profiles (ask your kid if you can have a look at his profile), and go through Preferences together to see what is and isn't allowed (such as IMs from people not on their buddy list). It also never hurts to ask them who all those people (screennames) are on their buddy list - anybody they don't know? For more on this, see "IM risks & tips" in my newsletter.