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Friday, February 11, 2005

Advergames & 'the nag factor'

Every parent knows what "the nag factor is"! It's some variation of "Mom, Dad, can I get ___ [fill in name of must-have product], please, please please?!", repeated anywhere from 9 to 99 times. It's what advertisers spend a lot of money generating in as many households as possible, writes guest commentator Nancy Willard, director of the Center for Safe & Responsible Internet Use (CSRIU) and What they've found to be the most effective tool for generating the nag factor online, writes Nancy, is "advergaming." "Advergaming is the integration of advertising messages into online games, and it's all the rage in the Internet advertising community," she reports. For two reasons: 1) Kids don't bother to click on banner ads, and 2) unlike with banner, billboard, and TV ads, with games, "advertisers can create conditions for children (and adults) to immerse themselves for extended periods of time in a fun environment that's all about promoting brand identification and loyalty." Please click to my newsletter this week for examples and links to other people's views on immersive marketing.

More on the Mini

A lot of excitement was generated by the unveiling of this cute little computing item (from real people as much as techies interested in how much Apple crammed into what The Register mistook for a "sandwich box"). Finally, an affordable Apple. Wednesday The Register added its take on the $499 Mini from an average home user's perspective. The best review of this sort I've seen is Rob Pegoraro's at the Washington Post. But for families with PCs who aren't ready to go whole-hog Mac,'s Larry Magid provides a great alternative: network your Mini and PC together and have them share mouse, keyboard, and monitor. "At the risk of offending some Apple enthusiasts, Windows users could think of the Mini as a PC peripheral," Larry writes in the New York Times. It's done with a KVM switch (for "keyboard, video, and mouse"). Larry explains in detail how it works.

School grades online

Grades aren't the only information more and more schools are putting on the Web for parents. "Some teachers include pending assignments, written comments, class participation, and disciplinary actions as well," the Associated Press reports. "Many schools also let parents check whether their kids skipped first period, or whether they had chips or an apple for lunch." The holdup in putting all this information online, it seems, is how much parents are using it. There's a bit of a lag. "Many parents lack Internet access or computer skills," though some parents are pressuring schools to put their kids' performance on the Web. The AP cites figures from one company that sells student-info-management systems, Pearson Education, showing that "only a quarter of its 16,000 school districts buy the parental-access package."

Meanwhile, some students and parents want *everything* to be online - including classes and school itself. The US Department of Education says online public schools are experiencing "explosive growth," the New York Times reports, in a fascinating article about how one got started in a teeny town in Colorado. Parents, too, are engaged in online learning. Though the student in this article at is a mom, her experience offers unusually good insights into what online classes are like - for parents considering online school for a child.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Tanned chicken & other IM worms

You might want to talk about viruses with IM-ers at your house - particularly those who use MSN Messenger. First, everybody in your family knows that instant-messaging is just as susceptible to worms and viruses as email, right? If your IM-ers get sent a picture of a "baked chicken with a bikini tan," as described by India-based, tell them *not* to click on it! It would launch the latest IM worm, Bropia, which is infecting PCs all over the world right now. "It also releases a second more dangerous worm, called Agabot.ajc, on the infected computer," ZDNET reports. Here's an older but bigger-picture piece on viruses via instant-messaging at PC World - note the IM protection tips at the end.

Student monitored teacher

A 16-year-old student in Texas plugged a keystroke-logging device into a teacher's computer when the teacher wasn't looking and later tried to sell answers to a test. Fellow students turned him in, and he's now charged with a Class B misdemeanor "punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail," the Houston Chronicle reports. Right now he's attending a different school. My thanks to BNA Internet Law for pointing this news out.

'The Firefox explosion'

If anyone at your house is interested in software code, you might find this Wired magazine story as interesting as I did. And it really is a story - as much about what young programmers (one Firefox software writer started at 14) can accomplish as about the alternative browser's sudden explosive growth. "Even in beta, Firefox's clean, intuitive interface, quick page-loading, and ability to elude intruders elicited a thunderous response," Wired reports. "In the month following its official November launch, more than 10 million people downloaded Firefox." Much more interesting, though, are the two people "most responsible for the browser's success ... Blake Ross, an angular, hyperkinetic 19-year-old Stanford sophomore with spiky black hair, and Ben Goodger, a stout, soft-spoken 24-year-old New Zealander." Here's Firefox's download page at the Mozilla Foundation's site.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Cheaper online tunes

Some digital music fans (including plenty of kids) think $1 a song is highway robbery and say that's why they use the free file-sharing services. Other reasons fans (and industry analysts) of all ages cite include restrictions on what one can do with the songs once they've been purchased. Molly Wood, a senior editor at ZDNET, does a good job of laying out music consumers' current choices (on the legal side of digital music) - from "renting" songs at Napster (when you stop paying, they go away) to buying them at iTunes (but restricted to Apple's player for listening to them). "I'm in a digital music bind, and I don't like it," Molly writes. "I can't imagine why people don't object more strongly to the idea that you can't choose a music player without choosing a compatible music service and vice versa. Maybe it's because the model is similar to ones we're already enslaved by, such as our forced cell phone/carrier marriages. But that's thinking about things all wrong. I wouldn't buy food that can be cooked only in a GE microwave. I wouldn't buy a car that I could drive only while wearing Adidas shoes."

At least cheaper alternatives to iTunes are available. The newest - launched today with 300,000 songs - is, ZDNET reports. Created by Michael Robertson, who developed the original, it will sell tunes for $.88 and albums for $8.88 and focus on emerging artists, according to Music will be in the MP3 format, "which doesn't have any copy-protection restrictions and can be played on most, if not all, digital music players." Wal-Mart's music service also sells songs for $.88. Even cheaper are some Russian music services, the most well-known of which is (with songs for $.10 or less, good sound quality and no restrictions), but some users are getting nervous about their legality. Here's a very helpful article on legal questions about using cheap foreign services at the Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, more people are paying for online music. A study found that about 47% of people 12 and older who downloaded music in December paid a fee to do so, up from 22% a year ago, CNET reports.

Get-the-patches day

Yesterday was Safer Internet Day (everywhere but in the US, it seems); today might be called Safer PC Day. Microsoft has just released "a dozen software updates to fix 16 security flaws - half of which it deemed 'critical' - in all versions of the Windows operating system," the Washington Post reports. So, on your family PC(s), if patch-downloading isn't automatic or if that little icon didn't pop up telling you some patching's needed, be sure to go to Windows Update to get all the new patches (if you use a browser other than Explorer, go here). They defend your PC from viruses, worms, phishers, They fix vulnerable spots in MSN Messenger (MS's IM software that's very popular with teens), Windows, Explorer, Windows Media Player, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and they fight viruses, worms, phishers, and other hacks and exploits. "Half of the vulnerabilities [the patches fix] require action by a user - such as clicking a link in an e-mail or opening a document attachment - before attackers could gain control of a computer," the Post adds. So tell your kids: Be extremely careful about clicking on links and attachments in emails, and ideally ask the sender what it's about. If they don't answer, don't click."

IM-ing's 'like candy'

"Finish your homework before you can IM" is an increasingly common rule in many households that include tweens and teens. Because "the first thing many teens do at home is get to the computer, connect to the Internet, and check their buddy list" to see who's online, reports the San Diego Union Tribune. Then they're hooked - they could be IM-ing for hours. Also, the size of one's buddy list is becoming a status symbol. But ultimately "what makes instant messaging cool among teenagers is 'presence,' the idea that there's always someone out there available to talk with," the Union Tribune adds in a very readable update on the instant-messaging phenomenon (note that word "presence" - I'm seeing it more and more in ref to online communications). Another really interesting insight comes from a 17-year-old girl quoted in the article as say, "Instant-messaging becomes less important when you become more comfortable with who you are." As for younger IM-ers (it usually starts at around 6th grade), the article quotes one baby-boomer dad as saying that, to his 11-year-old son, IM-ing is "like candy." My own 6th-grader has told me that, basically. It's pure fluff that he said he'll be sick of pretty soon. I think he means it, but I'm not holding my breath. How about you? Email me your kids' views on IM-ing (and your rules and other ways of dealing with it). Or post just below by clicking on "comments." I love hearing from you.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

More Net-savvy, greater risk: Study

The more Net-literate kids are the more likely they are to run into risks online. That was the key finding of a two-year study by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). "It is the skilled youngsters, more than the beginners, who are likely to encounter online risks such as bullying, online porn or privacy risks," reads the study's press release. The researchers, Dr. Magdalena Bober and social psychology Prof. Sonia Livingstone, acknowledged that this poses quite a challenge to kids' caregivers: "This points up the dilemma that parents and other regulators face. Restricting children and young people's Internet use reduces the risks but also carries a cost because it reduces their opportunities online." Stephen Carrick-Davies, CEO of Childnet, one of the study's sponsors, highlighted the importance of parents staying engaged in kids' Net activities and helping them develop critical thinking as they move around and communicate via the Net. Fortunately, the research also found that skilled Net users "don't show blind trust. Rather, they are better at searching and more able to find reliable Web sites, for example by checking information across several sites. This is an improvement over what was discovered in a small study at Wellesley College in 2003 (see "Critical thinking" in my 5/30/03 issue). This latest UK study involved "a series of focus group discussions and then a national survey of 1,511 9-to-19-year-olds" throughout the UK. Here's the full report at LSE in pdf format and the BBC's coverage.

Kids' Net safety: Today's the day!

Safer Internet Day is being marked around the world today. The awareness-raising "event, backed by the European Commission, will see over 65 organisations participating in 30 countries from Australia to Iceland and from Russia to Singapore," reports The day has its own just-launched Net-safety-ed Web site. Canada's Media Awareness Network is using the day to promote parents' involvement in their children's online activities, as is Singapore's Parents Advisory Group for the Internet, Channel NewsAsia reports. Schools in 19 EU member states will be participating in a contest in which they write Internet adventure stories. "The winning story will be published worldwide, and an important event will be organised around the award ceremony," according to

Monday, February 07, 2005

Kazaa slows down PCs

That's the message in an internal document written by the chief technology officer of Sharman Networks, makers of Kazaa file-sharing software. Sharman "employees ... 'hate' installing the ... software because it has ill effects on their computers," CNET cites the document as saying. That's good for young file-sharers and their parents to know too, besides the other questionable, in some cases illegal, results of installing peer-to-peer (P2P) software. The adware and spyware that gets inadvertently downloaded along with the tunes file-sharers are looking for on the P2P networks, in the process of file-sharing, "slow down users' machines" and Web browsing, Sharman itself confirms. Then there's the pornography and viruses that, reportedly, are ubiquitous on the networks. And all of that is in addition to the thousands of lawsuits that media companies have filed against the big-time file-sharers (especially university students). [For details, see "File-sharing realities for families", and to find out what software's installed on your family PC, see last week's "Anti-P2P tool for parents").] If you have digital music fans at your house, at the very least a family discussion about file-sharing would be good to have - or maybe a session in which the kid educates the parent about how it works and how it affects both the PC and "our family's values." If you have digital music fans at your house, at the very least a family discussion about file-sharing would be good to have - or maybe a session in which the kid educates the parent about how it works and how it affects both the PC and "our family's values" (there's fuel for discussion in "A tech-literate dad on file-sharing").

At the macro level, we're arriving at a showdown, the New York Times reports, as a milestone decision by the US Supreme Court nears. Next month the Court is to hear arguments in a case that pits the US's film industry against two file-sharing networks, Grokster and Streamcast Networks. The Times does a good job of showing how muddy the debate is, that it's about restricting innovation and what people can do with technology as well as copyright theft. Here's good background to the case written for the layman at ZDNET (with a consumer-rights angle).