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Friday, August 04, 2006

Child ID card?

"NetIDMe," a new "virtual ID card" for kids out of the UK mentioned by the BBC, is no "killer app." Like child age verification, it would require critical mass to be truly useful - e.g., all children required to have an ID card, which would also mean large databases of personally identifying info. One way it would work is in large groups, say, a school district: if every student had an ID card tied to a district's student database, and if there were a rule everybody followed that they could only email and IM with fellow ID-card-bearing students in the district (obviously this wouldn't work on MySpace). But everyone would have to obey the rule. Actually it might work better with peer groups, if everybody in the peer group obeyed their parents' household rule that everyone on the buddy list has an ID card. Parents, you can see even that would be a challenge! For more on this, see my feature "Verifying online kids’ ages.”

What can happen to teens' Web videos

Who actually owns those millions of video clips on – their creators? Nope. YouTube does. In "What goes on the Net stays on the Net," PBS tech writer Robert Cringley says that, apparently in preparing for a copyright-related lawsuit and in "feinting toward going public," YouTube just "clarified" in its terms of use "exactly who DOES own all that video." Not that YouTube would, but under its new license, here's what the site could do with any video your teen film producer uploads to the site, Cringley says: "produce a Best of YouTube DVD and sell it on late-night TV. They could take your musical performance, strip the audio from the video, and sell it to almost anyone for almost any use. They could refuse to take down your video, no matter how embarrassing. They could charge YOU for your own video. And of course they could insert ads in the video virtually anywhere." The thing is, lots of young videographers wouldn't hesitate for a second to put themselves in a position like that – for their chance to be "famous" and make connections with "fans." That's why we need to know what can happen to their homemade, often self-starring videos, because the above possibilities are the *best-case* scenarios for what can happen to photos and videos of minors on the Web. For more, please click to this week's issue of my newsletter.

Insights into multitasking

We all know that one of the hallmarks of being a digital native (aka teenager) is skill at multitasking. That has concerned some parents and educators. Well, new research published by the National Academy of Sciences may be providing some cause for concern – or at least insights. The study "shows distractions affect the way people learn, making the knowledge they gain harder to use later," the Associated Press reports. It's about two kinds of learning: declarative (which comes with full attention, which allows memorization) and habit (coming from doing a task thousands of times). The latter isn't as useful and flexible because it requires the same conditions. Like punching a number into a phone 100 times, you have to be using a phone to recall the number. UCLA psychology professor Russell Poldrack "said the problem is that the two types of learning seem to compete with each other, and when someone is distracted, habit learning seems to take over from declarative learning." One could draw from that, the article suggests, that multitasking promotes habit learning.

Gender-bending in games

When online gamers create game "selves," or avatars, of the opposite sex, they're not experimenting with sexual identity. They're gender-bending "to gain an advantage in game play," Reuters reports. Reuters cites male gamers who say they have female avatars for various reasons – because females "get more free stuff" or because they'd rather look at a female avatar for hours on end than a male one. There is a downside at times, though: They also "get unsolicited and sometimes condescending game play advice from the thousands of mostly male players who populate the MMO [massively multiplayer online] universe." Though gender-bending happens in lots of games, including World of Warcraft, EverQuest, and City of Heroes, most sexual experimentation happens in Second Life (which is more an alternate reality than a game with levels, winners, and losers), Reuters says. For parents reading this, there is a more age-appropriate Teen Second Life you can recommend to young gamers at your house. Read the Reuters article for more detail on this, and for more on the Second Life games, see "Second Life for teens," "Lively alternate lives," and "Virtual pedophilia in Net world."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

PC security overview

For anyone interested in the latest big picture on protecting family PCs, Internet News provides it this week. It details the key players and their market shares and services, and it describes the total-care trend that especially the big companies - Symantec, McAfee, Trend Micros, and now Microsoft - are fueling.

Self-verification: New trend?

This is not the killer-app age verification that state attorneys general are calling for on the social networks (see “Verifying online kids’ ages”). The story in the Wall Street Journal is about people verifying themselves (which teens probably won't do unless someone makes them). But as more and more people do so with the various means described in the Journal piece, the questionable characters will increasingly stand out. It's the kind of trend that, if it really kicks in, will grow fast as awareness grows, in a snowball effect, starting with dating sites and online transactions in sites like eBay. The Journal gives an example in Rob Barbour who wanted to verify his good reputation because he sells software and tech consulting on the Web. "When he put up an eBay Inc. listing a few weeks ago, the Ashburn, Va., technology consultant embedded a link to his new online profile on verification service Trufina Inc. He soon will paste the link in his emails" and his site to ensure that everyone knows he is who he says he is. "Proving who you are is increasingly important on the Web, amid growing concern that pervasive Internet fraud is making it difficult to know whom to trust," according to the Journal. So far, only adults can verify themselves, because there isn't publicly available info on minors that verification services can check against and verify, and establishing a national-level database of ID info on US children would likely be highly controversial (see my feature for more detail on this).

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

New-style ads on social networks

Can your kid tell the difference between content and advertising? It's getting harder to. Social-networking is moving advertising way beyond banner ads, CNET reports. Advertisers now have profiles just like people do – users now interact with ads and bots posing as their favorite celebrity or even a "real person" just like them. "For example, Wendy's [burgers] has a profile page for a character named 'Smart,' a 28-year-old male from New York whose interests include Angelina Jolie, hip-hop music, movies and Wendy's Bacon Mushroom Melt. In the character's 'about me' section, it says, 'it takes flair to be square. Do a square burger at Wendy's and do what tastes right!' Smart has more than 80,000 friends" Rule No. 1: Avoid adding anyone to your Friends list who has 80,000 friends! Probably most teen MySpace users have internalized that rule, but it would make for a great dinner-table conversation to ask them what they think of, say, Paris Hilton's profile or Burger King's – if they have any appeal whatsoever. One thing's for sure, this kind of advertising's growing. CNET says "a report issued last week estimates that US advertising in social networks like MySpace will leap to $1.8 billion in four years, up more than 500% from $280 million in 2006." Check out the Washington Post on how art and opinion (and marketing) are getting mashed up.

AOL & CNN: New video hosts

As a San Jose Mercury News blog quips, it seems the "Ratio of video-sharing sites to videos approaches 1:1." AOL and CNN are joining the ranks of the many, many video-hosting sites trying to attract all those homemade videos out there." AOL is revamping its video portal to better spotlight user-produced videos, YouTube-style, the Merc says. Then there's the just-unveiled CNN Exchange, "a hub for people to submit and share their news videos" called "I-Reports" (to be previewed by editors before they appear on the site). CNN Exchange is "powered by," the site will allow amateur videographers to upload “I-Reports,” which will be reviewed by editors before being published to the site (here's CNET on the CNN development). Knowledge@Wharton says there are more than 225 of these YouTube-type sites, among them VideoEgg, Video Bomb, Blinkx.TV, Blip.TV, Guba, Grouper, Frozen Hippo, Blennus, and Eefoof. I'm hoping these myriad opportunities for kids to put themselves on display will soon hit the public consciousness as a safety issue, not just a copyright one (see this week's feature).

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

MySpace tips from a teen

Don't miss (and try sharing with MySpacers at your house) "five gems from the diamond necklace that is my infinite wisdom." Those would be the gems of CNET intern Soumya Srinagesh, who is heading to college shortly and took the time to share her top rules for using MySpace (they are gems, actually). Here's some sample wisdom: "The number of friends you have on MySpace is inversely proportional to the number of friends you have in real life. It amazes me that some people have more friends than the population of small African countries." Soumya also suggests that in passing the Deleting Online Predators Act, US representatives devotedly represented "Capitol Hill's true goal: making sure teenagers have as little fun as humanly possible."

Move over, MySpace?!

That's what USATODAY is suggesting - that MySpace is facing so much competition that it may be "losing its cool." It cites some niche networks like WAYN (travel-oriented social networking) and vMix (one of the many video-oriented services, though probably more social), and it cites the view of one older teen moving on to Facebook (which practically owns the college market, so this is not new or unusual). The article also has a sidebar spotlighting four "MySpace invaders": Xanga, vMix, Facebook, and Whyville (an interesting pick that could just as easily have been Disney's Virtual Magic Kingdom and more logically been Here's my theory: All the new niche sites are more additions to MySpace than competition. People use different sites for different things (photo-sharing, video uploading, blogging, socializing, etc.); many MySpace users have multiple accounts at multiple services (not to mention at MySpace itself); some college kids move on to Facebook, but many keep their MySpace accounts too because of the non-college network of friends associated with them – friends they'll want to keep in touch with. I don't think MySpace is even close to "losing its cool." Online socializing is here to stay and has proliferating tools, services, and access points. FYI, here's earlier coverage on social-networking niches: "New social networks," "Social networks keep morphing," "More SN niches," and "SN with a purpose."

DOPA: 'Ill-conceived law'

The Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), which just passed the US House of Representatives (see this item), could actually do more harm than good, writes co-director Larry Magid in (for full disclosure, I'm the other co-director). "It is ill-conceived because, rather than 'deleting' online predators, it deletes the ability of schools and libraries to determine whether kids can constructively take advantage of social networking and other interactive services that are extremely popular among teens. Maybe the law should be called DOTA (the Deleting Online Teenagers Act)?" Larry asks. He likens DOPA to trying to protect kids from drunk drivers by ruling that they "can no longer walk, ride a bike or even ride in a car or bus to school." Besides being overly broad and failing to define social networking (possibly because there is almost no research on the subject yet for legislation to build on!), the law also fails to acknowledge the positive aspects of teen blogging and social networking – for example, how they can be used to teach, learn, and practice writing, collaborative research, software writing, photography, videography, digital editing, graphic design, journalism, media literacy, critical thinking, and ethics – not to mention the tough demands social networking makes on one's social skills on a daily basis!

Monday, July 31, 2006

'Chocolate' phone for tunes

Verizon's Chocolate is more for music tastes than the other kind, unfortunately for chocoholic communicators. But digital music fans may be happier. With this phone, Verizon is making the music-on-phone experience a better one for them, USATODAY reports. The big complaint has been that they couldn't upload their music collections onto their phones. They can upload them onto the Chocolate, USATODAY says. It comes with a USB cable to connect PC and phone for copying MP3 and Microsoft's (not Apple's) copy-protected formatted tunes onto the phone. The Chocolate, which – with a 2-GB storage card – can hold 2,000 songs, costs $149, according to USATODAY (the article includes a picture of the phone). Added 8/4: Later in the week, Wall Street Journal tech writer Walt Mossberg pretty much panned the Chocolate, saying not in this case, but he does believe that "someday, the merger of the cellphone and the music player will result in a great device for consumers."

MN game law thrown out

Minnesota's twist on anti-videogame law was struck down by a federal judge, the Associated Press reports. Unusual because it would have fined minors if they tried to rent or buy games rated "M" (Mature) or "AO" (Adults Only), the law was due to go into effect tomorrow. US District Judge James Rosenbaum agreed with videogame makers (who had sued to block the law) that it violated free-speech rights. He added that the stated "failed to show that the graphic videogames were harmful to children," according to the AP. A US Senate committee recently approved a major study to look into exactly that question (see my 3/10 issue). Minnesota's law was "one of several attempts across the country to prevent minors from getting gruesome or sexually explicit video." Among them, Michigan and Illinois have had game laws killed. See also "Dollhouses & other digital games."