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Friday, September 15, 2006

Social sites multiplying like...

Remember the gophers in Caddyshack? Or more recently the amazing number of rabbits with which Wallace and Gromit were confronted in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit? Well, there are certain animal-rich scenes in them that come to mind every time I check email these days. Press releases about new social-networking sites are multiplying exponentially. But before you click to some examples (in this week's issue of my newsletter), consider a thoughtful commentary by "technology activist" Paul Lamb in CNET – "Social networking for all" - looks beyond the current SN scene populated by "the young and the digitally restless" to a time when "social-networking tools are put to use in 'average' communities and for the larger social good." He's referring to the "digital divide" of Web 2.0. Each tech phase has one, when the "haves" and the early adopters monopolize the space before the technology becomes more widely accessible. Where social networking's concerned, I don't think that time is very far off. We're already seeing some great signs of the "educational social networking" Lamb refers to in his article (e.g., with teachers talking about having students create profiles for the characters in Shakespeare's Richard III – see MIT Prof. Henry Jenkins' blog). Parents, you'll also want to know that a less idealistic view of SN's 2nd phase is represented in a new study at "Today, a carefree, easy-going global user base comprising over 250 million 15-to-25s is about to meet hard commercial interests as brands try to monetize their investments by placing targeted ads on user pages, based on the personal information contained on those pages."

Watch out for wi-fi

Just about any really cool thing involving technology has an online-safety piece (or lack thereof) that – so far – people think of long after product launch. [The exceptions lately have been operating systems like Apple's Tiger (OS X) and the forthcoming Vista from Microsoft, both with some parental controls built in.] Wi-fi, short for the growing number of wireless Internet-access hotspots everywhere (libraries, city parks, coffee shops, whole neighborhoods, etc.), has its downside too. A CNET article's headline alone sums it up: "Wi-Fi gives kids access to unchaperoned Net." So do wi-fi-enabled devices, such as Web-connecting cellphones, some gameplayers, and Microsoft's forthcoming Zune portable media player that will probably be on a whole lot of holiday wish lists in the next few months. To picture all this better, see a great example (in this case positive) involving a 10-year-old – five paragraphs down in the CNET article.

Social Web: Wide-angle views

The Economist looks at social networking's staying power as a Web-user phenomenon and an international business story. US News & World Report has the very in-depth "Decoding MySpace," which almost seems like the magazine (and Web) version of our new book, MySpace Unraveled. But don't miss the very important view of a high school student in the Boise (Idaho) Weekly. Student Molly Kumar touches on the "social turmoil" that MySpace use can cause (e.g., when one's kicked off somebody's "Top Eight" friends list) and tells of a program at Boise State University called "Space or Face? Using Online Communities Safely," featuring "a lively student panel discussing the stress and blessings MySpace creates for its participants."

Social sites: New copyright issues

Universal Music Group says its talks with YouTube are deteriorating and its talks with MySpace are progressing, the Associated Press reports. Universal's "contends the wildly popular Web sites YouTube and MySpace are violating copyright laws by allowing users to post music videos and other content involving Universal artists," and it will file a lawsuit against YouTube, according to the AP. MySpace "has said it promptly complies with notices to remove copyright-infringing material uploaded by users." But Universal's rules seem to be changing, this report indicates. The label "has made it a priority to get compensation for content that was once seen as purely promotional. Last year, the company began charging Web portals such as Yahoo Inc. and Time Warner Inc.'s AOL for playing its artists' music videos online or over video-on-demand services.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Home entertainment news: Lots of it

Apple has big plans to own the entertainment parts of your house, but so do Amazon, Microsoft, and NBC in a way. The biggest piece (at the moment) is iTV. To be released early next year, it's designed to connect to your TV … and play - without wires - all of the movies, videos, photos and music that sit on your Mac or PC elsewhere in the house," the New York Times reports. Enabling that is the iTunes 7 "extreme makeover," providing movie downloads – joining CinemaNow, Movielink and, as of last week, Washington Post tech writer Rob Pegoraro lays into Hollywood for making movie downloading so complicated but says Amazon and iTunes are a real improvement. The Los Angeles Times has the story too. NBC will "offer episodes of some of its new prime-time shows for free online viewing on personal computers," Reuters reports. Meanwhile, Microsoft unveiled Zune, which it hopes will compete with the video iPod, the Wall Street Journal says, and maybe steal some thunder from those new iPods Apple also just debuted.

UK social-networking heads-up

A report about social-networking risks in the UK's version of Consumer Reports didn't have any surprising revelations for parents, but it carried weight because it came from Britain's "consumer bible," as put it. What the report (in Computing Which? magazine) called for, among other things, is that the social networks create a "joint code of practice regulating their treatment of children." The UK may indeed lead the charge in the industry self-regulatory move, but the US probably won't be far behind, if only because the UK's top four social networks, MySpace, Piczo, YouTube, and Bebo, are all California-based. One of the Which? researchers, Kim Gilmour, told Out-Law (UK e-commerce and IT legal news), that "while the research found some shocking material that might alarm parents … the best way they could deal with the situation was by trying to understand their children and talk to them." She added that parents should think back to when they were a teenager and realise that this is the type of discussion they were having 20 years ago, it's just that now it's actually out on the Internet if they make their profiles readable by everyone." Here's the BBC's coverage.

eDonkey bites the dust - sort of

Another file-sharing service - by which people can download free but copyrighted music and other media - settled this week. "The firm behind popular online file-sharing software eDonkey has agreed to pay $30 million to avoid potential copyright infringement lawsuits from the recording industry," the Associated Press reports. The company, MetaMachine, Inc., agreed to stop distributing its eDonkey, eDonkey 2000, Overnet and other file-sharing software applications, as well as to prevent people from file-sharing with previously downloaded versions of them. MetaMachine was one of seven companies to receive warning letters from the RIAA. BearShare, i2Hub, WinMX, Grokster, and Kazaa have also settled. But the interesting thing about this story is how file-sharing is really out of these companies' hands, no matter how many lawsuits are piled on. "EDonkey has been the most popular file-sharing network the last two years, but most of the computer users tapping into the hub of linked PCs have increasingly done so using an open-source version of the eDonkey software dubbed eMule," the AP reports, citing the view from file-sharing traffic measurer BigChampagne. "Because many computer users still have functional versions of eDonkey or eMule, it's unlikely the shutdown of eDonkey's business operations will have much of an impact on people file-swapping on the eDonkey network."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Out-sourcing term papers online

I'll tell you the verdict right up front, so you can pass it on to any student you know: Don't do it, people! As tempting as it might be to have the likes of Term Paper Relief or Superior Papers do their work for them, they'd be paying good money for dreck, the New York Times found. The Times got an English professor to look at one out-sourced paper, and his response was that if he were "confronted with such a paper from one of his own students … he probably wouldn’t grade it at all but would instead say 'come see me' (shuddering at the prospect)." I suspect the student, too, would be shuddering.

Facebook to open up

Soon all people will need to sign up at Facebook is a valid email address. First they needed one ending with ".edu," then they needed to be a high school student invited in by another student; next Facebook opened up to selected networks in workplaces. The latest is that "Facebook will soon be allowing anyone with a valid email address to sign up on the site and join a regional network," USATODAY reports. "It will launch just over 500 networks in the USA and abroad." It's an entirely different development, but given members' very vocal reaction to the last new development at Facebook (the flap over its News Feed last week), it'll be interesting to see how this goes over. "Students especially have grown to see Facebook as their private homes online. And this move could make them feel like they've lost that," according to USATODAY.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Teen YouTube star quits

If you worry that young social networkers, videographers, or bloggers in your life are fixated on fame, it might help to give them the story of 18-year-old YouTube star "Emmalina" in the Sydney Morning Herald. "The chatty video blog entries recorded from her bedroom first began to appear in the 'most viewed' rankings … in June and some of her more controversial posts attracted more than 300,000 views…. Her spectacular rise to Internet fame gave rise to a multitude of YouTube dedications, spin-offs and spoofs, as well as a rap song dedicated to her popularity." But she's now an ex-YouTube star. She quit. She deleted her profile and all her videos from the site because, along with the fame and adulation came "cruel spoofs, harassing videos, death and rape threats, [and] incredibly nasty comments," she told the Morning Herald. People also hacked into her computer and stole private photos, videos, and information and posted them online. Meanwhile, there's another YouTube star who turned out to be more virtual than real. You'll see what I mean by that in the New York Times's "The Lonelygirl that Really Wasn't." In a piece published before she was "outed," the Los Angeles Times looked at the "conspiracy theories" Lonelygirl15 fueled – with insights into 21st-century marketing.

Wanted: Limited exposure

Many social networkers like their fishbowl a little cloudy, thank you. That's what they (we all) learned from Facebook's News Feed flap last week, as summed up by one user, who told the New York Times that, where their online lives were concerned, "translucent is good," transparent isn't. "Those who study social networking sites say that users’ comfort with revealing intimate details about themselves comes in part from a perception that in the din of life online, there is a kind of privacy through anonymity," the writer wrote. In other words, you're a little *more* anonymous if people have to come find your news than if it gets broadcast to all your friends as it breaks! A lot of parents will find it a relief to know that there are limits to the appeal of self-exposure on blogging and social-networking sites.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Social networking in Japan is the oldest and hottest site on Japan's blossoming social-networking scene. Having launched in February '04, its population has quintupled in the past year, and it's now the country's No. 3 site after Yahoo! Japan and Rakuten, reports. But social networking's takeoff has been relatively slow in Japan, partly because phone texting is "the social standard for social communication among Japanese teenagers" and Web-based socializing has only recently been accessible by phone, and partly because of Japanese users' penchant for privacy. "An estimated 3.2 million people walk through Shinjuku station every day, but the chances of them interacting with anyone other than a travel companion are slim to none. Respect for personal space is of paramount importance in busy Tokyo…. In many ways, Japanese prefer interaction at a safe distance. This is, after all, a country where pickup lines are more often subtly typed into cell phone message windows than spoken face-to-face." The big thing in Japan, now, is social networking by interest community, either in private or narrow-interest groups on general social networks or in niche networks. You can learn a lot more about Mixi, including screenshots, at, with further insights into cultural differences in social networking at CNET.

Britons socializing online a lot!

Social networking is fast moving up the UK's Web traffic charts. Several of what the traffic measurers at comScore call "UGC" (for user-generated content) sites have fairly suddenly moved up into Britain's Top 50. "The top UGC property, Wikipedia Sites, ranked as the 16th most visited property in July with 6.5 million visitors (up 253% versus year ago)," comScore reports. You'll notice some familiar names now: (up 467% to 5.2 million visitors), (up 393% to 4 million visitors), (3.9 million visitors), and (up 328% to 3.9 million visitors). MySpace and Bebo were ranked 89th and 90th, respectively, in July 2005; this past July, they'd moved up to 27th and 48th.

WoW: No. 1 online game

"WoW" stands for World of Warcraft, an Irvine, Calif.-based online game that, with nearly 7 million subscribers worldwide, is expected to make more than $1 billion this year. "That makes it one of the most lucrative entertainment media properties of any kind," the New York Times reports. "Like the iPod, World of Warcraft has essentially taken over and redefined an entire product category." WoW launched less than two years ago and is now played in five languages, with a sixth in development. Unlike other US-based games, such as Grand Theft Auto, this one seems to connect with and connect people across cultural barriers. Here's one fascinating cultural difference, though it seems to be collapsing: "It is rare for guilds [in-game groups of member-characters] in North America and Europe to get together in real life, partly because of geographic distance and partly because of the social stigma often associated with gaming in the West. In Asia, however, online players … want to meet in the flesh to put a real face on the digital characters they have been having fun with. Even in the United States, more and more players are coming to see online games as a way to preserve and build human connections, even if it is mostly through a keyboard or microphone." Here's CNET on WoW, including comments from the Rob Pardo, VP game design at Blizzard, the game's creators.