Friday, December 08, 2006
Virtual concert for tweens
Whyville – which claims to be "the leading educational virtual world" for kids 8-15 - is putting on its first virtual concert. The very real pop/R&B singer Stacie Orrico, who sold 3.8 million albums by the time she was 18 (she's now 20), will appear (as an avatar) in a live, 45-minute performance this Saturday (12/9), the site announced this week. The some 6,000 "Whyvillians" expected to attend "will be able to chat with each other during the performance"; clap for Stacie; buy virtual souvenirs, tunes, and ringtones (using "clams," Whyville's virtual money); and submit questions to Stacie during the concert. "Selected kids will join Stacie on 'stage' at the site's "Greek Theater" and ask their questions, live in front of thousands of their virtual friends." Stacie will also "make several virtual costume changes during the show and auction off these virtual goods on ebay.com." All this seems very educational about concerts in "real life," including the commercial part of the music biz. More such education' is coming from Toyota. "Whyville will co-sponsor a [Toyota] Scion owner's activity - a special [concert] 'after-party' for kids who own a virtual Scion in Whyville, and their passengers," the Whyville press release says. Youth marketing expert Anastasia Goodstein explains in Business Week: Toyota "let kids buy and customize virtual Scions and taught them what happens when they miss a virtual payment" (here's more on Whyville in an earlier issue of Business Week). Anastasia describes how marketing works in other youth-targeting virtual worlds, including There, MTV's Laguna Beach, and Teen Second Life. A very different education campaign in Whyville is its joint program with the Centers for Disease Control to teach kids about disease prevention with virtual flu shots - administered to Whyvillians so they won't catch "Why-Flu," a CNET blog reports.
The upward mobile
This Korean experience will soon be reality here in the US. In "Upward Mobility," BusinessWeek.com describes the phone-based digital life of ambitious Korea University student Park Hyun-A, who watches satellite TV, reads e-books, plays games, snaps and sends photos, and – oh, yeah – text messages her friends on her mobile. The article doesn't mention that she connects to Cyworld or some other social site by phone, but she probably does that too (Cyworld's used by 90+% of South Korea's teens and 20-somethings and last summer launched in the US). Business Week goes on to take a very thorough look at just how fast-developing all the services for smartphones are. And the Washington Post looks at the American female fashionista, who "wants her technology to cut a stylish and up-to-the-minute profile" ("we're not being sexist," its sources say, just accurate). Meanwhile, CNET zooms in on a new phone service called Phling that says it can sync up the music libraries on your phone and your computer. It's "the first to offer this capability over a wireless network, which streams the music from the PC to the handset." And USATODAY reports that mobile music could be the recording industry's saving grace. At $3 a pop, the new, richer-sounding master ringtones (or "mastertones") are slated to represent $6.8 billion in revenue by 2010. "Labels are thrilled not only with the fat revenue stream but also with promotional potential," according to USATODAY.
Eating-disorder 'ed' on the Net
Young sufferers of eating disorders are getting the wrong kind of reinforcement on the Web, according to a new study in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Not only are they learning about "new weight loss or purging methods from Web sites that promote eating disorders," but also from each other on "Web sites aimed at helping them recover," Reuters reports. "The survey by researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford showed a third of patients [aged 10-22] also visited pro-recovery sites, and half of them learned new weight loss and purging methods." Here's Newsweek's coverage.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Those who play together...
…have more fun in videogames these days. Washington Post games columnist Mike Musgrove reports that in even (or especially) in shooter games, it's more fun for his friend Daniel and him to "fight the alien bad guys together" than to shoot each other. "This cooperative-play buddy feature has been catching on in action games lately and is starting to show up in other genres, as well, from the kid-friendly Lego Star Wars II to the rock 'n' roll title Guitar Hero 2." They're still fun "when played solo, but they're a lot more compelling if you can get someone to drop in and play along," says Mike. He explains how cooperative play works in Gears of War, the latest action game for the Xbox 360 and the latest versions of Guitar Hero and Lego Star Wars.
Online-child-protection law proposed
There is logic to this legislation, announced by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Charles Schumer (D-NY) yesterday. Among other measures that strengthen anti-child-exploitation law, it requires sex offenders to register their online contact info too – "their email addresses, as well as their instant messaging and chat room handles and any other online identifiers they use," says Senator McCain's press release about the Stop the Online Exploitation of Our Children Act. The law would also require social-networking sites as well as ISPs to report child pornography, and would more clearly define what should be reported, create stiffer penalties, make failure-to-report a crime, increase recommended sentences for sex offenders, and require Net companies to preserve data 180 days in case it's needed as evidence. If the bill passes, MySpace will be able to include the required online identifiers in the national sex-offender database it's building (see this 12/5 item), and sites that use the database (which I imagine MySpace will make available to them) will be able to check it for the email addresses and screennames people use to establish accounts - another tool for keeping pedophiles off social sites. The two senators said they will introduce the bill at the beginning of the 110th Congress in January.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Chaucer in MySpace?
Now here's a boy-bites-dog story: "How the Internet Saved Literacy" at Forbes. The Internet isn't making reading go away; rather, it's turning it from a solitary experience to a collective one – not just interactive (as in person interacting with Web page), mind you, but collaborative (as in digital class participation). An example Forbes gives is a literature class's collective interpretation of "Jenny," "a poem by the 19th century British poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti," whereby students assume the roles of characters in the poem using a software program the professor helped develop. "Students are free to change their characters' actions, add stanzas and delete others. As long as they provide substantive justification - historical and psychological - all changes to the text are justified and encouraged." Picture students creating MySpace literarily correct profiles for the characters of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. Could be serious fun! Forbes reports that, though "a number of studies have been released that suggested a negative correlation between Internet use and reading … [they] are now considered to have been unduly alarmist."
'Cell-veillance' & instant infamy
USATODAY tech reporter Janet Kornblum calls "cell-veillance" in "the age of citizen journalism," referring to the way comedian Michael Richards's "racist rant" could be seen nationwide within minutes because of a little videocam someone in the nightclub made a quick decision to use. She also refers to on-the-spot footage of police using a taser gun on a student in a library and teachers yelling in classrooms. Law professor Michael Geist tells in the Toronto Star of two 13-year-old students in the Ottawa area posting on YouTube.com "classroom video taken with a cellphone of their teacher yelling at a fellow student." On the one hand, transparency can be good - we're all more accountable. On the other hand, it can be badly abused. For certain, we all will be increasingly on guard knowing someone might be around wielding a digital camera of some sort. [In a sidebar, USATODAY links to the infamous videos Janet refers to.]
Etiquette for the e-connected
A teenager reading this New York Times article would probably just roll her eyebrows. But we grownups tend to move slowly enough in our tech adoption to reflect on things like proper email signoffs. While young people are indeed struggling with the social implications of who's in the "Top 8" of their MySpace friends lists and their friends' friends lists, we're trying to figure out whether to use "Warmest regards," "Yours truly," or just "Best" in our email sign-offs. Some people don't even bother with a signoff, which Letitia Baldridge told the Times is not good, too "abrupt." And in a thoughtful piece, the Wall Street Journal's Jason Fry considers the social implications of buddy-tracking and socializing on cellphones – how technology can be "subtly coercive," incipiently changing the norms by which we live and socialize. He's not talking about youth safety so much as how mobile social services just may eventually affect even us socializers who are above loopt's targeted age range of 14-25. While we're on the subject, here's Business Week on "the device formerly known as the cellphone" – a phrase it got from Motorola CEO Ed Zander.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
MySpace safety news: 3 items
Popularity definitely has its downside, as MySpace well knows. Its 130 million+ profiles tend to attract the attention of all sorts, including malicious hackers and pedophiles. If the latter are registered sex offenders, though, operating on MySpace will soon get harder. "MySpace is partnering with Sentinel Tech Holding Corp. to build a database containing names, physical descriptions and other identifiable details on sex offenders in the United States," the Associated Press reports, very probably beating the establishment of the national database mandated by the Adam Walsh Child Protection & Safety Act that was signed into law last July (see Wikipedia on the law). MySpace will develop technology to check profiles against that database. The site's popularity also makes it the target of malicious hacks. The latest is a worm in the form of a malicious video that "changes people's profiles when played, embedding itself [in the page] and adding links to fraudulent Web sites" that try to trick people into giving up personal info," CNET reports. Tell your kids to check the html code associated with all links on their pages and to be really careful about clicking on links in other people's pages. CNET says infected pages include a blue navigation bar that isn't on real MySpace pages. On the positive side, MySpace has established an Impact Awards program, recognizing individuals and organizations on the site who are making "a positive impact on our culture" in the areas of poverty, environmentalism, health & safety, international development, social justice, and community building.
'Mom cams' on campus?!
When I first glanced at this story, I was almost as depressed as I imagine a college student would be. Thinking it was about Webcams on campus for parental surveillance, I thought to myself, kids' lack of privacy and parental fears really have gone to extreme! But when I actually read this story in the Christian Science Monitor, I realized it's not quite the imposition on students I thought it was – at least not in the Monitor's lead about Mom calling kid and saying, "I'm on the Web site now - could you just look up at the camera atop Barnes Tower [on the Cornell University campus] and wave?" Used in this way, there's an element of free will on the kid's part. Whew! (And I was all ready to recommend The Blessing of a Skinned Knee to the Monitor writer and any parent who reads the piece!) But some of the Web cams/Mom cams shoot a little more close up, and their use can definitely be abused, as we all work out the boundaries between child protection and privacy. "The [Mom cams] trend coincides with a crop of students who are in far more frequent contact with parents than earlier generations," the Monitor reports. What got us here?, one wonders. Maybe it's the fact that many kids start having cellphones in elementary and middle school, so kids and parents are used to being in constant touch (see this about MIT professor Sherry Turkle's thoughts on "the tethered self"). The Monitor also cites the view that some parents may be monitoring their investments in expensive college educations! I'll leave that one alone. But tell me your view on this latest form of parental monitoring. You know where I am.
Models or exploited kids?
Are so-called child modeling sites legitimate businesses or child porn? Some are, some aren't, but the law is very unclear, indicates an in-depth CNET article on the subject. The FBI and the US Postal Inspection Service investigation are currently conducting an investigation "of so-called child modeling sites, which have been the subject of a series of critical congressional hearings and news reports in the last few years." CNET looks at a range of examples and perspectives, as well as the cases that helped establish the less-than-definitive definition of "child pornography" being used in law enforcement.
Monday, December 04, 2006
Virtual community, real engagement
Online community has a "direct impact on civic activism," reports education technology expert Andy Carvin in his review of the Annenberg study, which I linked to last week. In fact, the authors led with this, among more than 100 other issues covered in their 2007 Digital Future Project. So I thought parents, especially those with concerns about kids' online socializing, would want to know that – besides the informal learning that's going on, highlighted by MIT's Henry Jenkins - young people are also engaging in social activism on the participatory Web as well (e.g., see my item about Rock for Darfur in MySpace). As Andy points out, the USC-Annenberg researchers found that "just over one-fifth of online community members - 20.3 % - take action offline for a cause related to their online communities at least once a year. Nearly 65% of online community members say they now engage in civic causes that were new to them when they started going online, while an additional 43.7% say they participate in social activism more since they’ve joined their online communities. This may explain why 43% of online community members feel as strongly about their virtual life as they do about their real-world life." In his last paragraph, Andy explains why this data leaped out at him. Meanwhile, the anti-poverty World Development Movement is trying to encourage just such real-world activism, The Register reports. The WDM has put a digital counter in the Second Life virtual world of 1.5 million members. The counter provides a real-time tally of "the number of preventable child deaths since [Second Life] was first opened in 2003. A child's life is lost every three seconds."