Friday, January 12, 2007
Responsible social networking
More than half (55%) of US 12-to-17-year-olds use social sites, and 48% use them at least daily, according to just-released research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. And echoing the basic message of an academic paper given last week (see this news item), Pew's findings should ease some concerns: 66% of teens who have created a profile say it's not publicly visible and - Internet News reports - "most teens use the sites to map their offline social networks in an online environment – 91% of all social-networking teens say they use the sites to stay in touch with friends they see frequently [not to meet strangers], while only 49% use the sites to make new friends" (parents and teens should probably work on bringing that number down further, unless the "new friends" are peers and friends of friends). A clearer picture of how teens use the social Web has emerged from this and several other studies released in the past month. For more on all this, please click to this week's issue of my newsletter.
They're people who've made the conscious decision to say no to technology – "tech-nos," as USATODAY writer Janet Kornblum calls them. But it looks like they're saying no to information overload, and/or excessive superficial connectivity, as to tech. Some members of this "endangered species" actually use technology, but in moderation. David Levy, a professor in the Information School at the University of Washington in Seattle, also tries to control the flow. An observant Jew, he shuts everything down for the Sabbath from Friday at sundown to Saturday night. He recommends disconnecting once in a while to others, too." The article acknowledges that there are possibly professional and social costs to disconnecting some nights and weekends but, if it gets people thinking about why and how much we're online, there just might be some benefits along with those costs.
Sears in Second Life
Politicians are holding press conferences in the Second Life virtual world, Reuters has a news bureau there. Now Sears will operate a showroom there, Reuters reports. It might have something to do with Second Life's 2 million+ registered users and Sears's stiff competition with Lowe's and Home Depot. "At the Sears virtual showroom, customers can do such things as change cabinet and countertop colors in a kitchen and organize a garage by customizing storage products.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Social networking in the UK
For a view of Britain's social-networking scene, see this Times of London piece picked up in The Australian. The social Web is huge in the UK, where Piczo has grown eightfold in 13 months from 1.2 million to 10.5 million users worldwide, and the music-sharing site Last.fm gets 5 million visitors a month, up from 3 million a year ago. Britain's top 3, the Times says, are Bebo.com, MySpace.com, and Faceparty.com (for people 16+), respectively. Some interesting notables about Faceparty: The site offers "adult verification" for people 19+ who wish to pay $3.25 pounds ($6.30) a month for access to content on the site). Another interesting revenue stream for Faceparty is I-Protect, which (at about $33/year) protects a member's photos from being uploaded to other people's pages. Users can also buy premium tech support (if this includes customer support, I can see it becoming a social-site revenue stream supported by parents and educators worldwide!).
The French version of MySpace launched today, Reuters reports. It's the social-networking service's "second officially live country site behind the UK" (where it had 6.9 million visitors in November, the most recent figure available). Ireland's still in beta. The German MySpace, with 2.4 million monthly visitors, is expected to launch "in a few weeks" and the Italian "within a couple of months." MySpace's biggest competitor in France is Skyblog (with 7 million unique visitors in November, compared to MySpaces 1.3 million in that country). "Skyblog, which grew out of a French rap radio station, has been working on English, Spanish and German blogging services to compete with its rival online communities in France," according to Reuters. Internationally, Skyblog has 13.2 million visitors in November, compared to MySpace's 82.6 million.
'Zombie threat growing'
It's a threat not to Net users' physical well-being so much as financial. "Zombies," in the world of data security, are compromised computers – including family PCs. And they're stealth zombies, because it's really hard to tell if one's computer has been compromised (operated remotely by criminals and malicious hackers). It's also hard to tell exactly how many of the world's 650 million Net-connected computers are zombies, but "the consensus among scientists is that botnet programs are present on about 11%" of them, the New York Times reports. They get into our computers via worms and viruses downloaded from malicious Web sites or activated by clicking on email and IM attachments – which we all, including kids, can easily do without thinking. What's new about this, the Times says, "is the vastly escalating scale of the problem — and the precision with which some of the programs can scan computers for specific information, like corporate and personal data, to drain money from online bank accounts and stock brokerages." Computer security experts worry that the average computer user doesn't understand the threat enough to do something about it, and it is hard to explain. I'll try: For example, a worm gets downloaded, infects, and – with key-logger software - starts recording credit card numbers, passwords, social-security numbers, etc. by monitoring users' key strokes when they type. In a case the Times cites, the stolen info "generated 54,926 log-in credentials and 281 credit-card numbers … [and] affected 1,239 companies, including 35 stock brokerages, 86 bank accounts, 174 ecommerce accounts, and 245 email accounts." Eighty percent of all that spam we get comes from botnets (networks of infected computers). Security firms can't keep up with the problem, and Internet service providers are pretty much ignoring it, according to the Times.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
iPod to iPhone
Some tech pundits are calling the phone that Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled with much fanfare this week an iPod with phone features. It definitely doesn't look like a phone (here's Apple's photo). To me, the killer app is a phone that combines the iPhone's next-generation Web viewing, Blackberry-like email access, and all the features of the latest cellphones on the market. This looks to be close, but the New York Times's David Pogue, who got to play with it for about an hour while talking with Jobs, blogs that "heavy BlackBerry addicts may not want to jump ship just yet." He liked a lot of things about it, though, especially the way it handles the Web. Here are details at CNET. As for the iPod, CNN reports that the iPod may turn out to be a videogame player too, at least gamemaker Electronic Arts is banking on it.
Vista's parental controls
The earliest reviews of Vista, Microsoft's new operating system due out this month, basically said, don't upgrade – wait till you get a new computer loaded with the new operating system. But that's not the case for families with young kids. "It is not overreaching to say that if you have young children who play computer games or use the Internet you are basically remiss if you do not upgrade to Vista as soon as possible," according to the New York Times. Vista's parental controls aren't perfect, but they're a whole lot better than "clunky" third-party ones, says writer Seth Schiesel. "With Vista, parents for the first time have powerful, easy-to-use, practically unhackable tools to control and monitor just about everything their children do with the home computer, online and off." He adds that they cover Web browsing, file downloading, and instant messaging. Parents do need to keep in mind, though, that even operating-system-level protection is not the total "solution" for intrepid young users who surf at friends' houses, libraries, schools, and other access points that don't have Vista installed, and many won't because upgrading isn't cheap. [Here's my earlier item on Vista.]
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Business Week says it's the worst-kept secret: Disney has been working on overhauling sites so it's less about promotion and more a social-networking site for kids and adults. The Los Angeles Times has some details, with kids' online safety's in the mix: "The new Disney.com will present itself differently to various age groups, though all will get expanded video, games and other interaction. As on MySpace, visitors will be able to create their own Web sites, communicate with each other and mash together and share music and videos — as long as they're Disney music and videos. Parents will have to use their credit cards to register their children as regular site visitors and will get detailed options for limiting what their kids can do and how they can do it." Disney will probably maintain its Virtual Magic Kingdom "world"/game targeting kids 8-14 and allowing only moderated chat. For younger ones there's "Toontown Online." "Children who play there can chat with each other with pre-approved phrases, unless they show that they know each other in real life. In that case, they can converse normally," according to the L.A. Times. Mini-worlds, or at least avatars (animated characters that represent the user) and their decorate-able (sp?) spaces seems to be the trend for pre-social networkers – e.g., Whyville.net, ClubPenguin.com, Neopets.com, Habbo Hotel, and Disney's VMK.com.
Slightly older social networkers
With its two new sites, consumer products giant Procter & Gamble (of Pampers and Tide fame) just may help shape social networking for the 18-to-49-year-old age group. Its women's site Capessa, for networking about "parenting, pregnancy, and weight loss," won't push self-produced video so much as encourage users to be interviewed about their experiences by professional producers, the Wall Street Journal reports. The other site's a little less predictable as a P&G project. It's launching the People's Choice Community this week, the day after CBS airs the awards shows of that name. The focus of these sites is market research, according to the Journal: They'll "act as continuing focus-group-type environments where P&G - by monitoring consumer discussions on the sites - can learn more about its target audience's likes and dislikes and what consumers in different stages of life care about." Just another sign social networking's here to stay. (P&G's also going after younger consumers – its Herbal Essence shampoo has a profile in MySpace, the Journal says.) In its report, Newsweek leads with the story of a 58-year-old art historian who socializes in Eons.com, at which "you have to be at least 50 to join." Newsweek cites research showing that the 50+ demographic could "explode" from the current 1 million to 20 million and says there are "215 million social networkers regularly active today."
Monday, January 08, 2007
Teen file-sharer in Norway charged
It's not in the news as much these days, but young file-sharers still face legal action. Police in Norway have charged a 16-year-old with illegal file-sharing. He's the first Norwegian to face such charges, Aftenposten.no reports. They'll ask for a suspended sentence of 60 days and a fine of about $644. His parents face a six-figure fine. "The boy is charged with running the network known as the Stavanger Dragon Hub in the file-sharing program Direct Connect, and administering the sharing of 7,000 films, 150,000 songs and 20,000 video clips," according to Aftenposten.
More on social engineering, actually - which I featured last week. The little snippet about "anti-social networking" at the bottom of "Mr. Know-It-All's" column in Wired, after advice about checking spouses' browser history and whether IM-ing is ruining teenagers' spelling and grammar, is really about social engineering. It offers advice to users who have problems with friends on the social Web: "How do I stop my friend from posting embarrassing videos of us on YouTube?" The answer: "Ask nicely. If that doesn't work, employ a stronger form of persuasion: blackmail." "Mr. Know-It-All" Clive Thompson goes on to suggest a form of blackmail that on the surface sounds sensible, maybe, but could lead to the kind of downward spiral of reaction that becomes the digital version of schoolyard bullying. For tweens and teens, what needs to follow "ask nicely" is probably negotiation among peers, then negotiation involving parents or other trusted adults. Bullying never was and never will be an easy problem to solve, whether on the playground or on the social Web, but threats and revenge definitely won't end it. After I uploaded my feature on social engineering last week, I discovered this TechNewsWorld report on it. [Don't miss Clive's answer to the question before this one about IM and teenagers' grammar. He cites some studies that might ease parental concerns, then offers this good advice: "It's worth explaining to your kids the importance of code switching. Just as they shouldn't swear in front of Grandma, they shouldn’t use shrt frms on a résumé or any other document intended to impress the fortysomething set…."]