Friday, February 23, 2007
Social site ZEBO: Review
In this week's issue of my newsletter, the third part in our series about social Web sites from the perspective of a university student studying their impact on youth. Ann Moylan-McAulay at Portland State University reviewed the social-shopping site ZEBO.com. I'd like to highlight here three characteristics Ann zoomed in on. They're the types of features all over the user-driven Web that, if used maliciously or just unthinkingly, can cause embarrassment, hurt reputations, or harm psychological well-being. These are the kinds of features we all – teens and adults - need to give careful thought to as we work through the positives and negatives of the social Web:
"Comment blocking. Users are not able to block certain people from sending messages to their ZEBO inbox. Blocking comments can be a very useful tool for online socializers - for blocking cyberbullying or other unwanted messages from unknown users. The site did mention that they were working on getting this option put into place, but as of mid-February, it isn't in place. "Photostrips. The site caters to the more egocentric side of youth by offering a "photostrip" option (MySpace does not offer this feature, though someone savvy in html code could install one themselves). The photostrip is a scrolling slideshow on a user's profile page that can contain up to 1,000 pictures. The idea of photostrip may seem downright terrifying to some parents. While youth are exploring their identities, they may not fully understand that the photos they display are there for *everyone* to see. So, as a parent, it's important to keep a running dialogue with your child about the public nature of Web sites and discuss what is and is not OK to upload onto a public site. "WikiEdit. This tool enables users to go to friends' profiles and change them in two ways. Members of the site can change a friend's profile photo or background image, by uploading one for them. Once a page has been edited the profile change will go into effect within 24 hours and an email will be sent to the friend notifying them of the change. If they don't like what was done to their profile they can change it back, but there is no option to approve the change before it goes public. There is an option within the site to not allow WikiEdits on your profile. But my concern is that younger users may not know about this option, or choose not to use it until something goes awry. If the intentions of the person making the edit are good, all should go well, but malicious edits could be traumatic for the profile owner. Out of spite or "humor," someone could post an inappropriate picture of a friend without considering the possible consequences. In other words, this is a feature that can be used for cyberbullying purposes."
At the end of Ann's review are some thoughtful pointers for parents of people who might be attracted to sites like ZEBO (here's her full review).
At the end of Ann's review are some thoughtful pointers for parents of people who might be attracted to sites like ZEBO (here's her full review).
Gamer raters wanted
The Entertainment Software Rating Board is looking to hire full-time raters who are gamers themselves. They have to have "experience with children," but "parents are preferred," 1UP.com reports. To date, rating games has been a part-time job, but "in the wake of renewed legislative pressure, [the ESRB] decides that the task of assigning ratings to games requires more than a part-time commitment," says Gamespot's subhead.
Breaking up hard to do?
Not on YouTube, apparently. The Associated Press leads with the question grownups (parents, educators, etc.) will be, maybe need to be, asking more and more: "Was it live … or was it just a stunt for YouTube?" Whether the videotaped break-up of a couple of college students was real or not (they said it was), it was definitely a hit on YouTube, the AP reports. "The various videos of [North Carolina State U. sophomore Mindy] Moorman's hostile breakup with University of North Carolina senior Ryan Burke have been watched more than 300,000 times as of Wednesday - making it one of the most popular clips on YouTube.com in recent weeks." Moorman, a political science major "thinking of going into politics" was asked by her mother how she plans to get elected now. Good question, except that it could also be that the popularity of her breakup video will give Moorman a name-recognition headstart in a future campaign. Increasingly, reputation damage will probably depend on an online video's content. Less likely to get elected are future politicians who "starred" in compromising party shots, school-fight videos (see my 1/26 issue), or worse (see last week's feature about the upheld convictions of teen producers of child pornography).
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Social-networking training wheels
Actually, I think these sites may be teen-social-networking training wheels as much for parents as for their users (parents who don't already have MySpace profiles, anyway). Newsweek leads with how Club Penguin (4 million visitors/month) kept a child, who was in the hospital for five months, connected with his then-distant friends. But this site for 8-to-14-year-olds, Newsweek says, is just the "tip of the iceberg" in the category targeting tween socializers. Some, such as ClubPenguin.com, Whyville.net, Nicktropolis.com, Habbo Hotel, and Disney's VMK are more like a kid version of Second Life, others – such as Tweenland.com and Imbee.com – are more in the MySpace or Xanga category (profile or blog creation + IM). "Most of these sites are remarkably safe," Newsweek reports. "Still, experts warn against growing too complacent," because site moderators probably can't tell, for example, if a group of peers has decided to give a friend the cold shoulder offline and online - a form of social harassment or bullying.
Cyberbullying laws considered, US-wide
The Associated Press story leads with this cyberbullying tragedy: the suicide of Ryan Patrick Halligan at the age of 13 after being bullied online for months. Classmates sent him "instant messages calling him gay. He was threatened, taunted and insulted incessantly by so-called cyberbullies," the AP reports. Across the US, states are considering various sorts of crackdowns against cyberbullying, including legislation. There's no easy solution. The AP quotes an educator questioning whether laws can change bad behavior. Maybe if the legislation requires public schools to address the issue? "In Arkansas, the state Senate this month passed a bill calling on school districts to set up policies to address cyberbullying only after it was amended to settle concerns about students' free-speech rights," the AP reports. Check out this thorough report on efforts in Vermont, Rhode Island, Oregon, Washington, and South Carolina as well.
Teens' communication tools: Study
I have two take-aways from the latest Harris Interactive study, "Communication Rules": 1) Social sites, IM, and cellphones are tools integral to teens' socializing, not add-ons, and 2) Teens generally know when it's appropriate to communicate through devices – which tool is appropriate and when. "When the tone of a communication is serious, such as arguing and breaking up with someone, teens realize that communication tools may not be the best avenue of discussion," the study press release says. Other findings include:
67% of teens 13-18 "would not break up with someone" and 42% would not argue with a friend over phones, email, instant messaging, text messaging, or social networking sites. "When choosing a communication tool, teens will most likely choose to use cellphones and landline phones to talk to a friend about something serious or important (phone 34%, landline phone 23%); apologize to a friend (cellphone 22%, landline phone 20%); or break up with someone (cell phone 14%, landline phone 9%)." "If teens want to … have more time to think about what they have to say, they're more likely to use instant messaging … over cellphone, text messaging, or social-networking sites," though cellphones are No. 1 for arranging to meet with friends, having quick conversations, contacting a friend when bored, and inviting people to a party or event."
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Help for safe surfing
Casually clicking around the Web "can be a dangerous business" these days, because of the malicious stuff you (or your child) can download just by arriving at some Web pages, CNET reports. By malicious stuff, I mean software that can affect a PC, your identity, or your wallet, not harm a child – e.g., trojan software that can take control of the family PC, keylogger code that grabs passwords or credit card numbers, or nasty spyware that's tough to get rid of. So CNET's reviewers "looked at five standalone safe-surfing tools and compared them with the native protection within Firefox 2 and Internet Explorer 7." They're all quite different, some identifying and blocking phishing sites, others identifying and blocking legitimate sites containing bad downloads. Most did a better job than the protection in browsers. Check out CNET's at-a-glance chart.
'Get on the [Net safety] bus!'
Austin, Texas, has a good thing coming: It's a bus full of videogames, Xbox 360 consoles, and laptops with Vista loaded. But it's not just for kids. Austin's the bus's 10th stop in a 20-city tour designed to teach parents that online safety's not rocket science by demo-ing Vista's parental controls, News 8 Austin reports. The campaign, which is called “Safety is No Game,” will appear in 20 cities across the United States. Austin is one of the first stops. Here's the tour schedule, many stops with dates yet to be announced.
Videogames for surgical skills?
A study published in this month's issue of Archives of Surgery found "a strong correlation between videogame skills and a surgeon's capabilities performing laparoscopic surgery," Reuters reported. " Out of 33 surgeons from Beth Israel Medical Center in New York that participated in the study, the nine doctors who had at some point played videogames at least three hours per week made 37% fewer errors, performed 27% faster, and scored 42% better in the test of surgical skills than the 15 surgeons who had never played video games before." However, moms and dads, one of the study's authors did tell Reuters that spending more than an hour a day playing videogames is *not* going to help kids get into medical school! (A 2004 survey found that 94% of US teens play videogames for an average of nine hours a week, Reuters added.) In related findings, the 2005 National Summit on Educational Games, sponsored by the Federation of American Scientists, the Entertainment Software Assoc., and the National Science Foundation, concluded among other things that "many videogames require players to master skills in demand by today's employers – strategic and analytical thinking, problem solving, planning and execution, decisionmaking, and adaptation to rapid change," Harris Interactive cited in its latest trend report.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
From social networking to life?
Headlines are beginning to say that Second Life, with 2 million+ users and growing, is the next social-networking phenomenon. If descriptions like "virtual world" or "alternate reality" don't work, try this wordier one from the Fort Worth Star Telegram Fort Worth Star Telegram: "sort of a combination of MySpace, The Sims and Monopoly, with the three-dimensional touch of Star Trek’s holodecks and the video game World of Warcraft, Second Life is not a competitive pursuit so much as an alternative state. In a profile of Second Life founder and CEO Philip Rosedale, USATODAY says "he thinks he is remaking the Internet." No longer a "playground for the ultra-nerdy … Second Life has 10,000 people a day signing up. "CBS chief Leslie Moonves hosted Rosedale on stage at January's Consumer Electronics Show. Reuters set up a virtual Second Life news bureau. It is becoming so vital that politicians are campaigning there, bands such as Duran Duran are giving concerts, and hotel chains are using it to try out new concepts," USATODAY reports. And Sweden plans to be the first country to open an embassy in Second Life, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, is scrambling to make the world accessible to PCs that run Microsoft's new Vista operating system. So far there have been some compatibility issues, CNET reports.
Disaster relief would benefit from developing social networks. That's the view of two University of Maryland scientists pointed out by MIT's Technology Review. Jennifer Preece, an expert in human-computer interactions, and Ben Schneiderman, a computer scientist, suggest in Science magazine that "local, state, and federal governments develop 911.gov, a social network that would allow residents to report disasters, request assistance from neighbors, and check for emergency updates and relief information." Because phone operators and relief agencies are usually quickly overwhelmed by call volume, social networking could spread out the information and contact points in something more like a telephone chain that would let people know at a glance who's nearby and what aid is available. Preece and Schneiderman are really describing what I'd call peer-to-peer disaster relief as opposed to the traditional top-down kind. Online marketing expert Max Kalehoff builds on this idea in his blog in a way that makes sense: "Instead of building a new network that nobody even knows exists, emergency personnel should leverage the ease and dispersion of existing networks that have already proven their utility in real life." In other words, the social-networking services aggregate people for a lot of purposes other than socializing; they're a sign of how society will tackle large-scale problems in the future – something that people seeking to ban social sites should be aware of.
Monday, February 19, 2007
School violence apparently averted
This was one of those cases where a social site helped investigators. A Connecticut high school student sent a link to a disturbing video in YouTube to a friend, who – when he recognized some people in the video - told his parents. The parents called the police. The video "showed teens firing weapons and igniting explosives," the Hartford Courant reported. It wasn't clear last week who made the video, but it led police to a 16-year-old boy's house, where they seized weapons and found "a hit list with at least 20 names" and documents detailing a plan to attack them with "explosive devices and guns," according to the Courant. The boy was arrested and arraigned last Thursday on "two counts of making bombs and ordered held on $500,000 bond," the Associated Press reported. It added the police said they were "extremely grateful" the parents reported the video. According to the Courant article, a conviction on each bomb charge carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years.