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Friday, April 13, 2007

Facebook's facelift

Second-largest social-networking service Facebook just unveiled its biggest overhaul in 18 months, Technology Review reports. “Besides adopting a new look, Facebook is introducing tools that will enable its users to learn more about their social networks and more easily conduct electronic conversations among multiple people simultaneously.” The article adds that the service tested its new look and features on more than 100,000 members. And, although it’s famous as a service for college students that got its start at Harvard, “less than half its users are currently in college,” Technology Review reports. The rest are in Facebook’s networks for businesses, geographic regions, and high school students.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Proposed US site-labeling law

The bill’s sponsors say it would “clean up the Internet for children,” CNET reports. Sens. Max Baucus of Montana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas introduced legislation today that says operators of Web sites content that’s “harmful to minors” must label their sites as such and register in a national directory or be fined, according CNET. It’s not the first legislation of its kind. “The current Democratic proposal - like the one that a Republican-dominated Senate committee approved last summer - is strikingly similar to the one floated over a decade ago.” CNET says one difference, though, is that the law proposed in ’96 referred to “indecent” material. This one uses the phrase “harmful to minors,” which it defines as “any type of material that appeals to the prurient interest by depicting or describing an actual or simulated sex act - and lacks serious scientific, literary, artistic or political values for minors.” But last month a federal judge ruled that even sex ed sites could be deemed “harmful to minors,” which could make restrictions on them unconstitutional. It appears we have yet another proposed Net-safety law on constitutionally slippery ground. It would also fail to have much impact on all those X-rated (or sex-education) sites based in other countries.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Growing interest in tween sites

Is it that news media instinctively know that tweens need social-networking options of their own? That there’s a reason MySpace and other social-networking sites target users 14+? I’m seeing more and more reports around the country about a growing number of options for elementary- and middle-school-age children. For example, the Baltimore Sun zoomed in on Webkinz, where kids can create a virtual pet (maybe from a favorite real or stuffed furry friend), outfit and re-outfit, and create a virtual home for it. I just hope it isn’t encouraging consumerism too much – the Sun points out that the site “points out that ‘Everyone enjoys a little retail therapy’." The Contra Costa Times profiles British Columbia-based ClubPenguin, where one California mom’s kids “aren't allowed to become buddies with anyone they don't know.” Here’s how this site and the family’s rule is good “training wheels” for social-networking sites: This mom’s kids “were mystified by the rule ... [and] fretted they might hurt someone's feelings by saying ‘no’.” Whatever the rule or negotiation a family has, it prompts an important conversation about how people can try to manipulate others (see “How social influencing works”).

Kids' virtual-world takeaways

Some good, some not so good, but kids are learning things from virtual worlds targeting them, comments Organic's Chad Stoller in Pointing to Disney’s Toon Town, Club Penguin, WebKinz, Nicktropolis, and, he says they learn how to handle (virtual) money, including saving vs. spending (“kids are now discussing the eBay prices of a [Webkinz] Dalmation in classrooms”); “what it means to get something in return for their time” via the “leveling up” experience in games; how to customize their spaces and differentiate them; and how to protect their computer from errant code and other hacks.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Call for better Net manners

Maybe what’s happening in the blogosphere will spill over onto the social Web at large. If it just gets social networkers thinking and agitating for civility and integrity in the social sphere as well as in blogging, it’s a good thing. Just look at the sheer size of the blogosphere: At last count, there were 70 million blogs, “with more than 1.4 million entries being added daily, according to Technorati, a blog-indexing company,” the New York Times reports. “For the last decade, these Web journals have offered writers a way to amplify their voices and engage with friends and readers. But the same factors that make those unfiltered conversations so compelling, and impossible to replicate in the offline world, also allow them to spin out of control.” And that happened recently (see “Call to stop cyberbullying”). Now Tim O’Reilly, crediting with coining the term “Web 2.0” and Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales have joined the chorus, putting forth a blogging code of conduct. They’re great, particularly: “Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in person” and - for any parent-child discussion on the subject – would suggest adding the universal ethic of reciprocity to the mix.

Principal sues over student profiles

A Pennsylvania principal has sued four former students for defaming him in three MySpace profiles. “Each of the disputed sites, which went online during the course of one week in December 2005, was removed within days of its appearance after school officials contacted, CNET reports. In the complaint he filed, the administrator said they were imposter profiles that “falsely portrayed him as a pot smoker, beer guzzler and pornography lover and sullied his reputation.” One of the students and his parents earlier sued the principal and the school for what they called excessive action that violated the student’s First Amendment rights. CNET reports that the school suspended the 3.3 GPA student and placed him “in an alternative education program that allegedly prevented him from progressing with his normal coursework.” Meanwhile, in Indiana, the state’s appeals court ordered a lower court to set aside its penalty against a student who criticized her school principal in a MySpace profile, the Associated Press reports. The appeals court said the earlier decision violated the student’s free-speech rights.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Social Web ads: Widgets

Where we used to we used to watch ads (what a concept!), our children are playing with widgets. Widgets, the Washington Post reports, allows people to do everything from design their own sneakers to create a ringtone to check out Hong Kong traffic or the surf at Australian beaches. Yahoo now has 4,300 widgets in its gallery, “blog publisher TypePad offers ‘blidgets’; home-page creator PageFlakes lets people incorporate ‘snippets’ into their personalized pages; Netvibes, Snipperoo and YourMinis host widget galleries,” according to the Post. Car maker Mini Cooper has a Web site that lets you design your own Mini Cooper credit card (which provides a bit of credit toward your Mini purchase to each transaction). The founder of Searchles social-bookmarking site told the Post that widgets are the “glue” between users and the product or content they want. This is pretty immersive “advertising” – just as much so for adults as for kids playing “Lucky Charms” games in Teens and adults are wise to it, but it should be clearly labeled as advertising where kids are concerned, and this is great fuel for family discussions about critical thinking. [See also “Widgets: Huge on the social Web."]

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