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Friday, October 12, 2007

Local social networking

Sites like Bebo, MySpace, and Facebook aggregate people from all over the world - they're more about interest community than geographic community. Niche social-networking sites zooming in on narrower and narrower interests are popping up all over the place. Another trend is increasingly focused geographic community online. It has several forms: MySpace's sites for individual countries, "home-grown" sites such as LunarStorm in Sweden and Mixi in Japan, and now sites as local as individual cities. Examples of that last category is in the US and the UK's, just launched in London, with other UK cities coming soon. It's pretty smart - taking those searchable databases of local businesses of Web 1.0 days and putting them in the context of online community that allows people to make and share recommendations. They mashed up those attributes with Google Maps, so the user can actually find the business being recommended. Another twist is applying social networking to both interest and geographic community. PC World reports on and links to sites that help solo travelers find compatible people to sit next to on airplanes, friendly couches to sleep on in distant cities, and cheap rides from the airport in expensive cities.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Social mapping gaining momentum

People in the mobile business are calling the latest handset (as they call it in Europe) "the Swiss Army phone," and that all-purpose phone necessarily includes GPS pinpointing of the user's location. Two big stories in this space are Nokia's acquisition of "map and navigational software maker Navteq for $8.1 billion," Nokia's biggest acquisition to date, the New York Times reports, and Google's acquisition of Jaiku ( reports). The Times says Nokia's move "is an indication of where Nokia and other handset makers are headed." To them the important part is revenue from advertisers who can, with GPS, aim their ads not just with demographic precision but now with geographic precision (walking by a pizza shop, see an ad on your phone screen beckoning you in! (That's a bit of an exaggeration, but I can tell you from first-hand travel experience of late that it might be a little less annoying than having salespeople on the sidewalk coaxing you inside as you walk by.) Anyway, precision advertising is the issue for mobile operators (and cellphone makers moving from products to services), while geo-positioning is the issue to parents and child advocates. GPS-enabled social mapping needs careful thought where minors are concerned, and some companies are giving serious thought to it. "Social mapping" - a phrase coined by loopt, a provider of this GPS-enabled social networking - means friends (and hopefully just friends made in "real life") can find out each other's physical location for getting together in person. Another example is Helio's Buddy Beacon (see this earlier story in the New York Times).

As for phone-enabled social networking on the Web (adding voice communications to profiles and blogs), see these press releases about Jaxtr and Jangl. And here's the Wall Street Journal on parental controls for mobile phones.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Keeping kids' phone bills down

"Australia has one of the highest rates of mobile phone ownership in the developed world among children," the Sydney Morning Herald reports, so its Communications and Media Authority issued some tips to help keep kids' cellphone costs under control. Developed with the help of London-based Childnet International, suggestions include considering pre-paid phone services with built-in limits, using providers that track use between billing periods, using services that block extras like Internet access. For more suggestions, see "Ask these questions first" at the bottom of the Morning Herald article. The paper cites one expert as saying this can be a good opportunity for early family discussions about budgeting time and money. Children as young as five have mobiles in Australia.

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Mobile socializing via MP3 player

There's another kind of mobile social networking developing - mobile but not on phones. For Microsoft, it's about socializing around music, and it's aimed at the iPod market but will also have some things in common with MySpace music community and iLike in Facebook, which of course are also giant competitors. Stiff competition, but a worthy idea, analysts are saying. "Along with the three new Zune players, including Microsoft's first-ever flash-based model, Microsoft announced a new community site dubbed Zune Social that it will fire up as beta in November," PC World reports. "According to Microsoft, Zune owners can automatically share their current playlists with friends using a Zune-to-Zune Social sync." The syncing involves user profiles called "Zune Cards." Users view each other's Cards and play samples of the Card owner's favorite tunes, which they can then go buy in the Zune MarketPlace online music store.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Family computing for a cause

It's a new twist on buy one, get one free. You buy a laptop for a child in a developing country and your child gets one free. The project is called “Give 1 Get 1,” and with it, "Americans and Canadians can buy two laptops for $399," the New York Times reports. The donated computer is a tax-deductible charitable contribution. Long in development, the One Laptop per Child campaign is "an ambitious project to bring computing to the developing world’s children," according to the Times. And there have been some successes in getting laptops to their intended owners - e.g., Peru "will buy and distribute 250,000 of the laptops over the next year — many of them allocated for remote rural areas," and the Italian government "has agreed to purchase 50,000 laptops for distribution in Ethiopia."

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Miss America's browser for kids

As Miss America, Lauren Nelson made online safety her cause because of a scary experience she and some friends had as young teens seven years ago when they were messing around in a Web chatroom during a sleepover. Someone in the chatroom as for one of the girls' personal information and "within a week, an online predator was emailing one of them lurid photos," the Associated Press reports. Now Lauren's the star of "The Miss America Kid-Safe Web Browser." The browser, which can be downloaded for free at, "permits access to 10,318 Web sites, all of which were prescreened and determined to be kid-friendly by the Miss America Organization and the Children's Educational Network, which developed the software for it. It has a feature enabling parents to lock the computer and prohibit Internet access with any other browser, and it lets parents add sites to the approved list." Other safe browsers can be found via's searchable parental-controls database (browser search results here). Here's The Telegraph's coverage of Miss America's browser from London.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Parents exposed in social sites

Kids talking about parents online can be good and bad. Some parents deserve more privacy, but the behavior of others should be exposed. Cases in point, reported by A mom in Oregon arrested "for buying a keg of beer for her son's 17th birthday party, after the boy posted photos of the festivities on his MySpace page; a dad who lost his job after his daughter blogged about his "drinking a lot because of his boss, whom he considered a 'jerk'"; and a couple in Maryland facing trial for child abuse after their 12-year-old daughter posted in MySpace about their giving her pot and cocaine. In any case, it's not just teens' reputations that are at stake on the social Web.

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