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Friday, November 30, 2007

Facebook changes ad system

Amid growing flak that its new advertising system reduces users' privacy, Facebook made some changes this week. Now users can "opt in" to having their online shopping broadcast to friends; before they had to "opt out" - a problem if they didn't know their purchasing decisions were being broadcast and they were, for example, buying holiday gifts and wanted their friends to be surprised). "The move comes a week after, the non-profit public policy advocacy group, joined a growing chorus of critics of the new service," the Financial Times reports. Facebook did stop short of allowing users to opt out of the system altogether, the FT added. The system is "part of an effort to boost revenue growth by tapping into the deep social connections between Facebook users" - aimed at making social networking attractive to advertisers by tapping into the viral-marketing idea that friends are influenced by what their peers buy. Among other concerns was that of a University of Minnesota law professor. Citing his view, a New York Times blog asked the question, "Are Facebook's Social Ads Illegal [in New York]?" And consumer privacy advocates are pushing for greater control for consumers of their personal data on the Internet (see this at the Center for Democracy and Technology).

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Uninformed game givers

Sixty percent of kids 8-17 expect to 1) get a game they didn't want or a game for a console they don't have, or 2) not get any or all of the games they asked for, according to a study by Weekly Reader Research cited by USATODAY. It also found that 80% of kids said they'd ask for a videogame this holiday season, and 59% for a game console. Their five favorites are Guitar Hero, Mario Party DS, Super Mario Galaxy, My Sims and Halo 3. Key advice for getting the right games, USATODAY says: know what console the child has and know the child's game picks. I would add: Know the games' ratings! Go to to see if a child's pick is age- and maturity-level appropriate. Meanwhile, as the New York Daily News reviews the three top consoles: Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3, the Los Angeles Times reports that Microsoft is pushing to broaden the market for Xbox Live and the online gaming it enables. See also "Support for young videogamers," zooming in on what online gaming can be like for tweens and teens.

Related links

  • A mom's change of heart. See this from a mom who went from videogame critic to buyer because of research she read about active videogames.

  • Senators critical on ratings. Four senators, including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, sent a letter recently to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board calling on it to "review the rating system for video games since Manhunt 2 received an 'M' for Mature" rating instead of an Adults Only one, Information Week reported.

  •'s giving guide - for parents who want to learn more about game consoles

  • USATODAY's "Joysticks to the world: A videogame Gift Guide" for kids, tweens, teens, adults, and older/casual players

    Readers, your views and stories are always welcome. Email them anytime to anne[at], comment here, or - ideally - post them in our forum at I sometimes reprint for the benefit of your fellow readers.


  • Real music, fake guitars

    The two hottest videogame (console, not computer) titles of the season, according to the San Francisco Chronicle - Rock Band and Guitar Hero III - are also among the most social. "The fun ramps up considerably with more players." On the other hand, "there's something mildly distressing about living in a society where cash-strapped public schools are more likely than ever to be cutting their music programs, and yet the must-have game of the season teaches you to play a fake guitar" and "the plastic Guitar Hero guitar is pretty much useless around the campfire. (Even as kindling.)" But writer Peter Hartlaub is only half serious (don't miss the wisdom of his distinction between "happiness" and "fun."


    Socializing + gaming: Trend

    For once, 30- and 40-somethings may be leading a trend: the blending of social networking and online games. Some analysts call MySpace and Facebook "massively multiplayer games in disguise," the Daily Globe reports. The article's about sites like that are "less about skill levels and escapism and more about joining friends and strangers in virtual spaces where chatting, comparing fashions, going dancing — and, yes, slaying monsters — are all options." The Daily Globe describes the experience of "a 41-year-old homemaker" who spends "hours online every day playing Kaneva," a "shopping-and-partying game - where she operates a virtual nightclub and hosts parties - because it helps her interact with people, not provide escape from them as traditional games often do." Both sides see financial gain from this trend, with social sites adding gaming features and game sites adding social ones.

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    Thursday, November 29, 2007

    PCs for the world's children

    I've pointed before to stories on the "Give 1, Get 1" program for Americans to help get laptops to kids in third-world countries, but this one in the Washington Post goes in-depth and shows the scope of the challenges. One challenge for the MIT people behind Give 1, Get 1 is competition at home. What Intel and Microsoft are doing to seed new markets around the world, though, is a benefit too. "By the end of the year, Intel [for example] will be running laptop pilot programs in schools in 30 countries with an eye to figuring out what kind of software services, Internet connectivity, local educational content and technical support are needed." There are also projects by Microsoft and NComputing (spinning off of eMachines). But the MIT program is focused more on children's education than on markets, its leaders say. What do they see in it for kids? "[Nicholas] Negroponte and [program president Walter] Bender believe that playing with their own laptops will engage children's intellects, spark creativity and provide an outlet for self-expression." Bender told the Post that, like vaccines, laptops aren't a cure. Vaccines allow bodies to manufacture cures; laptops alow brains to engage in education, to manufacture learning. [See also my earlier post on this.]

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    Parental controls improving

    We - parents - are the winners in the "showdown of new parental controls in Apple's Leopard versus Microsoft's year-old Vista," CNET's Stefanie Olsen reports. The reason is, filtering, monitoring, and time-control features are increasingly built in right at the operating-system level on both PCs and Macs now. That means it's all easier for parents to use and tougher for kids to find workarounds (younger kids, anyway). The huge key thing parents need to keep in mind, though, is that the idea of "the family computer" is beginning to fade - at least in the world's wealthier, more connected countries. More and more households have multiple computers, which might require rules restricting kid use to particular computers. But even so, the Web is available on more and more devices, most of them highly portable. It's also available at friends' houses, or course. The friend's house (or public library, or local wireless hot spot, etc.) is probably the No. 1 "workaround" for which no parental-control software you buy or set up works. Even so, Olsen reports, "parents are clearly paying more attention to technology for managing their children's computer use, especially as more kids venture online at younger ages." She cites NPD research showing that "sales of parental control software were up 47.3% percent in the first nine months of 2007 over the same period last year," and some of the top-selling off-the-shelf parental-control products are Enteractive, Microforum, and ContentWatch.

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    Wednesday, November 28, 2007

    Social-networking benefits for youth

    The benefits of social networking "can far outweigh the potential dangers," wrote Dr. Brendesha Tynes in the latest issue of the Journal of Adolescent Research. The assistant professor of African American Studies and Educational Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign further argued that "banning adolescents from social networking sites - if this were even feasible - as well as monitoring too closely might close off avenues for beneficial cognitive and psychosocial development that are available to young people in the online social world," reports the Wilkes University Beacon (in Pennsylvania) about the study. Among the upsides cited in the article were "beneficial cognitive and psychosocial development"; global political and cultural awareness (because many social sites have international memberships); and "perspective-taking, argumentative, decision-making and critical thinking skills."

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    Social site choices & user ethnicity: Study

    Social media researcher danah boyd caught some flak for similar observations last July (see below), but now research at Northwestern University agrees that "college students’ choice of social networking sites is related to race, ethnicity and parents’ education," a blog reports. The survey of 1,060 freshmen at the University of Illinois, Chicago (among the US's Top 10 universities with regard to student ethnic diversity) found that white students prefer Facebook, Hispanic students like MySpace, and "Asian and Asian-American students are least likely to use MySpace." That last group are "prodigious users of Facebook" but also like Xanga and Friendster a lot, according to the research, which also found "no statistically significant social networking choices for black students." The study's author, Eszter Hargittai, said in Northwestern University's press release about it: “Everyone points to that wonderful New Yorker cartoon of the dog at the computer telling a canine friend by his side that ‘on the Internet nobody knows you're a dog.' In reality, however, it appears that online actions and interactions should not be viewed as independent of one’s offline identity.” I think the New Yorker cartoon's just from back in Web 1.0 days. [Here's a Wired blog post on the study and my earlier item about danah's observations "Social Web's class divide?"]

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    Tuesday, November 27, 2007

    Net-addiction rehab in Korea

    It's South Korea's first "Internet addiction" rehab camp and it may be the first in the world too. The Jump Up Internet Rescue School is "part boot camp, part rehab center [and] resembles programs around the world for troubled youths," the New York Times reports. "Drill instructors drive young men through military-style obstacle courses, counselors lead group sessions, and there are even therapeutic workshops on pottery and drumming." The incredible accessibility of broadband Internet in Korea, where 90% of households are connected even while "dim Internet parlors that sit on practically every street corner" seems to have some associated problems. The Times quotes Korean child psychiatrist Ahn Dong-hyun as saying that "up to 30%" of South Korean children and teens (about 2.4 million) are "at risk of Internet addiction" and American psychiatrist Jerald Block as saying that "up to nine million Americans may be at risk for the disorder, which he calls pathological computer use. Only a handful of clinics in the United States specialize in treating it, he said." The article leads with the story of a 15-year-old patient at Jump Up who'd been spending 17 hours a day online. [For Dr. Block's work in the area of videogames, see "Notable fresh videogame findings."]


    US sex-offender registries: Update

    If anyone wonders how law enforcement people around the US will be handling sex offender registries, see this article in Police Chief magazine. Any day now, the Justice Department will be issuing guidelines on how law enforcement agencies can implement the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, which established "comprehensive standards for sex offender registration and notification" across all 50 states (before it, standards and practices were up to individual states' discretion). The US attorney general's office issued guidelines last May which were then open to public comment, ending August 1. The final guidelines are "expected to be released 60–90 days after closing of the comment period," Police Chief reports. [See also "Young sex offenders" and "Juvenile sex offenders & Net registries".]


    Monday, November 26, 2007

    Web's inventor & the social Web

    ZDNET blogger Dan Farber says the social Web just "reached a new stage of legitimacy" with a recent post by Tim Berners-Lee, the Web's inventor (in 1989, BTW). Berners-Lee says the Web has evolved in people's minds from connecting computers to connecting documents (maybe this was "Web 1.0") to connecting the things those documents are about - from relationships to all manner of interests and activities. For example, Berners-Lee said, "biologists are interested in proteins, drugs, genes. Businesspeople are interested in customers, products, sales. We are all interested in friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances." Building on that, he later added that "it's not the Social Network Sites that are interesting — it is the Social Network itself. The Social Graph. The way I am connected, not the way my Web pages are connected. We can use the word Graph, now, to distinguish from Web." In his blog post, Farber was making the connection between Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's term "social graph," or "the network of connections between people," and Tim Berners-Lee's use of the term.

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    Battle against child porn far from over

    Humanity still has a battle ahead in its effort to stop online child pornography, says Ernie Allen, CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in a commentary in the Christian Science Monitor. "While inroads have been made in the fight against child pornography, the problem remains severe," he writes. "The Internet has become a child pornography superhighway, turning children into a commodity for sale or trade. Analysts at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) have reviewed 9.6 million images and videos of child pornography on the Internet just since 2002. There are millions more such images in cyberspace that we have yet to find. The Internet has become a child pornography superhighway, turning children into a commodity for sale or trade." One of the horrible realities of child porn is that 75% of the photos were taken by people the victim knows - 35% by a parent, 15% by another relative, and 20% by "someone close to the child or the family." Another terrible reality is that the children in the photos circulating the Net are getting younger - Allen writes that 58% haven't reached puberty. He adds that law enforcement agencies and NCMEC have identified almost 1,200 of the children depicted in these photos; NCMEC has "provided more than 12,000 evidence reports to prosecutors and law enforcement officers to assist in prosecutions"; and - thanks to a coalition of financial institutions - the use of credit cards has been "virtually eliminated" from online child-porn transactions.