Friday, January 04, 2008
The social Web & 2007-'08
This past year was "when the Internet's potential as a transformative force expanded. This was the year we understood that the Internet is more than just another medium. It is an emerging society," reported the Times of India in an editorial, "The Year of Facebook." I agree that 2007 was the year we all saw the social Web take off, we began to see its potential for good, and we heard a whole lot about its downside. But the editorial seems to contradict itself where it says the Internet is "an emerging society" while earlier saying that "it's an extension of the physical world." Maybe it's both, but I think - for youth - it's more the latter, and adults can learn a lot from watching how young people "live" online (see "Oral culture online" and "The social Web Petri dish"). Australian IT looked at Google's Zeitgeist 2007 (the search engine's survey of billions of Web searches to determine "what's been on our collective consciousness") and reports that "7 out of the 10 hottest topics which triggered Internet queries during the year involved social networking" (the Zeitgeist is here). "A Top 10 list compiled by the world's most-used search engine includes British website Badoo, San Francisco-based Hi5, and Facebook." Also in the Top 10 were video-sharing sites YouTube and Dailymotion, Disney's ClubPenguin.com, and virtual world Second Life. As for MySpace, Australian IT adds, "one in every four US residents uses MySpace, while in Britain it is as common to have a profile page on the Web site as it is to own a dog." As for 2008, there's good and bad ahead too - see "Tech trends in 2008" from San Jose Mercury News columnist Dean Takahashi.
2008: Whose info is whose?
One of the things we'll all need to sort out on the social Web is what content belongs to who. Is your profile your content or that of the service hosting it? Are your friends' comments in your profile your content, theirs, or the host's? Sound complicated? It is. But it needs to be worked out in order to meet another need people are voicing: "data portability" or social-networking interoperability. "There is a crying need for some open and standardized format to allow social Web users to manage and move their data around," reports a San Jose Mercury News blog. "The data that your 'friends enter about themselves? Well, they've shared it with you, but is it yours to export? And since you've entered into an agreement with Facebook to voluntarily add information to Facebook's database, does the company have some kind of claim as well, (not to mention some obligation to prevent one of your "friends" from exporting your contact information without letting you know)?" These are not just copyright or content-ownership questions, they're privacy ones. Great fuel for family discussions on how information we post can not only get away from us but also may no longer be "our" info.
Thursday, January 03, 2008
Generation gap on copyright, P2P
When New York Times tech writer David Pogue gives talks on copyright law and ethics he has a little interactive segment where he describes lots of situations involving copying songs, CDs, DVDs, broadcast movies, etc., and asks for a show of hands from people who think this or that situation is ok, Pogue writes. He's illustrating all the shades of gray - or at least people's perceptions of the shades of gray - of copyright rights and wrongs. "Recently, however, I spoke at a college. It was the first time I'd ever addressed an audience of 100 percent young people. And the demonstration bombed.... I just could not find a spot on the spectrum that would trigger these kids' morality alarm. They listened to each example [of what he usually finds some people saying is wrong], looking at me like I was nuts." That there might be something wrong with file-sharing, etc., simply does not compute. But there isn't just a generation gap here, of course. There's also a reality gap: the media industry's reality vs. that of its increasingly digitally literate customers. Speaking of that, in a new move to combat piracy the IFPI (the global equivalent of the US's RIAA), is "asking European lawmakers to require Internet service providers to use filters to block" file-sharing, the New York Times reports.
The 'IWWIW' generation?
"I definitely think [technology] is a divider," Jane Buckingham told Rachel Abramowitz at the Los Angeles Times, "and it's something that will continue to be a divider. If you don't text message, if you don't twitter, it will change your day-to-day reactions. I don't think [technology] is horrific and negative. At some point, technology will become so integrated into our lifestyles, we won't notice it, but right now we feel its presence a lot." Buckingham is founder and head of The Intelligence Group, which interprets the consumption interests and patterns of Generation Y for marketers (who pay $2,500 a head to listen to her), the Times reports. That's a key point I'd like to highlight here: We parents notice technology; our children really don't. We know when we're online. Our kids do, yes, in that they're using a tech tool to communicate or socialize, but they don't make the distinction we do between online and offline. They don't think about it as they socialize. So right now, as Jane Buckingham says, "technology is a divider" between the generations. I disagree, though, that it will continue to be for the very reason that it is being "integrated into our lifestyles." It won't be a divider between our children and their children when they have them. Something new will divide those generations, I suspect. Kind of like something else Buckingham talks about, which I think divides us and our kids: the access they have to things, each other, info, etc. Buckingham's "mantra" for our children's generation, Abramowitz reports, is "I want what I want. I want it when I want it. And I want it how I want it," or "IWWIW," the acronym at the top of Buckingham's PowerPoint presentation. Kind of depressing, when you consider that's what marketers are paying big bucks to hear so they can go out and create advertising messages for our children that "say" our product/service will satisfy those very "legitimate" consumption needs. (I think I'm sounding very old. Maybe it's the turn of the year.)
This news story about Wisconsin legislation to put a tax on videogames reflects the widespread misconception in the US that videogames are a "kids thing." That's how the bill's author, state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, described them to WISC-TV. The motivation is good - to raise money to have youth "who commit non-violent crimes" tried in the juvenile system. "Currently, 17-year-olds are treated as adults," according to WISC-TV. The only problem is, videogames aren't a kid thing, actually. "The average videogame player is 33 years old," according to Entertainment Software Association research, and PC World blogger Matt Peckham points to the same data in asking, "Is there any way we could put an age cap on the tax? You know, since you say it's a 'kids-kids' thing, which pretty obviously means you're not talking about the ESA's '67% of American heads of households play computer and video games' statistic. I assume 'heads of households' means adults (not kids), but maybe I'm out on a limb there." Tongue firmly planted in cheek, Peckham likens a videogame tax to a cigarette one, putting a stigma on a product that probably doesn't deserve it. But taxing videogames is also about as effective as fining retailers for selling age-inappropriate games to minors, since "the average age of the most frequent game buyer is 38 years old," again according to ESA research. "In 2007, 92 percent of computer game buyers and 80 percent of console game buyers were over the age of 18." Here's one more notable statistic for anyone overly influenced by all the news media coverage about violent videogames: "85% of all games sold in 2006 were rated 'E' for Everyone, 'T' for Teen, or 'E10+' for Everyone 10+." [Here's the ESA's page on third-party research.] The really violent games are rated "M" for Mature or "AO" for Adult Only. Before anyone buys a game, it always helps to check a game's rating either on its packaging or at the ESA's game ratings site, ESRB.org.
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
Young adults biggest library users: Study
Americans 18-30 are public libraries' biggest fans. "And people are going to libraries not only for the Internet-enabled computers there but also for library reference books, newspapers and magazines," reports the Associated Press, citing a new study by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Pew/Internet director Lee Rainie told the AP that this age group is the generation that saw libraries going from book repositories to "information hubs," with database-accessing computers alongside reference bookshelves. Still, the findings were a surprise after an authoritative Benton Foundation report 10 years ago, which said 18-to-24-year-olds were the people least likely to view libraries as important. "That generation [now 28-34 in age] now uses libraries to solve problems at half the rate as the current 18-30 set, the new study found," the AP reports, adding that in the 10-year time period since the Benton report, library Internet access "has grown from about 44% of public libraries to more than 99%." But I suspect increased library connectivity is only part of the explanation. Internet literacy does not spell media literacy. My theory is that media literacy and critical thinking are needed in proportion to Net literacy. In other words, the more access young people (and all of us) have to information the more they need guidance from experts in media literacy, or information navigation (aka librarians).
More Web playgrounds coming
Stories about kids' virtual worlds are becoming perennial because children 6-10 appear to be a growth market. Twenty million children are expected to be virtual-world members by 2011, up from 8.2 million right now, according to eMarketer figures cited by the New York Times. This latest article paints a pretty good landscape. There's Disney's new “Pirates of the Caribbean” world for kids under 11, with "worlds on the way for Cars and Tinker Bell, among others. Nickelodeon, already home to Neopets, is spending $100 million to develop a string of worlds. Coming soon from Warner Brothers Entertainment, part of Time Warner: a cluster of worlds based on its Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera and D. C. comics properties." I was glad to get an update from this piece on Neopets' protections for kids under 13 (in compliance with the US's Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA): "Neopets restricts children under 13 from certain areas unless their parents give permission in a fax. Several Neopets employees patrol the site around the clock, and messaging features are limited to approved words and phrases."
Monday, December 31, 2007
Wii-related 'parental challenges'
A California mom was "lucky" enough this past fall to walk into a toy store right after a fresh shipment of Nintendo Wii consoles had been received. So she bought one for her child as a gift, only too soon to discover some "hidden costs." "Be prepared for "post-Wii stress disorder," she wrote in the Los Gatos Weekly Times. In the last four paragraphs of her story, she suggests how parents of Wii players can prepare themselves (including if they get hooked themselves).