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Friday, August 21, 2009

MySpace & iLike get together

Now, this makes perfect sense - MySpace is acquiring iLike, a little music-sharing app very popular on many social network sites - given MySpace's growing focus on participatory music (see "MySpace's metamorphosis?"). "The [acquisition] strengthens MySpace’s grip on the music market – iLike is second only to MySpace Music in popularity [with 55 million users] – and extends the reach of the social network, which has lost serious traffic in recent months to Facebook," the Christian Science Monitor reports. The creators of iLike says it's "the dominant music application" on Facebook, Google's Orkut, Hi5, and Bebo, and Business Week reports it won't leave those sites when it belongs to MySpace. Here's a 2007 interview USATODAY did with iLike CEO Ali Partovi in which he explains how it works. [Also related is "'Beatles: RockBand' & participatory music."]

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fresh look at teen cellphone use: Pew memo

These aren't even new numbers on teen mobile phone use, and they're still eyebrow-raising. Pew/Internet's researchers looked back over all their data since 2004 in prep for a whole new study they'll release early next year, and – even in early 2008 - 85% of US 16-year-olds had their own cellphones (71% of all teens did). In 2004, 59% of 16-year-olds owned mobile phones. Let's look at Pew's full age spectrum for 2008: 51% of people aged 12, 53% (13), 72% (14), 79% (15), and those aged 17 came in just under 16-year-olds at 84%. The biggest change in cellphone-ownership numbers between 2004 and 2008 was for 12-year-olds: only 18% had phone in '04, compared to 51% last year. That does suggest that mobile users are getting younger and younger. Here's the chart.

As a parent, I thought for sure they were all texting more than talking, but maybe that's only recently (on pins and needles for the new Pew mobile study). [Nielsen Mobile did report last fall that Americans as a whole sent more text messages than made phone calls, starting the first quarter of 2007, according to a New York Times item I blogged about.] In Pew's 2008 numbers, 94% of teens had used their mobile phones to call friends and 76% have sent text messages, about 20% of them sending text messages daily.

But cellphones aren't teens' only social tool, of course. About a quarter (26%) of all teens "send messages (emails, instant messages, group messages) through social-networking sites," Pew says, "and 43% of teens who use social networks send messages daily. Similarly, another 26% of teens send and receive instant messages on a daily basis and 16% send email every day. And beyond social networking, "77% of teens own a game console like an Xbox or a PlayStation, 74% own an iPod or mp3 player," 60% use a desktop or laptop computer, and 55% own a handheld gaming device, Pew reports. [Meanwhile, moms haven't been left in the dusty - they're flocking to smartphones like iPhones and BlackBerries, CNET reports. Smartphones are the fastest-growing category of phones, and "about 14% of all wireless users who identified themselves as mothers said they owned a smartphone," up from 8.3% in the first quarter of 2008, CNET adds, citing Nielsen Mobile figures.]

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Cellphone: A kid's other computer

If they don't already, parents need to know that owning a cellphone is more and more like owning a computer. Because, though they fit in zippered little compartments in our kids' backpacks, 3G phones or "smart phones" are full-blown Net-connected computers (unless you have your mobile carrier turn off Web browsing). So they're entertainment and social devices and a way for scammers to trick you into subscribing to this or that long-term "service" as much as a way for Mom or Dad to keep tabs on kids' whereabouts – and "about half" of US kids aged 12+ have cellphones, reports Alina Tugend in the New York Times, citing Yankee Group research (for better figures, see my later post with Pew/Internet's latest on teen cellphone ownership). "Many parents – and I include myself in this category," Alina writes, "keep a (somewhat) careful eye on television, computer and video game use. But we didn’t really take into account cellphones, since at least until recently, phones were intended, well, pretty much for calling people." She offers some advice from a pediatrician on family cellphone policy, including the most basic tip that limits need to be set. When things slide a bit, here's a solution Tugend, a mom herself, has arrived at: "Next time I observe my children overly focused on their cells, I’ll send them a text message: 'Put the phone away'." [See also "House rules for teen texting."]

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Facebook sued for being a social-network site

I can't always fit the bottom line of a story in the headline, but this time I could. "Five Facebook users are suing the social network for doing what made it an online superstar – letting members share aspects of their lives on the Web," Agence France Presse reports. They allege that Facebook violates California's privacy laws, reports ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid in his CNET blog. It's an interesting group of plaintiffs: a woman who joined when Facebook was just a college service suing because it became an open network with 250 million+ members; "a photographer and an actress who contend Facebook is wrongly sharing pictures posted on their profile pages"; and two boys under the minimum age state in Facebook's terms of service. One of the boys, an 11-year-old, "posted that he had swine flu and uploaded pictures or video of 'partially-clothed' children swimming," the AFP cites the lawsuit as saying. Larry adds that "the complaint says that 'upon learning of the Facebook account and the posting of an uncertain medical condition,' the child's parents 'removed the medical condition postings from Facebook' and that 'Xavier O. and his parents have been unable to learn where the minor's medical information may have been stored, disseminated or sold by Facebook'." The AFP reports that "Facebook has steadfastly maintained that its members own information they post to profile pages and control who gets to see it" and recently reworded its terms of service to make that clearer, it told users. Meanwhile, the complaints of Xavier's parents raise a number of questions, e.g., why they didn't just delete his account – why leave the photos of kids swimming in his profile if they're mentioned as objectionable? And Larry asks, "Could [the parents] be implying he was posting child pornography images? If so (and I doubt it), this kid could find himself in juvenile court."

Anyway, lots of kids under 13 lie about their age and set up social network accounts – mostly because they're at an age when life is getting very social and social networking is now part of kids' social lives. Responsible social network sites have the age-13 minimum because of COPPA (the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act), which created that somewhat artificial barrier. But – even with the technology that MySpace and Facebook apply to under-age detection – parents are infinitely better at "detecting" their kids' social-Web activities and deciding what's appropriate. I can't imagine a judge who knows anything about social media saying anything different. Looks like Facebook can't either, because, according to the AFP, the site "has dismissed the lawsuit as being without merit and promised a legal battle."

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Another adult cyberbullying case in MO

A 40-year-old Missouri woman has been charged with felony cyberbullying for posting the photo and contact info of a 17-year-old girl in the "Casual Encounters" section of Craigslist, according to a report at Prosecutors said the posting, allegedly made by Elizabeth Thrasher of St. Peters in the St. Louis area, "suggested the girl was seeking a sexual encounter," and police said the girl "received lewd messages and photographs from men she didn't know and contacted police." They also said the girl is the daughter of Thrasher's ex-husband's girlfriend. Thrasher is the first person to be charged with felony cyberbullying under Missouri's one-year-old cyberbullying law, passed after the suicide of Megan Meier. Under that law cyberbullying is a felony "if a victim is 17 or younger and the suspect 21 or older," according to the report.

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'Beatles: Rock Band' game & participatory music

If you'd like some powerful insights into how music is changing, why audiences are turning into participants, and what role videogames have in all this, read "While My Guitar Gently Beeps" in the New York Times Magazine. It's the story of how Apple Corps warmed up to and fully embraced interactive, or participatory, music – the next phase of music history, one could say (without exaggerating). Author and writer Daniel Radosh runs you through the Beatles' version of this evolution, from helping to "kick the compact-disc era into overdrive in 1987," about 20 years after they broke up, right past the "current era of downloadable music" (when "financial disputes kept the Beatles conspicuously sidelined"), to what the $3 billion music part of the videogame industry (a category that's a close second to action games and ahead of sports) represents: simulated performance of real music, among other things. Beatles: Rock Band will be released Sept. 9.

From one perspective, the music videogames of Rock Band and Guitar Hero are a solution to the music industry's P2P file-sharing problem (it probably calls it the piracy problem): Videogames don't just market songs, they sell them now. "In its first week, Motley Crue's 2008 single 'Saints of Los Angeles' sold nearly five times as many copies on Rock Band as it did on iTunes, and at twice the price," Radosh reports. "Pearl Jam plans to release its new album simultaneously on CD and in Rock Band."

Citizen artists? And soon there will be the Rock Band Network, which "will license software tools and provide training for anyone to create and distribute interactive versions of their own songs." That doesn't only expand "the amount and variety of interactive music available," it expands both the musician and participant bases. Now, I think, Rock Band just needs to team up with MySpace or maybe to complete the picture, strengthen the community part (see "MySpace's metamorphosis?"). Because fans are often musicians and vice versa, and tunes are talking points in an ongoing "conversation" between artists and fans (and among fans, of course), multidirectionally.

People often put down Rock Band and Guitar Hero as trivializing music, as "just a game" or more about partying than music. Pointing out that, 40 years ago, "an earlier generation was deeply troubled by the advent of recorded music," Radosh cites the view of Brown University ethnomusicology professor Kiri Miller that people seem either to believe these games should be teaching some "fabulous skill" or else they're having some sort of addictive or automatizing effect on you, when they actually represent "a new form of musical experience."

Like 'Grapefruit.' It looks like Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono, and Olivia Harrison have come to agree, to varying degrees. Though the Beatles one isn't quite as interactive as other Rock Band games (comparatively, it's "a 'walled garden' from which songs cannot be exported and added to a party mix alongside other Rock Band tunes, [violating] the central shuffle-and-personalize ethos of modern music consumption"), Yoko Ono sees it as art, Radosh writes, along the lines of her 1964 book Grapefruit. He cites Lennon's view in a later edition of Grapefruit: "A dream you dream alone may be a dream, but a dream two people dream together is a reality."

Apple Corps also apparently liked how a music videogame adds a physical dimension, "requires players to make a commitment of time, effort, and energy," "demands attention," makes the music multisensory. It wasn't about making the Beatles' music compelling for a new generation, Ono told Radosh. For her, McCartney, and Dhani and Olivia Harrison, it came to be about an art form evolving with its practitioners of all kinds - listeners, sharers, performers, composers, etc.

Ringo 'leads from his left hand.' For details on how, in these games of performance simulation, players learn more about both the music and how a particular artist (e.g., Ringo Starr) plays it, look for the paragraph beginning: "Like roughly 80% of the creative team, Eric Brosius, Harmonix's director of audio is an active musician..." (Harmonix is the maker of Beatles: Rock Band). And don't miss the last page or so, where Radosh shows what he's learned from this writing project about where music is headed, then closes with a scene from the E3 videogame convention in Los Angeles this summer, when Paul, Ringo, Yoko, and Olivia appeared on the Staple Center stage together for 75 seconds to unveil the Beatles' 21st-century incarnation.

This isn't just the Beatles' and Harmonix's story. It's everybody's. It's the story of the media sea change we are all experiencing right now, and I think we parents and educators would be wise to join Apple Corps in embracing it.

Related links

  • CD vs. digital: "While CDs made up 65% of all music sold in the first half of 2009, digital downloads are quickly catching up," the San Jose Mercury News reports, citing NPD Group research. Digital music sales are increasing 15-20% a year and CD sales are dropping "at an equal pace." NPD also found that iTunes iTunes store is becoming the leading music retailer. "Song downloads from iTunes represent 25% of all music units sold in the United States, up from 21% in 2008 and 14% in 2007."
  • "Joe's Non-Netbook": a student-produced 1:45 minute video on YouTube that'll make you smile and give you a feel for how strange non-interactive media are becoming to the digital generation.
  • "The power of play"
  • "Play, Part 2"

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  • Monday, August 17, 2009

    A SpongeBob-approved netbook for kids

    media companies. Now a "real" computer company, Dell, is coming out with one - and it even looks age-appropriately slimy. "Dell has taken one of its Inspiron Mini models – essentially, a basic netbook computer – and allied with Mr. SquarePants’s television network to create the Nickelodeon Edition," the New York Times's Gadgetwise blog reports. Apparently, the (plastic) green-slime look was SpongeBob's idea. The Times adds that the Nick-edition netbook will probably cost a little more than the basic $300 model, which goes on sale in October at Wal-Mart and Dell's online store. Online safety is a big focus for this product, reports. It says Dell's saying "it's safe for kids to send and receive email and chat with new friends. The system includes a 15-month subscription to McAfee Family Security, which provides comprehensive parental controls to carefully direct and monitor kids' online activities." Of course it will have Nickelodeon content, but there's a strong educational focus too, with Dell's partnership with, a virtual world for kids 8-15 that will have an animated link right on the netbook's screen. See "Dell nurtures a virtual life for youngsters" at CNET for details on how a virtual world can make learning about nutrition a lot of fun. Here's Whyville's five-minute video tour on YouTube.

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