Dear Subscribers:So much to share with you this week, and only partly because of the newsletter's "spring break." The Internet is just hopping with news relevant to people who mentor kids online. Also, we have some great feedback from subscribers in this issue - please don't miss it. Here's our lineup for this fourth week of March:
- One preteen's online life
- A 'white bread' Internet
- Filtering pluses, minuses
- Web News Briefs: Linking kids to ethics; Prophet of reason; From oil to Internet; Buying cars online; Mattel sues, hackers (kind of) lose; Billionaire's free e-university; Case closed….
- Subscribers write: A teacher's pick; Of women's portals; Safety & school Web sites; A library's Net program; A subscriber's site….
- Contest for student/entrepreneurs
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Alyssa's online time
Nine-year-old Alyssa spends about two hours a day online. "But it varies sometimes," she told us, "I have a busy schedule this week, so it depends." She added that she spends most of that time using instant messaging to "chat" with her school friends, but she takes a little time out from all that communication to visit her favorite Web sites.
We'll give you those in a moment, but first a bit about how we "met" this young Internet expert (perhaps the only kind of Net expert there really is?!). Alyssa's going to be a panelist next week at the first-annual Kids Internet Summit in New York City, produced by CyberAngels.org and WiredKids.org. She's also a contributor of online-safety tips in Parry Aftab's book, "The Parent's Guide to Protecting Your Children in Cyberspace" (on p. 269).
Those of us who spent our teenage years on the phone occasionally wonder why today's "clickerati" prefer typing to talking, so we grabbed the opportunity to get Alyssa's thinking on the subject. She patiently explained that there's a lot more to Net-based communications than text!
"On the Internet, when you're sending different messages to each other, you can send, like, pictures and notes and cards - artwork and everything. Things you can't do on the phone." Then there's the audio element as well. Alyssa's a fan of the Backstreet Boys, and "they have this thing where you can put their CD - their regular music CD - into your computer and a picture of the band will come up on your screen, and you can listen to a biography of the band and it'll show a music video and connect to their Web site. Just click a button and you go straight to their Web site."
Which takes us right to Alyssa's favorite Web sites:
The first one she mentioned was Nickelodeon, "because it has different games you can play - like Rugrat things - you go through a maze, do a crossword puzzle, play a detective thing that gives you clues, like trivia questions, and you have to figure them out. And you can give them ideas for episodes of your favorite shows, you can write to the manager and give them ideas for scripts," Alyssa told us.
"I like AmericanGirl.com. It has stuff for girls," Alyssa explained - games, puzzles, and other activities based on Mattel's American Girls dolls. "You can connect to the catalog and get it in the mail, and you can buy the dolls access them in the Web site."
"My other favorite is the Warner Bros. site because I can listen to the music and can also play games and check out different TV shows, see thing they're going to do on the shows," Alyssa said. Backstreet Boys at JiveRecords.com
lisafrank.com - "They design stickers, pads, and stationery that have dolls and bubblegum machines and other images that are really colorful and bright. You can see what new stickers are coming out and you can go on the chat rooms and talk about different things - see what other girls do with their stuff."
If there's a preteen girl in your house, ask her if she'd like to send us her favorite sites. Or if you have a middle-school class that would like to send us their picks, do email us - via email@example.com.
As for teens, there's a recent update on how they the Net - and about all the Web sites scrambling to reach them - in ZDNet. Note: "The Parent's Guide to Protecting Children in Cyberspace" can be found here at Amazon.com.
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A 'white bread' Internet
The Children's Partnership (TCP) says there's an aspect of the digital divide that hasn't gotten the attention it deserves - what's in all those Web sites out there and who that material is (or is not) designed for.
In its just-released "strategic audit," TCP, a national children's advocacy research organization, reports, "Much of the public concern about the digital divide has been focused on the gap between those who have the 'boxes' and 'wires' they need for Internet access and those who do not. However, a new dimension of the digital divide is beginning to take shape, one with a profound impact on young people and those who guide and teach them: content."
After nine months of research TCP proposes that content useful to "Americans at risk of being left behind" in the new economy needs to come in multiple languages, at reading levels appropriate for limited-literacy users, and in ways that represent and support cultural diversity. Some 44 million US adults (about 22% of the adult population) do not have the reading and writing skills necessary for functioning in everyday life. And 32 million use a primary language other than English, reports the study, "The Digital Divide's New Frontier."
In addition to interviewing Internet users, community leaders, and researchers, the audit team looked at 1,000 Web sites. It found, for example, that only 1% of the Web sites were written "at a limited-literacy level" and only 2% of the content was multilingual. As a wonderful service, the chapter "Building Blocks for the Future" showcases sites that do meet those and other needs, and even more are listed in the appendices.
The study itself is a confirmation of how essential Internet access is becoming not only to career preparation or economic success but also to "transacting life's 'business,' " as TCP puts it, from finding jobs and bargains to getting government benefits and community services. It also suggests that access to the Internet itself is not the solution so much as a means to greater access to people, information, and community.
We wish we could give you direct links to the information we've cited, but TCP's Web site is in "frames," providing only the main URL. Links to the study's sections are right on the home page, though. And you can also download the entire document in PDF format. If any of you find parts of it particularly useful, please tell us how so.
[For a closeup view of a digital-divide-bridging project, see a New York Times piece about two Detroit lawyers who "chucked their law careers" to help poor children join the information age.]
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Filtering: Pluses, minuses
For the very latest take on filtering software, don't miss Larry Magid's article, "Filtering Programs Useful but Far From Perfect". Larry, founder and editorial director of SafeKids.com and syndicated technology columnist, reviews some of the most popular filtering programs - SurfWatch, Net Nanny, Cyber Patrol, and CYBERsitter - and offers their strong and weak points. He also explains why his family, with a 13-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son, doesn't use this type of software.
The article is part of a series that originated in the Los Angeles Times. The first piece, "Concern for Children's Safety Should Shine Light on Dark Alleys of Cyberspace", offers parents general good advice on keeping kids safe online, in the context of his own family's experience. Next week he looks at the other approach to filtering: through an Internet service provider.
What are your family's groundrules for Internet use? Please share your experiences.
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Web News Briefs
- Linking online kids to ethics
Given the hacks that slowed the Internet by about 20% a few weeks ago and given the autonomy many young people have online, ethics needs to become part of technology's core curriculum. USAToday does a great job of framing the issues and spotlighting some solutions. "In a cyberworld in which criminals are invisible and technical knowledge is power, law enforcement just doesn't work the way it does offline," the article says. So the US Justice Department is taking unusual action - promoting ethics education as "a potentially powerful tool for addressing computer crime," earmarking $300,000 to develop curricula. A private Cincinnati, Ohio, school that provides laptops to every fifth grader isn't waiting around for funding. Students there spend one class period a day studying appropriate Internet behavior, USAToday reports. If any of you are working with kids on online ethics, we would love to hear about your experience.
- Prophet of reason
Meanwhile, Bill Joy, chief scientist at Sun Microsystems and one of its founders, is also challenging people to think about ethics. The New York Times calls Joy an "unlikely prophet" as he pleas in the April issue of Wired magazine for "reason and restraint in the increasingly chaotic stampede toward the technological future." Unlikely because, the Times's John Markoff writes, "computer industry technologists, almost without exception, take a more sanguine view" of tech's advancement. Markoff is writing about Joy's 20,000-word essay in Wired, in which he shares his concern particularly about developments in genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics which "pose threats of technological devastation at the hands of a small group or even an individual." Have any of you waded through the essay? Comments would be most welcome - via firstname.lastname@example.org.
- From oil to Internet
Even as we dig deeper into our pockets at the gas station, the Middle East's oil magnates are recognizing that fossil fuel is not the bedrock of the new economy. According to an editorial in Nua Internet Surveys, "Kings, princes, sheikhs, and politicians are falling over one another in the Middle East in a mad scramble to announce Internet initiatives. The Internet does not run on oil and the Arab world does not want to be left behind." The editorial covers a lot of ground. It reports that there are now 2 million Internet users in the Mideast, a 50% increase since May '99, even though the cost of PCs and phones is prohibitive there and the only publicly accessible ISP is in Iraq. Only 6% of those users are women. There is considerable government censorship and surveillance. On the upside, Egypt says it plans to provide every student in the country with a PC, Jordan reportedly plans to put a computer lab in every school in the kingdom, and there are signs that even the more repressive governments are beginning to see economic as well as p.r. benefits to allowing Internet access.
- Buying cars online
It's still not a good idea. At least that what Consumer Reports indicates. According to USAToday, for its March 21 issue, Consumer Reports asked more than 1,000 people to request quotes from five major Internet car buying sites - including CarPoint.com and Cars.com - and they found a lot of useful information but not good service. "Only 35% of the shoppers received a quote within the time limit. The quotes were often not for the exact vehicle specified in the query, and 22% of the shoppers were told they'd have to visit the dealer to get a firm price," USAToday says. Ad/Insight also has the story, including some perspective from the car retail sites themselves. Have you shopped for a car online - or only window-shopped? Tell us.
- Mattel sues, hackers lose (sort of)
According to Wired News, a federal judge ruled for Mattel and against two programmers who wrote "cphack," a program that allows owners of CyberPatrol filtering software (sold by Mattel) to decrypt and view its list of off-limits sites. The judge ordered the programmers to delete cphack from a server in Sweden. They complied, but Wired says that - as the news traveled around the Net - cphack began to pop up in other sites all over the Web.
- Billionaire plans free e-university
Could it mean we won't have to send our kids to college? We're not holding our breath, but Internet software billionaire Michael Saylor does plan to create a "top-class higher learning center online," according to Wired News. Hmm, Saylor has said that he anticipated online courses that would include video lectures from the world's "geniuses and leaders," but he said he doesn't plan to pay them, pointing out that people line up to get on television shows.
- Case closed
Patrick Naughton, the former Infoseek executive caught in an FBI cybersex sting, pleaded guilty and faces up to 15 years in prison, ZDNet reports. "As a part of the plea agreement, the government agreed to dismiss two other charges against Naughton - using the Internet to induce a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity and possession of child pornography," ZDNet reports. See what readers have to say about the case at the bottom of the article in "Talkback."
- Exile from the old economy
It's not often that we get a view from the top. So we were fascinated to read the story of how a successful CEO and entrepreneur in the old economy made a life-changing, mind-altering move to a top spot in the new one. Inc. magazine's March cover story is about ZapMe CEO Rick Inatome's Internet-speed journey. It doesn't go into the controversy ZapMe has stirred as a company providing ad-supported technology to schools. It just provides insights into what the Internet economy is really like - what keeps venture-capital money flowing, what the rules and "values" of the new economy are, what "landgrab economics" is, and how one executive functions in an "instantaneous economy." Must-reading for any MBA student, we think. But tell us what you think, any of you who work for Internet "upstarts."
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- A teacher's top resource
Teacher, mom, and subscriber Janet in Japan sent in her favorite educator's-resource site, a paid service called InfoWeb NewsBank (the URL is http://infoweb.newsbank.com, but it's only available to subscribers). She asked that we…
"…encourage teachers and parents to get their districts to provide access for their schools. It makes searching for articles a snap. I've had kids search the Internet for hours without having any luck. Yesterday, using NewsBank, 22 kids had their needed articles in 30 minutes!!! Hurray! SIRS is also a good resource, but as yet, we can only access that from school.
"P.S. The science part isn't as good as the regular part, as they only give abstracts, while the general file gives the whole article."
We emailed back asking her to tell us what she's teaching in Japan….
"I teach three classes of high school students in addition to homeschooling my kids in English and American lit and history while they attend Japanese public school. The NewsBank site is great for my Environmental Science students to use for getting current events and topics related to what we're studying in class, something that I require (see my class Web site/current activities if you're interested in what they need to do). I want them to see how the ES stuff is real life, everyday issues, not just something in a textbook."
FYI, here's Janet's family Web page about expat life in Japan.
- Of women's portals
From Liza in D.C., referring to our item "Flak for women's sites":
"I read a lot of news or infotainment sites on the Web on a regular basis, including both Women.com and iVillage.com, several of the ChickClick.com member sites (geared toward a much younger audience, I would guess 15-25), WashingtonPost.com, and Slashdot.org.
"Depending on my mood and interest at a particular moment, I may find one more interesting or useful than the other. For example, I thought Women.com's feature/poll on the presidential election was very interesting. Also, I'm incredibly relieved that Women.com and ChickClick are what they are instead of having been registered as porn sites.
"That said, I frequently hate the ads in Women.com and iVillage. I don't think I've seen diet-product ads anywhere else I go on the Net. I have complained about it and gotten sympathetic responses, but I haven't seen change. And I'm really going to dislike it if those portals end up being strictly 'Good Housekeeping' for the new millennium. That's one of the things I like about the ChickClick sites. They may be obnoxious, they may have commentary, advice, or stories that parents wouldn't want their children reading, but they are almost always interesting. And they don't seem to be orienting themselves to a narrow commercial definition of 'women's interests' - I think of them as the digital daughters of the 1990s 'zine movement and riot grrrls. And they make me laugh and blink with astonishment more often than anything else online. (I'm thinking in particular about DisgruntledHousewife.com and SmileandActNice.com.)"
- School Web sites: Safety question, teacher's answer
From subscriber Peter in New York, referring to our interview with second-grade teacher Linda Montag:
"I'm new to this newsletter, so maybe I'm not as aware as others. I apologize in advance if this is an inappropriate question: I linked to Linda Montag's page from the newsletter. How is it ok to post the name of each child in her 2nd grade class? Doesn't having a child's name, school, and teacher's name (especially a 2nd grader) provide a pedophile too much information? Doesn't this pose undue risk to these kids?"
We emailed his question to Linda. Here's her response:
"Your response is correct. After a lot of discussion with teachers, parents, and attorneys we came up with our guidelines. We NEVER use last names. EVERY time we publish a piece of work (written or art work) we get a signed permission slip from the parent or guardian. On that permission slip the teacher explains exactly what the permission is for, and that signed slip is ONLY for that specific project. All permission slips are filed and kept. There is no sure way to make sure nothing bad happens but we have covered the bases the best we know how. At first, we did not have photographs or students' work but that isn't what schools are all about, so we came up with our guidelines. All our schools are locked except for one entrance during the day and most second graders are picked up by an adult or ride the bus home. Hope this explains how and why we do what we do. If you have any furthur questions, let me know."
- A library's Internet program
From Karen in Pennsylvania, referring to "One school district's Internet evolution":
"I receive your email newsletter regularly and enjoy keeping up-to-date on this important topic with your help. Your latest issue prompted me to respond…. [On] your question about constructive-use or online-safety education programs a school or PTA is having. While we are not one of those organizations (we're a public library system), we do offer ongoing training on using the Internet. We offer regular training sessions for adults (Internet Basics for Beginners, Internet 2: Beyond the Basics, and specialized training such as Job Searching on the Internet, Genealogy on the Internet, Planning Your Vacation on the Internet, etc.). As part of our workshops (which are free), we show Internet users how to determine if the information offered by a site is likely to be reliable, show them how to avoid compromising their confidentiality and safety on the Net, and how to construct effective and efficient searches. We periodically offer 'Safety Net,' which is similar training designed for parents and their children and which incorporates a parent-child 'contract' that parents can use with their children if they like. And we also do inservice programs for the local teachers. The Internet workshops are, without a doubt, the most popular and well-attended adult programs we have ever offered."
- A subscriber's site
From Tom in Pennsylvania:
"Hello. Think you could make my fellow subscribers aware of the below-listed site? KIDzFUN - Say NO for k-6 Kids."
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Contest for student/entrepreneurs
Garage.com, an online venture-capital company that helps technology startups get out of the "garage," has announced a business-plan-writing contest for college undergrads and graduate students. Winners, to be announced May 23, will receive cash awards and will get to present their business plans to a panel of judges.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Net Family News
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