Dear Subscribers:Here's our lineup for this second week of April:
- Tech support for grandparents
- Web News Briefs: Mom on a mission; Study on girls/computers; Home networking made easy?; DSL 'danger'; 1.6m jobs; Commercials in classrooms; Ed-tech advocate; Next for distance-learning; Privacy rights; Music clogs pipes; 4-H for techies….
- Subscribers write: Email & grammar; Monitoring kids online; Chat monitor
- Online-safety info resource
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Tech support for grandparents
We know a lot of our grandparent subscribers are skillful emailers, surfers, and computer users. LivinEasy.com may not be for you (do email us what you think, though!). But for grandparents who are new to computers and cyberspace and want a hand in finding and using all that the Internet offers, this ambitious new site, or portal for people 50 and up, may be just the thing.
We approached the site with a bit of skepticism. First, if "Livin' Easy" was meant to describe retirement, or the life of people over 50, we thought it a bit off the mark! Second, the site covers a huge variety of subjects, not just tech support. We wondered if the publishers weren't spreading their fire too much. If the site just focused on technology for seniors and did so very well, we were thinking, LivinEasy.com could be a killer app! So we did two things: some research on what's being done on the Web for this category of users and an interview with LivinEasy.com co-founder and president Barbara McLean (at 60, she might be considered "senior"). Their research and ours helped the site make sense to us.
On the name: Barbara explained that she and co-founder Dianne Balbat were trying to convey "a mood" when they came up with "Livin' Easy" - it was about feeling comfortable with technology, moving around the Web with ease, not about the pace of retirement. She told us that the whole project started when Dianne gave her mother her used computer when she got a new one. Because of the long-distance phone bills her mother was generating with all her tech-support calls, Dianne did a Web search for tech training and support designed for senior citizens new to computers and the Internet. She turned up nothing her mother could use. That was the start of the business plan, not much more than a year ago.
The two partners took a "learn as you go" approach and decided to conduct free technology classes for senior citizens in their town (Hollis, New Hampshire). "We wanted to learn how they learn and what they wanted to learn," Barbara told us. "What we learned is that their greatest concern is getting lost out on the Web. So we designed LivinEasy.com in such a way that they can always get back…. It's an oasis in this chaotic Internet. They love that. We will never link to a Web site that doesn't allow use of the 'Back' button. None of our merchant partners disable it. That would be like sending someone on a trip in a foreign country where all the signs are in a foreign language."
Which leads to the explanation for the huge number of topics and features on the site. "The reason we make it so rich is, it becomes a real gateway to the Internet for our users." The goal, Barbara said, is to have articles that provide an introduction to "any information that they'd come to the Internet to get - how to buy a car online, where you can do a family tree" - then link to other Web sites for more. It's for ease of navigation, she said, and to give Net newcomers a chance to practice surfing.
That is a modus operandi different indeed from anything we found on the Web targeting "seniors." Our research turned up a lot of information on nursing homes, credit card fraud, health insurance, social security, pets, grandparenting, etc. - which doesn't even come close to what we'd want for the grandparents we know and love!
So we like LivinEasy.com's implicit message that grandparents are multidimensional beings with as many interests as anybody else. And of course we defer to the founders' research on the needs and concerns of senior newbies. But we still think a site just about tech support for grandparents - including Web-based software and search-engine classes, rapid-response email help, archived answers from "Ask the Nerdie Grandma," and maybe even a toll-free hotline - would be a killer app. Who wants to be constantly calling up family members for tech support?!
Here's a sampler of other Web sites for "senior citizens":
- Seniors-Site.com - The Web version of "The Second 50 Years: A Reference Manual for Senior Citizens," from health information to housing to grandparenting. The site is by senior citizen and co-author Walter Cheney.
- Seniors.gov - all things government for senior citizens, part of the Clinton administration's National Partnership for Reinventing America.
- AARP.org - The AARP's huge Web site, complete with the association's research; an archive of articles in its magazine, Modern Maturity; and, of course, e-shopping.
- Microsoft's Seniors & Technology - Pretty bare-bones information designed to help make it easier for senior citizens to use Microsoft products. Among some broken links, a computer glossary, how to buy "A Grown-up's Guide to Computing" (Microsoft Press), and the white paper "Effective Web Design for Older Adults."
- Yahoo Internet Life magazine's useful "Sites for Seniors" picks - 11 sites described and linked to.
Meanwhile, some related news stories this week:
- Senior Net population growth: Internet.com reports that "Internet service providers looking to tap into the next surge of subscribers may want to seek out senior citizens and Baby Boomers in the US market." It cites a Media Metrix study showing that this segment comprises "the fastest-growing Internet access demographic group."
- Thanks to Dad: In a twist on the subject, the New York Times writes about how instrumental many dads are and have been to the success of their sons' high-tech startups.
Do tell us what you think of LivinEasy.com, as well as other Web fare for 50+ users - especially any favorites you might have.
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Web News Briefs
- Mom on a mission
In a Page 1 article Monday, the Washington Post profiles a mother of two girls who dedicates her free time to tracking down pedophiles on the Internet. Her work has led to three arrests. She poses as a young girl (she's developed various personalities who are avid chatters with sad stories to tell) and lets pedophiles find her, in a chat room, online romance club, etc. The Post sets her story in the context of thousands of parent volunteers nationwide, including members of CyberAngels.org, who are helping law-enforcment programs like the FBI's Innocent Images Task Force make arrests. The Bureau, which "opened 1,500 criminal cases last year focusing on children on the Internet," says many are based on tips from parents or patrol groups.
- E-rate update
Any remaining controversy there might be over higher consumer phone bills doesn't seem to have hurt the e-rate. The federal subsidy that helps schools and libraries connect to the Internet will get $2.25 billion this year, "the full amount allowed under rules of the Federal Communications Commission," reports the Associated Press (via the New York Times). Last year 82% of US public schools and more than half of the public libraries received discounted services under the e-rate program, according to the AP.
- Study on girls and computers
A report released this week by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) shows that girls aren't afraid of technology, they're just not interested in it. The Seattle Times quotes Pamela Haag, the AAUW's head of research in saying that, whereas girls are phobic about math, that's not true for computer science. She says girls are saying, "We can do these things, but we don't want to," referring to the violent software games and anti-social behavior that they associate with the computer culture. "Girls said that they use computers to communicate and to perform specific tasks, but that boys use computers to play games and 'to fool around'," the Seattle Times reports. The New York Times covered the study as well. Does a child or student you know agree or disagree? We'd love to hear from her (or him!).
- Home networking made easy?
Well, we may be getting closer, anyway. According to ABCNEWS.com, a group of 13 "heavy hitter" technology companies have teamed up to "develop a standard for networking within homes using power lines." That may actually, eventually mean being able to have a bunch of Net-connected devices (game machine, computers, a grocery-ordering fridge) share one Internet connection by "simply plugging a special box into a power outlet." The market looks good for those heavy hitters, including Motorola, Intel, 3Com, and Cisco. ABC reports that only 6-7 million homes have internal networks now, while 38 million have PCs. Both of those figures will certainly grow. As for current home-networking products (not for the technologically faint of heart), a very useful resource is ZDNet's archive of reviews of these products. BTW, see what the skeptics have to say about kitchen appliances that "talk," as the New York Times reports it.
- DSL 'danger'
If you're considering "DSL" - one of the higher speed options for Internet connections - before you call up the phone company, read this ZDNet report. It's a very thorough (long) look at the risks to your data and computer security DSL can represent - and what measures you can take. If you have DSL and have encountered security hacks, tell us about the experience.
- . 1.6 million jobs
That's new jobs in information technology that will be created this year, according to the Associated Press (via CBS.MarketWatch). About a third of those will be in tech support, the technology industry survey shows. Good news for the Class of 2000!
- Commercials in classrooms
Whether the classroom content is delivered via TV or the Internet, if it's advertising-supported it remains controversial. The latest manifestation is a proposal by the New York City Board of Education to build an Internet site that accepts corporate advertising in exchange for computer equipment and services, according to the New York Times. A similar ad-supported program offered by a single company called ZapMe! Corp. has drawn a lot of fire around the United States (two reports on that: ZDNet's "Is ZapMe collecting data on school kids?" and InternetStockReport.com's "Will ZapMe! Get Whittled Down to Size?"). In New York, the ad-supported Internet controversy seems muted, compared with New York State's ban on Channel One TV in the state's classrooms 11 years ago. Might the Board of Education be thinking about all those jobs the Internet seems to be generating? Send us your thoughts.
- Ed tech advocate
In what might be seen as a direct response to Clifford Stoll's new book (see last week's "The 'gadfly' graduates"), Sen. Bob Kerrey (D) of Nebraska spoke to Wired News about "the importance of enriching education with technology." Senator Kerrey is chairman of the congressional Web-Based Education Commission.
- Next step for distance learning?
Anybody following high tech has seen those cute little acronyms floating around - "B2B," "B2C," "C2C" (e-auctions). Now there's "E2C" for "Education to Consumer." That's the acronym CEO Ann Kirschner is coining to market her service, which Wired News calls "a high-end learning portal." Kirschner's site, Fathom.com, is "uniting some of the most prestigious universities and cultural institutions worldwide to address one of the greatest challenges in distance learning: finding a reputable online education," Wired Reports. But wait, there's more: The portal also plans to integrate content from museum exhibitions, lectures, reference books, interviews, and documents as well. If any of you are following developments in distance learning, tell us what you think of Fathom.com (unless you work for Fathom.com or a competitor!).
- Privacy rights and corporate networks
With the Internet and corporate computer networks, it looks like user privacy has come full circle. Our privacy rights are at risk, says Whit Diffie, a Sun Microsystems engineer and the co-discoverer of modern cryptography, according to Wired News. Centralized control, or at least centralized snooping, Diffie says, is back. "Diffie … said one reason he always distrusted mainframes and mainframe culture was the system administrator's unrestricted ability to snoop through individual accounts," Wired reports. That goes for the Internet, too, he said, witness free email like Microsoft's Hotmail, where millions of messages are stored on a single server.
- Music clogs Net pipes (again)
Napster users aren't running into roadblocks only at universities. A Wired News story suggests that music delivered online "may just be too much data for the Net to handle." Wired reports that high-speed cable service provider Cox@Home in San Diego "told several hundred of its customers to stop running the music-exchange software Napster or lose their cable modem accounts." Universities were the first to ban Napster (see our report on Napster's trials). As for the latest Napster litigation news, ABCNEWS.com has the story.
- '4-H' for the digital generation
Teenagers in Austin, Texas, are banding together to form a social and networking club for techies, according to Wired News. Its enterprising founders, 16-year-old Web designer Melissa Sconyers and 18-year-old Microsoft "certified professional" Justin McGarry, plan to have technology companies host monthly meetings.
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- Of email and grammar
Responding to our item on this last week, subscriber David in Ontario offers practical advice:
"This debate is merely a subset of the great debate over correct English usage. As I learned when I studied English Language and Literature at Oxford University, there is in the last analysis no such thing as 'correct English.' There are just varieties of English as she is spoke, written, e-mailed and mangled! The correctness of one's English depends on the arbiter of style and grammar one chooses to follow, or rather what whoever is judging the piece chooses to follow.
'So when it comes to e-mail the question remains the same. Ask yourself who is going to read your offering, and write so they will understand and not be offended by what would appear to them as poor English. Observing the 'rules' of English grammar does help us to communicate clearly. However, when communicating with a good friend, anything goes as long as your message gets across clearly and easily. Well, that's my fifty p.'s worth - that's a Brit's fifty cents).
- Of monitoring online kids
Sharon in Ohio is a believer in the Internet as an important learning tool, but with a caveat:
"I firmly believe that access to the Internet by minors should be monitored. As the mother of three sons - ages 26, 22, and 7 - I have watched all three of my sons use this wonderful tool. Rather than isolate them, I believe it has opened a number of windows. It has given them tremendous opportunities to talk to people from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds. My oldest son is currently exploring an online friendship with a young professional woman in Australia and planning to meet.
"I think it is imperative that parents monitor closely their young ones as they use the Internet. I have explored the Internet WITH my 7-year-old at my side. It has been a wonderful tool and extremely helpful in answering some of his questions... like:
"1) Where do babies come from? 2) How do bees make honey? 3) Is the Earth flat? 4) What is the space shuttle doing? 5) What is the weather going to be? 6) What can we see when we go on vacation?
"In closing, I don't believe in giving children full and unrestricted access, particularly in situations where online 'chat' rooms are involved. I fully intend to monitor any of that activity, as well as install a 'Net Nanny' type of program when he becomes a bit older. I would love to see 'X-rated' sites moved to their own 'locked' portion of the Internet, so kids could not stumble onto sites they shouldn't. It's way too easy to do that for adults. Thanks for the chance to comment."
- Chat monitoring product recommended
Speaking of chat: As a potential online danger zone for kids, it doesn't seem to be on many parents' radar screens yet. So far, it seems, parents have focused more on filtering incoming material, mostly Web sites. "Safe & Smart," the just-released study of online kids by the National School Boards Foundation found that "only 12% of parents restrict chat room use or instant messaging" (see the last sentence of this page in the Safe & Smart site). (Here's our report on the study.")
In response to our report on new monitoring product X-Detect, subscriber Brooke in Oregon wrote us about another product that includes monitoring children's chatroom activities:
"With regard to monitoring software … I have finally found one product that monitors Internet use in a way that no other product can, and, as a result, truly empowers parents to share their child's wide range of online experiences and (perhaps more to the point) know EXACTLY what their little ones are being exposed to on the Web. The product is known as ChatMinder and, unlike other programs, it records word-for-word transcripts of online conversations (chat rooms, instant messages, private conversations, et al), so that parents can read everything that cyber-strangers are saying to children. As I'm sure you are aware, knowing what your kids say online is lovely, but knowing what strangers are saying is crucial. With more than 2,200 Web sites (according to US government statistics) now strictly devoted to preaching racism, violence, and hatred (and each of these sites intentionally designed to appeal to teens), it is now more important than ever that parents know precisely what information their children are receiving online!"
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Online-safety info resource
For anyone looking for information on filtering and other online-safety software, here's an update: In addition to GetNetWise.org's searchable database of online-safety "tools" for parents, there's Internet.com's "Internet Product Watch".
Under IPW Categories, click on "Protection," and you'll get more than 40 "Censorship" (their word for filtering or blocking software) software products and links their descriptions and company Web sites where they can be downloaded. The category also includes computer Security products, with a separate category just for Firewalls.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Net Family News
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