Dear Subscribers:Here's our lineup for this third week of May:
- Videochat for everybody
- Web News Briefs: Internet on TV; Virus variant; Personal info online; AOL goes to school; COPPA fallout; MS's 'Love Bug' fix; Cybersex addiction; College e-applications; Napster irrelevant?…
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Videochat for everybody
- Eight-year-old Jon, who has seen various versions of the film "Home Alone" about 47 times, suddenly finds it much more interesting actually 1) to interact with, not just watch, other kids on-screen, and 2) to interact with real kids, not just fictional ones, his own age. So he videochats with friends - after he's finished his homework on school nights.
- Mrs. Brown's second-grade class in rural Montana mixes it up on the Web with peers in a classroom in New Zealand, as they learn about weather together - complete with visual aids in both classrooms - one class sharing its springtime as the other shares it autumn activities.
- Baby Timmy and his parents arrive home from the hospital. After a rest, Mom sits down at the Net-connected computer with attached videocam, clicks into the Smith family videochatroom, and lets Smiths in many states and a couple other countries get their first glimpse - as well as earful - of Timmy crying for his supper.
- All the far-flung Smiths "attend" the graduation exercises of Timmy's cousin Frances, when her dad's videocam is wired into the family videochatroom - a premium service for videochat subscribers.
All of these things can happen right now - except for the last one, which will probably be possible within the year - courtesy of a Web provider we talked with this week. CUseeMe has been what they call "B2B" for a while, known in the corporate world for its Net-based video-conferencing and distance-learning technology. Now CUseeMe is also B2C - "C" for consumers - and all that tech terminology boils down to one simple word: videochat. They've created a site called CU-SeeMe World that makes videochat very easy for consumers like Jon, Mrs. Brown, and Timmy's family.
We think their move is both smart and courageous:
Smart - because videochat is a natural for extended families (who can't otherwise see and talk to each other nearly enough) and for kids (who love to interact with other real kids and never got into typing). CUseeMe is targeting teens first, rather than kids, but we think kids - as the earliest of early adopters - will take to videochat even more quickly than teens, because teens can type and will have to be won away from the text-based chat with which they're aready quite fluent.
Courageous - because G-rated videochat is not the norm on the Internet yet. You won't want your children to do a search for "video chat" in a search engine, because the vast majority of sites turned up in the major engines we checked were sex-related.
That's not to say that even videochat that's intended to be G-rated couldn't get a bit unruly - especially if kids are involved. But CUseeMe has that nailed, consumer business director Rachel Cameron assured us in an interview this week. CU-SeeMe World, which hosts free G-rated chatrooms (theirs, which are always open,and yours, if you want to create one), monitors all chat all the time. Even a chatroom created by, say, the Smith family is monitored. (Right now, user-created chatrooms are not private; password-protected private chatrooms will soon be a premium service, Rachel told us.)
CUseeMe actually has two types of monitoring: 1) "reactive" - a red alert button that chatters can click on to report any behavior that violates the G-rated code - and 2) "proactive" - a human chat monitor, employed by the company, in the chatroom at all times. The downside for some chatters - that they'll lose the anonymity they've always enjoyed in text-based chat - is the upside for kids: Adults can no longer pose as kids. That has been common practice among pedophiles, whose "opportunities" will narrow considerably if/when videochat becomes common practice among Net-communicating kids.
The big question about Web-based videochat is, how long before it's mainstream? We'll be watching with interest to see which kids' Web publishers will be the first to move beyond avatar chat (where kids assume a fictional character), into videochat. We'll definitely be seeing more and more videochat opportunities for families, because CUseeMe plans to host videochat for large Web publishers like iVillage (which already sponsors CUseeMe's Family chat channel), and certainly other family Web sites and chat technology providers will follow suit.
And, with the advent of visual Internet chat, do you see a whole new fashion genre developing called "cyber-style"? That was the cute idea of a p.r. person who contacted us. We think he's right! Of course, there could be a downside to that part of videochat, too - no more computing in one's PJs. But tell us what you think of the whole idea - via email@example.com.
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Web News Briefs
- Internet on TV
Word has it, this coming Sunday's "Touched by an Angel" TV show is all about the Internet - online safety and kids, in particular. SafeKids.com is one of the sites CBS recommends for further information in the show's official site. It will be interesting to see how balanced the show's portrayal of the Internet will be. If any of you watch it, do tell us what you think.
- Virus variant
The latest of about 30 variants of the "Love Bug" was big news this morning (Friday). According to Wired News, it's more damaging but much less far-reaching. Called "NewLove," it doesn't seem to be spreading nearly as rapidly as its predecessor, but computer security experts say we should still be careful about clicking on email attachments and keep our virus scanning software up to date.
- Microsoft's 'Love Bug' fix
Mixed signals on Microsoft's patch for it virus-vulnerable email program, Outlook, CNN reports. Experts say the patch, which is supposed to save Outlook users from "Love Bug" and other email-worm damage, enhances security but impedes functionality. For example, the fix locks the address book's "back door," which makes it a problem for people who want to access their address book remotely (e.g., with their palmtop while on a business trip). "The biggest problem to system administrators and users," CNN says, "may be the no-turning-back issue. Once the update is installed, it can't be uninstalled without wiping out and reinstalling the entire Microsoft Office suite."
- Personal info online
Boys are more likely to give out personal data online than girls, and older kids are more likely to than younger ones, according to a study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center. An earlier APPC study showed that, even though 85% of parents "believe children discover [on the Net] fascinating, useful things they've never heard of before," 74% of parents "are concerned their children give out personal information on the Net." The APPC study released this week bears out those concerns, showing that with a little incentive, such as a free-gift offer, many kids are quite willing to give out sensitive family information - even though they say they share their parents' online-privacy concerns. The study's author, Prof. Joseph Turow at the University of Pennsylvania, said, "Kids' release of information to the Web could well become a new arena for family discord." Has your family arrived at a solution to this? Do share your valuable experience with fellow subscribers.
- AOL goes to school
America Online's new free service for schools - AOL@School - is a way to boost daytime use of the online service, according to ZDNet. It's also a smart way to win over future subscribers, we think. Here is what's different from regular AOL: 1) free information resources designed for various grade levels - what AOL calls "age-appropriate K-12 learning environments," and 2) filtering that can be controlled by school administrators. Otherwise, it brings all the usual AOL communications technology to school, including chat and instant messaging. What do you parents and educators think about the chat part (tell us, via firstname.lastname@example.org!)? One key thing the free service does not include is Internet access - AOL is targeting schools that already have high-speed connections. Also different from regular AOL: The student portions of the service will not include advertising, ZDNet reports (teachers and administrators can probably expect some marketing pitches). All of the service, AOL, says, is COPPA-compliant, meaning it follows the latest rules in protecting kids' online privacy. Here's Reuters's version of the story (via the San Jose Mercury News) and AOL's AOL@School site, which demos the service's content.
- COPPA fallout
"Confusion," "disappointment," even "anger" are words that have been used to describe Net users' reactions to COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, which went into effect last month (see our report). For example, the British company that produces "Thomas the Tank Engine" and operates the TV show's Web site decided to stop its email list operations, disappointing "millions of young fans," according to Wired News.
The USIIA Bulletin reports that COPPA "spawned confusion about its implementation, then anger. Many sites that were unable to figure out how to obtain parental consent to communicate with children under 13 simply cut off their access - leaving many children cut off from their accounts. The act continues to raise serious concerns about the unintended consequences - both bad and good - of well-intentioned but poorly crafted legislation." Besides Thomas the Tank Engine, the USIIA cited NBCi's cancellation of preteen subscribers' email accounts and one "positive unintended effect": "When America Online cancelled the ICQ accounts of subscribers under the age of 13, it also cancelled the access of adults who were posing as children on the service. A FTC spokesperson wryly noted that adults online should 'act their age.' "
Here's ComputerUser.com on COPPA, as well as current developments in the US Congress on consumer privacy in general. CNET has the latest on consumer privacy leaks online. And the New York Times reports on the foggy view of kids' online privacy from the home front. Are you as confused about COPPA as most reports say parents are? Do email us your own thoughts on the kids' privacy law.
- Cybersex addiction discussed
What's being called a "brand-new psychological disorder" was considered this week in a Science/Health article in the New York Times. The Times was covering a report about cybersex addiction - including whether or not it can be called an addiction - in the current issue of the journal Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity. "For most people these forays into cybersex are relatively harmless recreational pursuits, but experts in the field say that the affordability, accessibility, and anonymity of the Internet are fueling [a disorder] that appears to be spreading with astonishing rapidity and bringing turmoil to the lives of those affected," the Times reports. There's some discussion at the end of the piece of the impact on children.
For a thoughtful, still-very-current look at "Life on the Screen" in general, and cybersex as a small subset of it, see MIT professor Sherry Turkle's book of that name, published in late '95 (by Simon & Schuster). An excerpt, providing some much-needed perspective, is archived in Wired magazine. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet is about how the Internet provides people with a "place" - a new frontier, perhaps - to live out "new ways of thinking about evolution, relationships, politics, sex, and the self," as the book jacket puts it.
- College: Apply online only
It's another one of those little Internet milestones in academia. "Starting this fall, all students applying to West Virginia Wesleyan College will be required to apply online," Wired News reports. The upside is reduced "data entry" for the college. A possible downside may be the automation Web applications will allow the college in corresponding with potential students. Nothing like kind words from a Web-generated form letter!
- Napster irrelevant? Yes and no
In the continuing saga of Net music litigation, Wired News looks at Napster's starring role. It editorializes, "If Napster strikes a deal with the recording industry or users are charged a fee to trade files, the company could quickly lose its outsider status - the very thing that gave it cachet with its members." The numbers indicate something else, though: A whopping 73% of college students use Napster, according to a survey cited in ZDNet. And despite its less-than-legal status, Napster represents a model for music distribution that the recording industry really should pay attention to, says the Wall Street Journal's Walter Mossberg (in his Personal Technology column(. And looking beyond the music industry entirely, CNET says "Napster has opened the door to an entirely different culture, one of evolving social values that some say encourages illegal activity." Meanwhile, the company's troubles mount as rapper Dr. Dre joins rock band Metallica in legal protest against the service, reports Reuters (via Wired News).
- Top 10 budget PCs
There's quite a bit of technical lingo in the PCWorld (via CNN) report, but it does shed light on who's offering the best PC deals right now. The article will be most meaningful to people who are not afraid to open up the back of their CPU box and figure out what they're looking at (we confess we do not fall into that category).
- Bank online?
No cancelled checks and no monthly statements come in the mail if you bank online, but you can save money, Reuters reports (via the San Jose Mercury News). The conveniences of virtual banking are beginning to outweigh the negatives, indicates this report, which also offers online-banking tips for the newbie.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
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