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October 20, 2006
I'm sorry this week's issue is late - I've been on the road all week talking with parents and educators and presenting our new book, MySpace Unraveled. Thank you for your patience. Here's our line-up for this third week of October:
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Web News Briefs
- Student hit hard by his Web 'fame'
"Think before you upload" would be a massive understatement for Yale University senior and job applicant Aleksey Vayner. He didn't even upload his resume video and 11-page cover letter and resume for Swiss bank USB to YouTube - other people did the circulating and blogging about them. They "showed up on two blogs, and then quickly spread on the Internet," the New York Times reports. The video, entitled "Impossible is Nothing" and "staged to look like a job interview, is spliced with shots of Mr. Vayner lifting weights and ballroom dancing and has him spouting Zen-like inspirational messages. The video clip flooded e-mail inboxes across Wall Street and eventually appeared on the video-sharing site YouTube," according to the Times. The Daily Princetonian reports that he has "successfully petitioned YouTube to remove his video, but it's still at IvyGateblog.com, which the Princeton University paper says Vayner has "threatened to sue." But now the student, who has taken a short leave from Yale but plans to take his midterms, the Times reports, is "facing charges himself," according to the Daily Princetonian, for claiming to have launched a nonprofit organization that Charity Navigator, an evaluator of US charities, says doesn't exist. He has also been accused of plagiarism in a self-published book he includes in his resume. Certainly this story, "comic" for so many Net users but also tragic, is about a number of things, not least of which how the Internet turns up the volume on and perpetuates what people upload to it. What's hard for any parent to see is how the stories from which everybody can draw lessons seem to be getting harsher. The observer affects the experiment here too, it seems - as more and more people are party to people's messages on the participatory Web, the messages potentially harm their senders more.
- Net addiction: New study
In their first-ever attempt to quantify "Internet addiction" in a study released this week, Stanford University researchers looked for signs of "compulsion," the San Jose Mercury News reports. That's not vacation planners who surf sites on travel destinations during lunch breaks. Examples they gave the Mercury News were more like when "social interactions" in alternate-reality games substitute for face-to-face interaction, deadlines at work are missed, sleep is lost, and - when online time is reduced - a person becomes anxious, irritable, or restless. Psychiatrist Elias Aboujaoude, who led the research team, "grew interested in the problem when he started to see a small but growing number of habitual Internet users visiting the university's Impulse Control Disorders Clinic," according to the Mercury News. In its "random survey of 2,500 adults," the team "found that between 6% and 14% of computer users said they spent too many bleary-eyed hours checking e-mail, making blog entries or visiting Web sites or chat rooms, sometimes neglecting work, school, families, food and sleep."
- 'Bully' not so threatening?
Rockstar Games released its game Bully today amid an unsurprising swirl of controversy - including some legal flak. "This is Rockstar, the guys who dreamed up 'Grand Theft Auto,' a top-selling series featuring plenty of gore and guns," reports the Washington Post. Calling the game a "Columbine simulator," an attorney and prominent critic of videogames filed a complaint in a Florida court asking that the game be banned, the Associated Press reports. Miami-Dade circuit court Judge Ronald Friedman said he reviewed the game for two hours and concluded, "There's a lot of violence. A whole lot. Less than we see on television every night.'' He added it wasn't violent enough for him to ban it. Here's one psychologist's view on the game. In other gaming news, a second-grader in Connecticut is competing against four other young game designers for a $10,000 scholarship, a CBS station in Boston reports.
- Social-networking backlash?
Whoa. A young person deletes his account on a social site, telling the Associated Press the novelty had worn off and a "superficial emptiness" had set in. A sure sign he's thinking for himself and working through the risks and benefits. He's a 26-year-old graduate student. Across the campus at Iowa State University, a journalism professor suggests to the AP this is a sign of hope "that some members of the tech generation are starting to see the value of quality face time." He says social networking is reaching a "saturation point." I don't know. First, MySpace, the biggest social site, recently passed the 119 million-profile mark. Second, the number and frequency of press releases I get announcing new social sites are growing. Third, social-networking services are opening up shop in more and more countries - both homegrown services and US subsidiaries. Maybe this latest growth trend has to level off, but I'm not sure the professor is right about a general backlash yet. Certainly individual social networkers have reached the saturation point, and they have to be getting smarter about privacy and safety, with all the media reports on sexual predation. And if they're using a social site as a popularity contest, that'll get tiresome. But that's only one thing people use these sites for. Convenience tools for keeping in touch with friends will not lose their attraction, and then there's the rest of the spectrum of social and self-expression features these sites provide that reflect enduring interests (blogging, page-decorating, music-sharing, code writing, etc.). The AP quotes another grad student as saying she sees "faceless communication as a supplement to everyday interactions, not a replacement." That's more what I'm seeing than a downward trend. (See also "The embellishment biz" for the latest Nielsen/NetRatings numbers on teen social networking.)
- We can virtually parent now
Shades of Nintendogs, only "Eccky" is "human" - sorta. Two people can now find each other, create a virtual baby (Eccky), and raise "him" on the Web with the help of IM and phone texting, reports CNET, leading with: "Technically, making babies is getting easier." Ha! It's a sim game and only in Dutch at the moment, but it "has spawned tens of thousands of unique virtual children and acquired 310,000 registered users since its debut in April 2005," and Microsoft's MSN Netherlands plans to help it launch in China and the UK soon. You win points by "raising a healthy, happy adult in a matter of six days." I'm thinking it'll be a killer app, though, if it helps one raise a healthy, happy real adult in 18 years!
- More trouble for Orkut
Parents, schools, and law enforcement in the US certainly aren't the only ones struggling with the user-driven Web. Google's Orkut is the social-networking site that has drawn the most visible fire in other countries. First it heard from Brazilian prosecutors, now from an Indian court. India's Zee News reports that "the Aurangabad bench of Bombay High Court has directed the Maharashtra government to issue notice to Google for the alleged spread of hatred about India by its social network service 'Orkut'.... A picture of burning the national tricolour, bearing anti-India message, has been put on www.orkut.com and a community 'We Hate India' has been created on the site, the petition said." Zee News added that the court also "appealed to the government to appoint a 'controller' under the Information Technology Act-2000 to regulate all such communities being in operation on the Internet." It appears that courts everywhere are on a steep learning curve about how much local, state, and national governments can control what's posted on social - the hate content could well have come from people of another nationality who somehow think they "own" the space. Humankind in the Internet age seems to be faced with a choice: Either the social Web devolves into just another channel for hate and discrimination or another tool for learning and teaching tolerance. Here's one such tool.
- Social networking in the car
This brings a little extra new meaning to the term "social networking": Honda is adding this social feature to its next-generation GPS in-car navigation system, along with real-time weather reports, the DailyTech.com blog reports. "The SNS [social-networking service] will allow drivers to enter comments about a particular location or point of interest (POI). The information will then be relayed to other club members, and they can see your comments while approaching the destination. With services like this, Helio (MySpace's social-networking mobile partner), a new cellular service coming called Loopt, and other untethered socializing opps launching all the time, soon we'll all be socializing in the shower and every other point on Earth (come to think of it, Google Earth will probably soon be in on the act!).
- India's online social scene
To read the Business-Standard in India, you could think India owns the social Web, or at least is second only to the US in this space. "Close to a dozen social-networking sites focused on India - yaari.com, minglebox.com, reddiffconxions.com, zhoom.com and humsubka.com to name a few - have sprung up over the last three to four months." Then there's Fropper.com, one of India's first, Saffronart.com "for those interested in Bollywood and Indipop music, techtribes.com for IT corporates, professionals and engineering students, Memsaab.com, and even a business networking site siliconindia.com." Memsaab.com is a social site for Indian women based in Hollywood, with "chapters" in Delhi, Mumbai, Sydney, London, Toronto, and Johannesburg, according to a press release about it. According to the Business-Standard, an Indian market-research firm found that Orkut is in the country's Top 10 "online brands" for India's 23 million active Internet users, 9-10% of whom are active on social-networking sites.
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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