Friday, June 30, 2006

Who's behind MySpace

In the July 2006 issue of Wired, an interesting article on Rupert Murdoch and his media empire, which is spreading onto the internet.
Will the desire to turn MySpace into a marketing venue ruin the chaotic culture that makes it so appealing?

His Space
Twilight of the media moguls? Not for this guy. With the $580 million purchase of MySpace, News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch is betting he can transform a free social network into a colossal marketing machine.

Reply to the "Digital Latchkey Kid"

Stephen Downes replies to my "Digital latchkey kid" post.

He points out:
"The problem with protecting kids by regulating what kids can see boils down, therefore, to this: as soon as you attempt to extend that protection outside the home, your own ideas about what is safe and proper come into conflict with others' ideas, and this problem becomes more and more intractable the more diverse society becomes and the wider the area you seek to govern.

And my own concern is this: when such matters become a matter for decision-making by governmental authorities, then the voices of those who profit most by exploiting and in some way injuring your kids become the loudest and the most influential. While it is always the hope of parents that governmental controls will eventually reflect their own values, this rarely ever happens."

I wholeheartedly agree, but the proposed course of action (become more tolerant, teach your kids to play safe, and allocate the responsibility for bad behaviour where it lies), while completely valid, lacks the immediacy of a solution for parents who are in the trenches, right now, today. I'm not talking about immediate gratification here, but I think it puts us in an awfully uncomfortable situation to be told to wait until our society and our culture rises to the challenge and self-polices itself. I am fully prepared to manually filter for my kids - but how many parents, failing to understand the immensity of what's on the net, will watch as their kids become unwitting causalties of this process?
To be honest, I don't have a proposed solution today, but I sense that having discussions like this is essential, and so I keep beating the drum. I am thankful that others have joined the dialogue.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Podcasting under seige?

Some interesting reading and a few links about the state of podcasting, where it's been and where it's going:,71257-0.html?tw=wn_index_2

Academic: Social Software in a Teaching and Learning Context

Trouble in Second Paradise?

Very interesting goings on in the virtual world of Second Life. The proprietors, Linden Labs, changed registration models on June 6 from one that required a credit card validation step (and hence some tie to a real person) to one that does not, referred to as "validation-free". This has caused a certain amount of consternation among Second Life residents, particularly merchants, with regard to the potential for anonymous misbehavior and subsequent increase of abuse reports (AR's).
Though it may seem arcane, I think there will be plenty of lessons learned as Second Life transitions into a more anonymous realm as new residents join and established residents create alternative (alt) accounts and avatars.

To read about the issue, check out


To learn more about Second Life, check out the recent Business Week article:

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Lev Gonick and the future of mobile computing

At the beginning of June 2006, I watched a webcast via CSU-Monterey Bay's Ready2Net program that included a segment on mobile computing. The panel included Lev Gonick, the CIO at Case Western Reserve. Since he had been relatively successful a few years back at predicting some of the tech trends we see emerging today, Lev was asked to look 3 to 5 years out again.

Gonick said:
“In the next three years or so we will hopefully not be talking about mobility as an infrastructure project, it will all be about collaboration and collaboration tools.

And I think (universities who are creating content, vendors, partners, libraries, park systems and the like)…it will be how we use those collaborative tools.

I’m less sure that we’re going to see new devices, although there will be new form factors.
What will be distinctive will be the ability to have presence, the idea that, at any point in time, you can - if you choose to - be followed through your mobile technology and not only be able to be tracked (again, with your permission), but be able to have the kinds of interactions that you’re interested in, whether those are database, IM, SMS, voice-based, or whether they will in fact be interactive video-based.
And I think those are the things - all of which are going to sit on a mobile platform - that we’re going to see. It’s going to be much less of a spectator sport and much, much more of a contact sport in the next five years.”

- Lev Gonick, Vice President, Information Technology Services, CIO, Case Western Reserve University, Board Chair of OneCleveland.
From the June 1, 2006, Ready2Net webcast on “The Mobile User”, from The Wireless Community & Mobile User Conference at California State University - Monterey Bay, CA.

I admire Lev because he went to Cleveland and rallied the community, CWRU and vendors around a great idea centered on emerging technology spread across and benefitting the community at large - town and gown extraordinaire. I spent my "wonder bread years" growing up in the suburbs of Cleveland, rode the Rapid Transit downtown, saw (and completely failed to appreciate) the Cleveland Orchestra and Museum of Art as a grade-schooler, and am still a hopeless (and I do mean hopeless) Indians and Browns fan.

Why kids do what they do on MySpace, part 2

I just had an interesting discussion with a colleague, who had a recent experience with a youth posting materials on MySpace. One of his postings indicated (more or less bragged) that, among other things, he had lied to my colleague, who was in a position of authority over the youth. He had denied lying previously, but now was confronted with a hard copy of his own testimonial.

So I inquired, thinking back to earlier comments in this blog, if he had asked the kid why he posted such stuff. The response was that he didn't think anyone else would read it - that it would somehow remain personal between himself and the friend he was posting it for. Hadn't really put it together that "world" is the first "w" in worldwideweb. And again, this kid was a leader, an exemplar in many ways.

This seems to go back to the acute need for network literacy - that kids need to develop an awareness of just how far their comments get distributed in this medium, who can read them, and what they can do with the information.
It also reaffirms the need for positive models in this venue - for every negative use, be it bullying, flaming, bragging, and so on, there need to be demonstrations of positive interactions and the value that such interactions have on community building.

ADDED July 13, 2006:
I was digging around and found an older article recalling more interesting tales of how college kids are unaware of exactly who's viewing their musings on the most popular social sites (or unable to censor themselves!). Well worth a read in the context of this posting - in particular take a look at the last section, entitled "A Little Sunshine can be a Dangerous Thing".

From the Chronicle of Higher Education Information Technology section, dated January 20, 2006:
Think Before You Share
Students' online socializing can have unintended consequences


When Pennsylvania State University's resurgent football team scored a victory last October against its archrival from Ohio State University, throngs of students rushed the field and set off something of a postgame riot. Overwhelmed, campus police had difficulty identifying the perpetrators and made only two arrests on game day.

But less than a week after the game, Tyrone Parham, the university's assistant director of police, got an unexpected tip: Several students had posted pictures online of their friends storming the field. Campus police officers logged onto Facebook, the immensely popular social-networking site, and found a student group titled, unsubtly enough, "I Rushed the Field After the OSU Game (And Lived!)"

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Who's Watching?

Pentagon sets its sights on social networking websites

New Scientist has discovered that Pentagon's National Security Agency, which specialises in eavesdropping and code-breaking, is funding research into the mass harvesting of the information that people post about themselves on social networks. And it could harness advances in internet technology - specifically the forthcoming "semantic web" championed by the web standards organisation W3C - to combine data from social networking websites with details such as banking, retail and property records, allowing the NSA to build extensive, all-embracing personal profiles of individuals.

What is MySpace anyway?

"Identity Production in a Networked Culture: Why Youth Heart MySpace"

danah boyd is a member of the Digital Youth team at UC Berkeley, and has been studying the why's and how's of MySpace since its inception. In a talk to the AAAS she looks at what MySpace is all about and why youth find this digital public space so appealing.

In particular, she points out: "Teenager's space segmentation is slightly different [than adults]. Most of their space is controlled space. Adults with authority control the home, the school, and most activity spaces. Teens are told where to be, what to do and how to do it. Because teens feel a lack of control at home, many don't see it as their private space.
To them, private space is youth space and it is primarily found in the interstices of controlled space. These are the places where youth gather to hang out amongst friends and make public or controlled spaces their own. Bedrooms with closed doors, for example."

So in some ways, though the parent or caregiver may be home, the digital latchkey kid is now left alone in their own bedroom, but with a portal to the entire networked world. Reminds me of 'Alice Through the Looking Glass'. I understand the need for kids to have private space, but I still think the flaw in the MySpace model is that the private space they seek, while away from adults who know them and control many of their other spaces, is smack dab in the middle of space inhabited by others, including adults who are anonymous strangers. Though the youth may choose to ignore these others and focus on their own network of friends, we can't say the same of all the participants.

From the conclusion:
"Youth are not creating digital publics to scare parents - they are doing so because they need youth space, a place to gather and see and be seen by peers. Publics are critical to the coming-of-age narrative because they provide the framework for building cultural knowledge. Restricting youth to controlled spaces typically results in rebellion and the destruction of trust. Of course, for a parent, letting go and allowing youth to navigate risks is terrifying. Unfortunately, it's necessary for youth to mature.

What we're seeing right now is a cultural shift due to the introduction of a new medium and the emergence of greater restrictions on youth mobility and access. The long-term implications of this are unclear. Regardless of what will come, youth are doing what they've always done - repurposing new mediums in order to learn about social culture.

Technology will have an effect because the underlying architecture and the opportunities afforded are fundamentally different. But youth will continue to work out identity issues, hang out and create spaces that are their own, regardless of what technologies are available."

From danah boyd's blog, a summary of her presentation to
The American Association for the Advancement of Science
Annual Meeting, February 19, 2006

Friday, June 23, 2006

School/Library ban on social sites proposed...

US law proposed to ban library access to social websites

According to the proposed legislation (~May 10, 2006), the bill
"prohibits access by minors without parental authorization to a commercial social networking website or chat room through which minors may easily access or be presented with obscene or in- decent material; may easily be subject to unlawful sexual advances, unlawful requests for sexual favors, or repeated offensive comments of a sexual nature from adults may easily access other material that is harmful to minors."

LA Times article:,1,5165050.story?coll=la-news-a_section

More information and opinions at VALIS,, Boing Boing, TechDirt, and Danah Boyd's (no relation) apophenia blog

Libraries and Social Sites

Libraries in Social Networking Software
Posted May 10, 2006

A thoughtful post by Meredith Farkas, librarian and author of Information Wants to Be Free. At the end there is also a gaggle of links to "Useful Resources on Libraries and Social Networking Software".

"Whether we like it or not, our patrons between the ages of 16 and 25 overwhelmingly use MySpace and Facebook, and are not going to stop using them no matter what policies we put in place. As librarians who should know our users, we should at least be aware of what they’re doing online and see what roles the library can play in our patrons’ online social worlds."

Internet Detective site launched

Free online tutorial for Information Literacy,
launched June 13, 2006

From the 'Brief' page:
"Welcome to Internet Detective - a free online tutorial that will help you develop Internet research skills for your university and college work. The tutorial looks at the critical thinking required when using the Internet for research and offers practical advice on evaluating the quality of web sites."

From the press release:
“Students are increasingly turning to the Internet to find information for their coursework or assignments, but they can be naïve in the sources they choose. There is concern among lecturers and librarians that students often degrade their work by referencing inappropriate information sources and by failing to use the key scholarly materials that they should be using.” (Emma Place, University of Bristol, co- author of Internet Detective).

MySpace responds amid flurry of complaints

MySpace bolsters defenses, faces sex predator suit

Reuters (via Washington Post) Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Excerpt:, the top online teen hangout, said on Tuesday it will bolster protection for minors amid a flurry of complaints about sexual predators prowling the site and a lawsuit filed on Monday by a teenage girl charging it with negligent security practices.

MySpace and the 1st Amendment?

How much space to give MySpace users?
Schools weigh control versus 1st Amendment

From June 4, 2006 San Diego Union-Tribune
"When a Del Mar Heights Elementary student created a page on MySpace, the epicenter of youth gossip, she unexpectedly elicited a torrent of obscene and hateful e-mails, turning her secure schoolyard into a menacing playground."
...and further on...
“The kids think because they do it away from school that it's all fair game,” Van Zant said. “What they don't realize is what happens on MySpace has an impact at school, and then we have to act. All of a sudden, the girls are arguing at school. Now there's bad feelings.”

"Why parents must mind MySpace"

Why parents must mind MySpace
Posting too much information on social networking sites may be dangerous

From MSNBC, April 5, 2006.
Excerpt: Parry Aftab, internet lawyer and safety expert, says: "They’re afraid of their kids. They somehow think because technology is involved, they’re no longer the parent. Get real. You’re the parent. If you don’t like it, unplug the computer. If they don’t follow your rules, no Internet at all. If you’re not the parent and if you’re not going to step in, no Web site on earth is going to be able to help your child be safe."

Cornell's FaceBook Statement

See Cornell University's new statement regarding FaceBook.

(Referenced in the June 21, 2006 Chronicle of Higher Education "Wired Campus Blog"

An excerpt:
"Facebook is a cool tool," writes Tracy Mitrano, director of information-technology policy at Cornell University, in an online message to Cornell students. But the popular site, she says, "creates as many obligations as it does opportunities for expression."
Cornell's FaceBook statement is at:

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Mother and Daughter Explore MySpace

Testing the Bounds of MySpace
A writer learns a lot from an experiment with the popular social networking site -- especially about her 13-year-old daughter.

From April 8, 2006 Los Angeles Times
"It was more the shock of discovering a different Taylor, a cool-teen version of the girl who used to cuddle up on the couch and watch cooking shows with me. My daughter was too young for such an uncensored world, I decided.",0,2694175.story

Tech Bubble for Kids...

Tech creates a bubble for kids

From June 20, 2006 USA Today:
Excerpt: "They're tuned out in some ways to the social graces around them and the people in their lives, in their physical realm, and tuned in to the people they're with virtually," says psychologist and sociologist Sherry Turkle of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The "Digital Latchkey Kid"

My response to Stephen Downes' post on his Half an Hour blog:

I don't think we're too far apart in general, but I think my specifics are being driven by the immediacy of being a parent looking for real time solutions.
We're also sloshing about between issues like information literacy (Googling) and age-appropriate socializing (MySpace).

In terms of information literacy, I would agree in general that "people who spend more time online are more able to deal with these issues", but again in the absence of applicable guidance, training and modeling, they may not necessarily deal with them in the most thoughtful or judicious way. I could teach myself how to drive a car, but that wouldn't mean I knew that I was supposed to always yield to pedestrians (not the best example but it will have to do!).
I agree that if we throw kids off of myspace we are punishing them for badly behaving adults (and this really is the core of the problem), which is why the cocktail party metaphor still holds for me. We don't invite kids to come with us to drink and spit and swear - we gather with other adults and find age-appropriate things for the kids to do in the meantime, with other kids, and depending on age, a sitter.

And we don't plop the kids in the middle of the party and hope that the sitter models good behavior - we take them to another room, another house, "off site" as it were.
We don't go into bars or night clubs with our kids and ask the adults already there to behave "age-appropriately" or try to moderate their behavior (whether we ourselves are well behaved or not), we simply don't take our kids there. So why should we treat this medium differently?
If we say "Hey, adults, tone it down in there!", they will (rightly) say "Piss off - this is a free and open venue!"

I disagree that children act badly as a result of cumulative exposure - i.e. because they are exposed to bad behavior in all aspects of life. We talk all the time about how if we just provide the right tools, the right ideals, the right models, that kids will come out allright. But I have heard and read many stories of parents who were completely aghast upon discovering the racy content of their "model" child's myspace profile, blog, etc.. I believe that many otherwise great kids will act badly when they see others behaving badly and the opportunity presents itself for them to try it. Again, I think this is what kids do - it is part of being a kid.

Another example used in The Tipping Point refers, if I recall correctly, to an experiment where a group of otherwise exemplary adults are placed in a prison-like situation. Surprisingly their behavior to one another degrades to stupendous levels fairly rapidly. Something about human nature and/or mob mentality is at work here.

Though they can disconnect at any time, it seems far too many do not. There are at least two issues here - one is simply the problem of spending so much time connected to a computer rather than seeking actual human companionship.
The other is that if confronted with disturbing content, many kids may simply "change channels" - go look somewhere else, but in some ways, if they continue collecting experiences like this they are only reinforcing the idea that bad behavior is acceptable - "_everyone_ is doing it!". While they do have the power to silence an adult (anyone, really) in this venue, many are like the long lines of drivers plodding past a wreck on the highway - you should look away, but you just can't. There is something viscerally human in this sort of curiosity, perhaps not unlike the Germans' Schadenfreude.

I'm sure it has been brought up before, but I'm concluding that we need to create an age appropriate place for kids, that has all of the appealing attributes of myspace, but in an environment where adults and other kids model and moderate. I can imagine all sorts of shortcomings of such a plan, the biggest being that if myspace continues to let anyone in (they don't _really_ verify age), then it becomes the forbidden fruit that the "cool kids" all partake of. So unless myspace and other similar venues play along it is likely a pipe dream.

The solution my wife and I have arrived at is that we do not let our 10 and 12 year old surf unattended. We have very tight content filters on our browsers. We haven't even talked about MySpace or social computing tools at this stage (and they are admittedly too young for that anyway). This may not surprise you, given all that I have written. What worries me is the number of parents - sane, rational, thoughtful, intelligent parents (friends!) - who do not provide similar levels of guidance and boundaries.

"Far better they interact in an environment that can be monitored and watched very easily by parents and police." But what if there's no one watching? A new "digital latchkey kid".
My kids will find titillating stuff at their unsupervised friends' houses, and I acknowledge there is little I can do except ask lots of questions and remain very involved in my kids' lives - and I am not complaining about that.

I have also started to take steps to educate the parents of our kids' most frequent playmates - see for example Though it is crude at this stage, I'd be interested in any comments.

I agree unfortunately that "asking adults to act like adults may be more idealistic than practical". And this extends to our advertisers and media moguls who are more interested in ratings and revenue than helping parents be good parents.
In the meantime, by failing to address these very complicated issues we are effectively robbing our children of their childhoods, of that blissful innocence when all that mattered was kickball and clarinet lessons.

I am not in favor of censorship. But I do not believe the model of adults mingling with kids in an "anything goes" venue is sustainable, socially or economically.

Why kids do what they do on MySpace

My response to Stephen Downes' comments in OLDaily June 8:

As a parent and technology guy, I am extremely concerned about kids (by that I will loosely say anyone under 18, certainly anyone under 16) using myspace and other social sites.
The problem I have with these sites centers around the fact that they are the online equivalent of kids attending a cocktail party and mixing with adult strangers of every shape and motivation.

The reason I think more introspection isn't happening is that far too many teachers and parents do not understand enough about the power of this technology, and the potential impact on kids. While parents might say 4 hours of video games is enough, they seem reluctant to draw boundaries around social computing/chat/IM. Parents don't use it, haven't seen the range of stuff that's on it, and so rather than err on the side of caution throw open the doors lest they be branded as uncool by their kids.

Similarly, if you look at how the majority of teachers handle internet use, I'll wager that far too often there is little understanding of the needs of young minds to be able to purposefully, effectively and safely use this medium. Many may think if they simply say "you can use the internet" for research, that they have checked the technology box - but how often do teachers ask how a student conducted her research, what role the parents played, which were primary resources, etc.? I fear that we are raising a generation that will be unable to manually sift through text to determine arguments, core points or concepts.

I think the type of pathology represented by spending untold hours online is only now beginning to be understood and studied for adults - never mind the impact on young minds.
Teachers, parents, and administrators don't/can't ask 'why do they behave this way?' because they don't understand the medium. They have no frame of reference as to what is appropriate and not, since they have not participated in the culture.

I have two comments about 'what would lead a student to think that this is appropriate':
1) If you were to ask, I bet many would say they don't really know - the reason being that they are simply exploring various forms of independence and risk taking (as teens are well known for), and things that might have ten years ago simply been said among pals in the parking lot of a 7-11 are now published on the web for all to see. Watch interviews with high school kids who act out or behave poorly socially or academically - when asked why they do it or if they have thought about the consequences, they simply say they don't know. Or they haven't thought about it. Or don't care. Unfortunately, none of those responses provide insights or avenues for modifying the behaviors.

2) Look at who is modeling online behavior in myspace - it is largely adults who post provocative photos and language. Kids see this, take it as acceptable and cool, and do it themselves. Again, typical behavior for teens.
Add a lack of modeling of positive or acceptable behavior in this venue by teachers and parents, and voila - negative models yield negative results. How much time do _you_ spend posting things on myspace? I don't. Who does? - far too often it is people with an axe to grind, show offs, exhibitionists, etc..

If you haven't read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, take a look at the section on smoking and why teens take it up - I see strong parallels here. Myspace and other similar social sites are the 'behind the shed' of the millenials.

What's with the name of this blog?

I came up with the concept of a "Digital Latchkey Kid" in a roundabout way. A colleague forwarded me the June 8 issue of Stephen Downes' OLDaily newsletter, which included a link to a recent story about San Diego area school officials trying to monitor student activity on MySpace. I took exception to his comment "Instead of trying to hide everything again by blocking MySpace, or to punish people after the fact, why not ask, 'what would lead a student to think that this is appropriate?' .” I suggested that kids are doing what kids do, which is behave as they see others behave, in this case an assortment of adults and kids behaving badly.

Stephen was nice enough to use some of my comments in a follow up posting on his “Half an hour” blog. One of his comments was "Far better they interact in an environment that can be monitored and watched very easily by parents and police." And my reply was “But what if there's no one watching? A new ‘digital latchkey kid’.”

So there you have it – just as some kids come home to an empty house, we are witnessing a relatively new phenomenon of kids spending hours on the network, unmonitored by their parents, who, most being some variation of Marc Prensky’s “digital immigrants”, have no context or basis upon which to determine what is an appropriate amount of time to spend, and what sort of activities or places they should be most concerned about.


The goal of this blog is track opinions and references to digital culture in our society, in particular as it is used by and impacts kids (humans under the age of 18 years old).
The germ of the idea for a blog came from an ongoing discussion and debate about the merits and pitfalls of such social networking sites as MySpace, Bebo, and Facebook.

I apologize in advance for the lousy grammar that is inevitably part of the blogosphere.