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Colors? Check. Shapes? Check. Social networking skillz? Check.

 By Jeff Horwich // Posted: 07/21/10 06:00 AM

In Australia, at least, parents are convinced social networks – Facebook, Twitter, ‘RooSpace (trust me, it’s huge Down Under) – are ruining their children’s brains. Half of ten-year-olds already have a social network profile. Usage stats are similar here in the U.S., and no doubt parental worry runs high here as well. After all, t(w)eens and online life have proven a combustible combination.

And yet…or perhaps because of that…new social networks are springing up all the time for the kiddies, including the new Togetherville, which pushes the demographic as low as six-years-old – or lower, as CEO Mandeep Dhilllon tells us in this episode. Toddlers are already tugging on our shirt hems to see what we’re doing all the time on the com-poo-ter. Why not give them a safe space to build up their online IQ?

OK, I’m listening, I’m listening…

One of the innovative things Togetherville brings to the table is the way it lets…nay, requires…parents get involved in the process. Parents and kids register as a team – parents using their Facebook log-in (via Facebook Connect – the two sites are totally independent). There’s a parallel level of interaction where parents connect with the parents of their kids’ friends.

But hold up. Isn’t this just another reason for kids to nurture computer addiction? Shouldn’t they be out collecting bugs to put in jars or something? No doubt there are child psychologists who might find this whole trend deeply troubling. But they would be somewhat blind to the modern world, says psychologist Dr. Pamela Rutledge, who says social media literacy can’t start too young.

I’ve got a two-year-old, and this topic got me a little riled up thinking about it. Now after doing the show, I’m not sure what to think. We’d love to hear your experiences – have your kids tried out Imbee, Togetherville, Club Penguin, or any of the other kid-focused social networks?

(Guest-hosted by Jeff Horwich.)

Comments | Filed Under: social networks facebook twitter

The Internet: Bringing Families Together

 By Jeff Horwich // Posted: 07/20/10 06:17 PM

We’re just wrapping up tomorrow’s show, about social networking for little kids (and how it might not be as bad a thing as you think). And of course I had to go back and re-watch one of the simultaneously funny and deeply sad viral video hit of recent weeks: the beleaguered Jessi Slaughter & Family. After being mercilessly harassed online, the 11-year-old and her father and mother make the ill-fated decision to make things worse by turning on the webcam again (more background here).

You’ve probably seen it already. If you haven’t, you may wish to follow it with a chaser of the double rainbow guy. (Heads up: Some words go flying in here that make it NSFWoK – not safe for work or kids.)

Jessi’s tale is also a good complement to our forthcoming episode – a chilling example of what can go down when you’re not paying attention to what your kids are up to online. (And for God’s sake, do not try to rectify your child’s Internet troubles by just rolling tape and then posting to YouTube.)

So do we shield our kids from the ‘net until they’re old enough to handle it? Or – as our show guests suggest – can we train them in so they’re more prepared for the Wild Wild Web?

Choose wisely. Or, as I once heard someone say, “Consequences will never be the same.”

Comments | Filed Under: family youtube privacy harassment

Coming soon: Magazine Motion Sickness

 By Jeff Horwich // Posted: 07/20/10 11:56 AM

While putting together today’s episode on whether the iPad can save magazines, I took in this nifty video of how Viv Magazine is turning their iPad edition into something like the newspapers they read in Harry Potter. Yes, it’s cool. But dang, that’s a lot of data to download just to read a magazine!

Comments | Filed Under: publishing ipad magazines hogwarts

The Golden Age of Magazines (might be right now)

 By Jeff Horwich // Posted: 07/20/10 06:00 AM

Everyone wants a piece of the iPad, but the magazine industry has responded with particular gusto. Maybe it’s that the iPad is about the size of a National Geographic. Maybe it’s that beautiful color graphics are a skill the magazine industry has honed for decades. Maybe it’s just the optimistic belief that this device, despite its parallel ability to play skee ball for hours on end, will somehow bring reading back.

Last month’s most feted and vetted iPad magazine release was Wired. This month it was Popular Mechanics. We talk with the deputy editor who led the team that designed the Popular Mechanics iPad app about how they’re changing the magazine experience, and why the iPad is the place to be. But Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore is skeptical the revolution has begun. And Condé Nast veteran Jacob Lewis (now with is still waiting for a new business model behind that magical screen.

(Guest host: Jeff Horwich)

Comments | Filed Under: ipad publishing

Shhh: Google quietly fails at something (else)

 By Jeff Horwich // Posted: 07/19/10 01:06 PM

Powerful as it may be, and as much as it continues to absorb, amoeba-like, the collected knowledge of the world, Google has its fair share of failures under its belt. Digital services tend to fade quietly and blow away with the wind (Google Wave? Google Buzz? Google Fizzy-Wizz? – OK, I made that last one up) and many technically remain Google Labs “beta” products for their entire lifespans. (Hey, they’re not flops! Just Google tryin’ stuff out, like Google does.)

But when the failure is a physical product – Google’s first real physical product, in fact – perhaps it makes a larger “thud.” Google’s own cell phone, the Nexus One, is about to become very hard to find. The cell-phone-with-a-shampoo-name was reasonably well-received when it launched in January, but sales never took off and never really made the case for itself in the smartphone arms race. Google announced on its blog that it is receiving its last shipment of phones.

Nexus One is arguably a casualty of Google’s success with its open-source Android smartphone operating system. Few wireless carriers wanted to sell the actual Nexus One, but other Android-based phones have proliferated and pushed the OS into first place in the U.S. (yes, way more people use Android than have an iPhone). With so many Android-based phones to choose from, why would one expect the Nexus One to prosper?

Sorry, Google. Guess it’s back to the Labs for the next attempt at One Device to Rule Them All.

Comments | Filed Under: google phones

The I.T. Guy Who Knew Too Much

 By Jeff Horwich // Posted: 07/12/10 06:00 AM

Turns out, that’s probably a large proportion of them. A new survey (PDF file) from the electronic security company Cyber-Ark reveals what you probably suspected but don’t really want to think too hard about: Two-thirds of IT professionals anonymously surveyed in the US and UK admit they have accessed information that is unrelated to their jobs. Forty-one percent say they or their colleagues have actually used their admin privileges to get at info “that is otherwise confidential or sensitive.”

Yikers. Seriously: I love and respect our IT guys, and they do a ton to keep my computer ship-shape and doing what I need it to do. I’m sure it’s none of them. But all those other guys out there? For shame!

Truth is, there’s a fine line for these guys between snooping and doing what they are told to do by the bosses, which these days often involves keeping tabs on private email, porn surfing and any other activity deemed not in the company interest. So does this include…emails you send applying for another job? It all starts to get very fuzzy.

In this episode, we chat with a former snooper, a snoopee (Snoopy?) and of course the friendly fellow behind this excoriating survey. Just remember, most IT guys are loving, caring individuals. They just happen to swim every day in an ocean of your sensitive information.

(Jeff Horwich guest hosts.)

Comments | Filed Under: privacy work IT

No more virtual troll dolls from distant relatives on Facebook? OH, NO!

 By Jeff Horwich // Posted: 07/09/10 05:54 PM

This is sad news for my second-cousin-once-removed, and awesome news for all the rest of us sick of fending off virtual plants, teddy bears, and rolls of toilet paper: Facebook is shutting down its Gift Shop as of August 1.

If I just ruined your day…I’m really sorry. For lots of reasons.

Facebook says it’s shutting down the gift shop to focus on “improving and enhancing products and features that people use every day, such as Photos, News Feed, Inbox, games, comments, the ‘Like’ button and the Wall.”

Yeah, because I’m sure maintaining the Gift Shop was really hard work. Better theory: They’re getting rid of it because it represents a juvenile MySpace-y-ness that FB wants to leave in the past as it aspires to become the engine that powers every aspect of our lives.

The bad news is that invitations to Cartoon Yourself, Join My Family Tree, and engage in virtual farming (really, everybody?) will continue unabated. Those are third-party apps continuing to thrive off of people’s unrelenting hunger to stay on Facebook for longer than anyone really should.

Gosh… Does this post sound like a Friday-afternoon-4:45-pm post to you? Time for a weekend! I had a blast sitting in on the show today, as always.

Comments | Filed Under: facebook

Are we reaching "Peak Facebook"?

 By Jeff Horwich // Posted: 07/09/10 12:06 PM

You know the concept of “peak oil,” yeah? That we will at some point reach the highest level we’ll be able to draw from the ground, and it’s all downhill from there.

Facebook’s way slower growth last month has people contemplating whether Facebook is peaking, at least in the US. The blog Inside Facebook says FB gained only 330,000 US users in June. Sounds like a lot – that’s approaching the population of Minneapolis, as I recall.

But consider that one month before, in May, they logged 7.8 million new users. That’s the kind of growth the site had been accustomed to.

Of course, FB faced user backlash and harsh media attention right around this time for perhaps overplaying its hand when it came to sharing and exposing user data. If this is largely due to that dust-up, then it’s a HUGE effect (much larger than Facebook let on when they said the controversy had no discernable impact on their numbers). But even if millions were turned off by the negative attention, it’s a temporary effect.

On the other hand, when I reported on that episode for Marketplace, it was not hard to find users already experiencing Facebook Fatigue, questioning why they had invested so much in it anyway. This would seem to be the much more intractable problem for Facebook, if users are simply getting their fill. Once people start to bail on a social network, it can be hard to reverse the decline. (Ahem: MYSPACE. Gesundheit.)

Facebook’s brightest spot is overseas, where it seems set to match (Google’s) Orkut in India and Brazil. Global domination may yet come before the peak.

Comments | Filed Under: facebook

Hulu to start charging you money. (And that's a good thing?)

 By Jeff Horwich // Posted: 07/01/10 07:00 AM

(Today’s episode features guest host Jeff Horwich)

This week online TV service Hulu started rolling out Hulu Plus, a paid option that offers more content but also changes the game because, you know, it’s not all free any more.

You might think this would be nothing but annoying, especially since you still have to watch the same ads as on the free Hulu service. But Hulu Plus (which is currently available by invitation only; that will change soon) comes with some bonuses: Big extra back-catalog access to popular shows, and new Hulu Plus apps for iPad, iPhone, Xbox and more. Gizmodo’s Matt Buchanan has been checking out the new offerings, and joins us on this episode with the highlights.

Is Hulu Plus – this model of asking people to pay a subscription for on-demand access to shows – the beginning of the end of TV as we know it? Dan Frommer of Business Insider thinks Hulu Plus is great and all, but it’s no cable-killer. He drops by with some thoughts on the bigger picture.

What do you think: Is Hulu Plus going to change your TV habits? Or are you annoyed that the great heyday of free (good) TV on the web could be all too short?

Comments | Filed Under: hulu tv

A Tesla...for the resta'ya

 By Jeff Horwich // Posted: 06/30/10 01:58 PM

So far, this week’s been a big bonanza for Tesla Motors. The electric car company raised $226 million with its IPO Monday, and the share price has been rising ever since. Then there’s the P.R. boost from the accompanying press frenzy, celebrating a tiny company most non-auto-non-tech junkies had probably never heard of. Telsa’s been working long and hard – often on fumes, you might say – to make a real product that advances the industry. Good on ‘em.

But let’s face it: Tesla cars are expensive, tiny, impractical roadsters with a ridiculous waiting list. I was more into this fun blow-by-blow comparison from CNET of two much more practical electric-car options on the way for the typical buyer: Chevy Volt vs. Nissan Leaf, ranked next to each other on looks, range, wireless connectivity, and price.

Comments | Filed Under: cars electric tesla

Who cares about Foursquare? Apparently, people with money.

 By Jeff Horwich // Posted: 06/30/10 11:51 AM

Put me in the camp of people who are still mystified by Foursquare. I think they got off on the wrong foot by first entering my world as a stream of unwelcome auto-Twitter posts. And even as I wrapped my head around the idea of “checking in” and becoming the Mayor of Starbucks, that doesn’t mean I comprehended why any of this was worth giving a rip.

But even I have to admit 1.8 million people-with-nothing-better-to-do are a trend worth heeding. And this week heavy-hitters in the venture capital community – folks who usually do their research post-bubble – have weighed in with $20 million that will allow Foursquare to expand its staff of 30 and move to New York (because if there’s one thing that’s a smart move for a tech startup, it’s taking on expensive office space).

Where people still struggle to comprehend the ways in which Twitter might make money, you can see why VCs would sniff more from Foursquare than the leftover scent of too many lattes consumed during a mayoral quest. The whole premise is inextricably linked to the retail industry. If you’re checking in on Foursquare, chances are 1) you’ve already got money, since you can afford that smartphone on your hip, and 2) you’re physically in a place where more money can be spent, like a coffee shop, restaurant, or Geek Squad break room at Best Buy.

It’s almost like Foursquare was designed… to make money to begin with! Now there’s a concept. And maybe that’s why it never quite smelled right to me.

Comments | Filed Under: devices foursquare geolocation

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