Kevin Farnham is nearing publication of a new book about MySpace filled with information and tips for a variety of people. As publication draws near, he is continuing to post many of the tips from the book on his blog, HowToPrimers. Here is a quotation from one of his posts on March 6th:

MySpace is akin to a playground, but for teens.

A playground is a wonderful place where children can have lots of fun. But a playground can be a very dangerous place without parental (or other adult) supervision, or if adults are nearby but are not paying attention to what the children are doing. Worse yet is a situation where it is apparent to passersby that the children are at play and there is no parental or adult guardian presence whatsoever.

Until very recently, MySpace was like the playground with no parental, teacher, or other guardian presence. The teens and preteens who use MySpace knew this was the case, and therefore they did things on MySpace that they would never do if they knew parents or teachers could see what they were doing. Many teens still think this is the case. Unfortunately, adults who had no business contacting teens and preteens also knew that MySpace was effectively unmonitored.

This situation has to change, and will change, when parents are well-educated about MySpace.

Kevin’s posts and ideas go beyond “informational,” however, as he includes specific tips for kids as well as adults to keep in mind when the visit and use MySpace. (Don’t be deceived, for many, many kids the correct word to use in the sentence above today is WHEN rather than IF.) This post, titled “MySpace and Your Home Town,” addresses why MySpace is so dangerous relative to other social networking sites that actually represent themselves
as dating services:

For some reason, MySpace tries very hard to get you to enter information that identifies you with a specific location. And then they wonder why experts on internet safety call MySpace a �magnet for predators”… This is the type of information that would help someone who was familiar with you years ago, who�d like to track you down, to find you on MySpace… The recommendation for safety is to not enter a home town, or to enter something humorous, clever, or serious�perhaps a place from your favorite movie, or
a place where you wish you could live some day. Just don�t enter the actual place where you were born or grew up.

As I have stated before in posts and podcasts, we DO need to be talking to young people in our charge about the dangers sites like MySpace present. Unsure if the hype about MySpace and other social networking sites is overblown? In terms of Internet access and visiblity, the post on Alexa by Geoffrey Mack titled “MySpace… Taking Over the World” is illuminating. Consider this graph from the posting, which shows that in the last 2 years
MySpace has grown to be one of the 10 most popular websites on the entire Internet:

MySpace traffic graph

For some reason I cannot explain clearly (since Google’s search algorithms are closed source) when I google for “site 2006” (the educational conference I am attending this week) why the 6th hit out of over 7.2 billion (that’s right, 7,210,000,000 search hits) is the homempage for MySpace. Go figure?

What does that mean? Well, for one, LOTS of kids are accessing MySpace, and young people are having a HUGE impact on the web. Despite or in-spite of what teachers are or are not doing with technology in the classroom, young people are using technology to communicate with each other big-time. Consider this second graph from the same article posting, showing MySpace pageviews relative to Google:

MySpace traffic graph

I think the following statement from Geoffrey in his post is correct: Kids are shaping the Internet in powerful ways:

I think the lesson here is not to discount the kids. They will become the prime Internet demographic in the years to come and they will determine what’s hot and what’s not. Just like with soda, music and movies, the marketing dollars are more interested in my kids than me… and judging from MySpace, the marketers may be right. The kids are a major force on the Web.

So now perhaps you know a little more about MySpace. What are you going to DO with this knowledge? Blog about it? That is good– I am convinced as we blog about ideas, we process them further and “make them our own.” And we can share these ideas with others. But I think we must not stop there. Does your school have a program on Internet safety? If not, why not? Have you asked for one? Have you volunteered to provide one? These questions are challenging to me– in addition to blogging about things, I need to be
talking to more people F2F about these issues.

The kids are using technology in powerful ways to communicate, but in many cases are putting themselves at risk. In addition to helping students stay safe, as educators and parents we need to figure out ways to leverage the TREMENDOUS intrinsic motivation students have to communicate with each other via IM, social networking sites, etc. Take a look at the results from the ePals pilot project in urban New Jersey. When kids
write more, they write better. What a concept!

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