Bye, Bye, Buzz

As you have probably heard by now, Google’s latest product is an entrant into the social media arena: Buzz.

I have to admit, Buzz came in a little under my radar.  Usually, I’m pretty good at these sorts of things, tracking rumors, discussing potential functionality and impacts, and having a pretty good idea of how something might work before it’s released.  Buzz came on totally out of nowhere.

One day I heard a rumor about a new entrant into the social networking fray from Google, the next day there’s a Buzz link in my inbox.  Where’d that come from?  Had Google adopted Apple-like security tactics?

And now – one week later – I’ve removed Buzz from my life and will not go back unless major changes take place.  Let me give you a little run-down about why Buzz bugged me out.

  1. Auto-share. The reason I blog and tweet, as opposed to joining Facebook, is that I prefer to do social media on my own terms.  This means sharing only what I write, and sharing it only when I want to share it.  With Buzz’s auto-share functionality, I’m already following about 30 people (only 10 of which would I want to), and they’re automatically following me.  I’m all for building a reader-base, but not like this.  Give me a choice, Google, don’t just throw me into something out of the blue.
  2. Lack of integration with Twitter.  Before you shout me down with the fact that Buzz does, in fact, integrate with Twitter, my problem is that it’s a one-way street.  Buzz pulled my own tweets into Buzz, and that was it.  That’s not what I want.  In fact, that’s about the last thing that I want.  I know what I wrote.  I wrote it!  If Buzz could pull in my entire Twitter timeline, including @ messages, and let me respond from within my GMail inbox, then we’d be talking.   Until then, however, no go.
  3. Inbox confusion.  Touted as a “feature” (as so many of these things often are) new Buzzes and comments would appear in my inbox like new emails.  I live and die by my inbox, and don’t appreciate things popping in there that are not emails.  I know Buzz is there, and will click on it when I feel like it.  Don’t trick me into clicking over because it looks like an email.  Be patient!
  4. Google Reader Overlap. Buzz also tried to integrate with Google Reader (another service I use frequently and am quite familiar with – even like!).  The problem was that Buzz did a poor job of knowing what was read and what wasn’t, and I would end up seeing articles in my Buzz that I’d already read in Reader, and vice-versa.  I don’t have time to read things twice, Google, so get it straight.

Finally, after enough fiddling, I realized that settings could not overcome Buzz’s shortfalls, and decided to remove myself from Buzz’s vice.  If you’d like to, you can use the same instructions I did at this link.  It seems to have worked well for me, and unless Buzz can live on like some sort of undead social-networking zombie nightmare, I don’t think I’ll be going back.

Better luck next time, Google.  But don’t worry, I’ll still stick with Gmail and Reader.  Just the Buzz-free versions.

Trickle Down Technology

There are lots of technologies that we have in our daily lives that originated from a military application.  GPS, for instance, was developed by the military and then approved for use by civilians.  And that’s great – I use GPS all the time, and am thankful to have it.

Another example of this technology trickle-down is cellular phones – something that I’m sure most of us wouldn’t want to live without.  The HMMWV, on the other hand (Hummer for civilians) I could easily give up.  There was even a short-lived show on the History Channel about this stuff, “Tactical to Practical.”

Now, we’re seeing another technology trickle down from the military to civilians – but in an interesting way.  With props to BoingBoing, the Houston Police Department unveiled, though apparently unwillingly, a new Unmanned Aerial Vehicle – also known as a drone.  Check out a great piece of reporting on the incident in the following video:

This same drone made a great splash when it debuted with the United States Marine Corps in Fallujah, Iraq:

The UAV is small and tough to see, said Marine officials. The contractors put the mufflers pointing up so that the enemy couldn’t track the aircraft by sound. The Marines operate the aircraft at a very low altitude.

The cameras — either for day or night — have enough definition to identify individuals and show if they are carrying weapons.

Houston Police representatives said that they are not “ruling anything out” about the potential applications for the drone.

While this video may be making its rounds now – it is actually from a report done in 2007.  I haven’t been able to find any information to follow up on the report, and can’t confirm whether or not the Houston Police Department is actively using these drones or not.

Like this week’s earlier post about the threat of cyber espionage, items like this make it easier to simply adjust your actions on the assumption that you are always being watched.  This pains me, to be sure, but I suspect that it is much closer to the reality than not.

As we continue to see the expanded use of military technologies in civilian settings, and as our global military engagements continue, America will be faced with some very tough issues about what is acceptable domestically and what is not.

My only hope is that these issues are discussed openly, in public, and with full disclosure about their applications and intended uses.  There’s nothing wrong with employing technology to fight crime and serve the public good, but let’s remember Kyllo v. US,

Where, as here, the Government uses a device that is not in general public use, to explore details of a private home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a Fourth Amendment“search,” and is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant.

For the record, infrared cameras are readily available for the ScanEagle mentioned in the video.

The Startup Life: Vol. 1

Some of my regular readers are aware that I’ve got a side project going.  I’d like to write today about some of the (learning) experiences that my business partners and I are having in this crazy entrepreneurship adventure and try to come up with a few lessons learned.

Our latest episode comes out of a point of contention where a client thought we were going to (or would be able to) deliver a certain functionality in our final product, despite the fact that it was not in the proposal (original or revised).  The client had mentioned it in passing in a single email, and again on the phone, both times we were quick to dismiss it as outside both our expertise and our proposal’s scope.

Despite our instance, however, it has come up again, this time with the caveat of “and that’s why I chose you guys.”  This is likely not true (mostly because it’s not even in our proposal), but it does mean that we’re not living up to our client’s expectations – even if they might be unrealistic.

The challenge then becomes being able to balance the reality of your contract/skills/ability/deliverables, and your desire to keep your client happy.  Especially as you’re just starting out, the desire to keep the client happy can be overwhelming – it’s much easier to say “Yeah, we can do that,” than admit that you don’t know how to do it, it’s not in the contract, and it would cost extra even if you could.  But that’s business!  Striking that balance is definitely a learned skill, and something that comes from experience.  This is just the first time of many client issues, I’m sure.

Here are a few other things that this experience has taught me:

Lessons Learned:

  1. Put it in writing.  A contract, typically done based on the accepted proposal, and hopefully including some sort of work breakdown structure, is better for everyone.  These can be tough to put together initially, but are really in everyone’s best interest.  Plus, once you have one put together, it’s relatively easy to re-work it for similar clients/projects.
  2. Incorporate ASAP.  There’s a reason that people seek the legal protections offered by an LLC, or other incorporated entity – they don’t want to get personally sued because of a business dispute.  Once you reach the point where a wrong step could wipe you out financially – i.e. this contract is bigger than my savings account – incorporate.  There are some fees and responsibilities associated with this step, but they are well worth the protection that they can offer you and your company.
  3. Communicate.  Many problems arise out of a simple miscommunication.  When you realize that you and your client aren’t on the same page, communicate this fact in the quickest and most professional way possible.  Here’s a huge hint: this is typically not by email.  Phone is good, but in-person is best.  The dialogue that can take place on a voice-to-voice level will get more done than any email when it comes to communicating about a problem.  There are, however, a few exceptions, including anytime you’d like to have the conversation in writing for the future.  If you’re to the point where you’re worried about keeping it in writing, however, you’ve probably already lost the battle are may be better served by looking for an exit strategy.
  4. Be realistic.  Obviously, this becomes easier as your company becomes more established, but being realistic, up-front, and transparent in your dealings makes finding success much easier.  As a new venture, clients are either trying to put one over on you or simply unaware of your limitations – it’s your job to let them know.  Nobody would ask Microsoft to build them an airplane, and conversely, nobody would want Boeing to build their operating system.  Don’t let the client put you into a position where you can’t deliver – then nobody wins.  Be up-front early, and head-off anything with this potential.

    Even More on Being Awesome

    You may remember some earlier posts about the power of being awesome at whatever it is that you do.

    It turns out that recent research from the University of Pennsylvania indicates that news articles which inspire awe (i.e. are very literally “awesome”) are amongst the most shared and popular articles:

    most of all, readers wanted to share articles that inspired awe, an emotion that the researchers investigated after noticing how many science articles made the list.

    The researchers also found a way to begin to quantify how something, exactly, becomes awesome.

    They used two criteria for an awe-inspiring story: Its scale is large, and it requires “mental accommodation” by forcing the reader to view the world in a different way.

    “It involves the opening and broadening of the mind,” write Dr. Berger and Dr. Milkman, who is a behavioral economist at Wharton.

    This sort of research directly compliments my existing theory: being awesome is enough.  If what you do is on a large scale, and requires a “mental accommodation” – changes the way that someone views the world, you will succeed.  Of course, this is much, much easier said than done – but if you can do it, you’ll do well.

    Being awesome is difficult because you must transcend the ranks of simply being interesting or being surprising.  As one article contributor noted,

    “If I went into my classroom dressed up like a pirate, that would be surprising, but it wouldn’t be awe-inspiring,” Dr. Berger said. “An article about square watermelons is surprising, but it doesn’t inspire that awed feeling that the world is a broad place and I’m so small.”

    As you, readers, embark on your daily lives, I encourage you to think about the ways in which you can cultivate awesomeness, operate on a scale larger than yourselves, and make a significant impact on the world around you.  Encourage “mental accommodation,” inspire awe, and create positive change.  The world can always use a little more awesomeness.

    I am contemplating a running series about how awesomeness begets success, so feel free to send me your awesome encounters, or awesome projects.

    Edit: Wired Magazine has confirmed that being capable of inspiring awe is, indeed, enough to become successful.  They suggest the following headline for their article:

    The world is huge, and you are small. But not as small as these billion-year-old particles we found on a giant spaceship.

    Works for me.

    It’s Not About the Tweets, It’s About the Tweeters

    I’m very much of the mind that technology is simply a human enabler.  That is, technology does what people could do, but faster, more accurately, and in novel ways.

    Twitter is very much one of these technologies – another way for humans to communicate, something they would do otherwise.  In fact, there are ways that things can get done outside of Twitter, but sometimes Twitter is just the best mode to complete the task at hand.

    I recently complained about a negative user experience on Twitter.  Much to my surprise, I was contacted by someone at that organization in an attempt to rectify my situation.

    Someone from (supposedly) from AT&T contacted me – and told me that they would try to help.  I responded to Chris with a way to contact me outside of Twitter, and waited.

    One week later, I was still waiting.

    It turns out that Chris may likely be a Twitter Bot,  a program that simply searches for “AT&T” and responds with the automated script:

    Hi, I’m with AT&T. I’m sorry you’re having trouble. Follow me and DM your contact information and I will try to help.

    Unfortunately for Chris, and for me, he didn’t try very hard to help.  So, what did I do?  I tweeted again, but this time I made sure to include @ATTCustomerCare, an account run by Molly, AT&T’s Customer Care Team Lead.

    Here’s what my tweet said:

    @ATTChrisL Still waiting for your response re: 1/19 tweet. What would be most helpful is my final bill amount and due date. @ATTCustomerCare

    By including @ATTCustomerCare, I made sure that it would be seen by Molly.  And it was.  Within an hour, Molly had tweeted back:

    @shaycolson Saw you tweets to @attchrisl. Pls DM your acct/wireless number and I can get the info you requested.

    I sent Molly my information, and by lunch, she had what I needed: my final bill and due date.  She even told me that she was working on it when she didn’t have an answer in an hour.  I really appreciated this, mostly because it allowed me to leave my needs in a message and continue to work while Molly helped solve my problem.  No need to wait on hold, no need to explain my situation to a rep on the phone.  Just someone helping me get what I need.  Wonderful.

    Molly at AT&T is not the only one who is making customers happy through Twitter.  Check out this recent article from The Consumerist: JetBlue Responds to Tweet, Goes Looking for Passenger’s Sunglasses.

    JFK -> MCO I left my sunglasses in the JetBlue x-ray bin. If anyone finds them, I’m at gate 22. Thanks.
    The employee didn’t find the sunglasses, but did look, and found the passenger!
    Wow. Someone from JetBlue actually saw my tweet, went looking for my sunglasses at xray, and found me at the gate. That’s service!
    The point here, like the title, is that it’s not about the tweets, it’s about the tweeters.  The people behind the technology make all the difference – both good, and bad.  Chris wasn’t much help – and not because of Twitter, just because of Chris.  Molly, on the other hand, would be a great representative on the phone, online, or (I suspect) in person.  Congrats to both Molly and the JetBlue representative on going above and beyond.  Your efforts were noted and appreciated!

    Why I Won’t Be Buying the iPad

    By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about Apple’s latest release: the iPad.  I watched this announcement with a lot of anticipation, hoping to see a revolutionary device that would really, truly change the way that we interact with our digital content.

    What did I see instead?  An iPod touch with a bigger screen.  And nothing more.  Mr. Jobs, I will definitely not be buying this new device.

    Ryan Anson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

    In his keynote address, Jobs said that

    The iPad “is so much more intimate than a laptop, and it’s so much more capable than a smartphone with its gorgeous screen,” Mr. Jobs crowed. “It’s phenomenal to hold the Internet in your hands.”

    And yet, you must be able to find an open WiFi connection to get to this Internet.  It’s true, I’ll admit, that a 3G iPad is coming (at some later date), but this 3G iPad is $130 more expensive than a non-3G version, and must be used on a GSM network (i.e. not Verizon or Sprint, who arguably have better data networks).  Plus, the data accessed in this method must be paid for separately.  Not good, Steve.

    Jobs also went on to say that the iPad is much better than netbook computers.

    Mr. Jobs also dismissed netbook computers, another scaled-down device that seeks to fill a limited role. “Netbooks aren’t better at anything,” he said.

    I respectfully disagree.  Netbooks are a great compromise for people who must use their mobile device to both consume content and create content.  At the same time as the iPad was released, a new version of iWork (Apple’s Office competitor) that is optimized for the iPad.  It was demonstrated at the event, but even Steve admitted that if you really have to do some work, you’ll want the external keyboard (an option, but at some considerable expense).

    It should be said, for the sake of disclosure, that this very post was written on a Netbook – which is more than up to the task of authoring a blog post.

    He also touted the ability to run all of the iPhone apps from the App Store.  This is great – because there are lots of great, well-done, and worth-the-money apps in there.  But, here’s a secret – your iPod touch can run all of those apps, too, and for only $199.

    Here’s the single biggest downfall for the iPad: inability to make phone calls.  This is absolutely crucial!  Most people I know no longer maintain a landline, instead relying on their cell for all of their phone needs (myself included).  If I have to carry another device in addition to the iPad to make a phone call, you can bet that I’ll be looking to fill all my needs with one device (and not the iPad!).  In fact, I already did.

    What Steve Jobs is missing is that people rely on their mobile devices to get them through their time away from a more powerful, generally desktop or large laptop, computer.  Very few people rely solely on their mobile device for everything – this would be nearly impossible.  What people really want out of their mobile devices is the ability to make and receive phone calls, receive emails (and send short responses, if needed), and generally keep up with their world (Facebook, Twitter, News, Sports, and a few games and/or distractions).  That’s it.  This is why the iPhone and Blackberry have been so successful – they fill this need exactly.

    And, this is why the iPad will not succeed nearly as much as Mr. Jobs would hope.  Add in the fact that Apple is resistant to Google’s Google Voice service (which would allow calls to be made from a device lacking a cellular connection), and you have a recipe for disaster.

    It will be incredibly interesting to see how many of these new iPads get sold, especially the expensive, 3G versions.  I know that Apple won’t be getting my $499, especially when I can get this netbook and a new phone for the same price.

    Technological State of the Union

    There are many pressing issues that President Obama will address in tonight’s State of the Union address.  One of the issues that has seen some press, but mostly been relegated to the back burner, is the technological policies of the new administration.

    You may recall the Cyberspace Policy Review, released earlier this year.  This work, and the resulting document, were badly needed, and also decently well-received amongst the tech sphere.  Some, including Purdue University’s CERIAS head Gene Spafford, took issue with a few things, namely the creation of the “Cybersecurity Coordinator”:

    First of all, the new position is rather like a glorified cheerleader: there is no authority for budget or policy, and the seniority is such that it may be difficult to get the attention of cabinet secretaries, agency heads and CEOs.

    Second, the position reports to the National Economic Council and OMB. […] Given the current stress in the economy I don’t expect any meaningful actions to be put forth that cost anything; we will still have the mindset that “cheapest must be best.”

    Third, there was no mention of new resources.

    Fourth, there was absolutely no mention made of bolstering our law enforcement community efforts.

    This position was finally filled on December 21, 2009 by Howard Schmidt – who had previously served as a cyber advisor to President George W. Bush.  Like Dr. Spafford has said, it seems that there is nothing but more of the same in regards to America’s official stance on the digital world.  As they say, if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.

    Where does that leave us for tonight’s address?  Ed Felten suggests there are 4 areas which must be improved to make a meaningful difference, and I would tend to agree:

    1. Improving Cybersecurity
    2. Making Government More Transparent
    3. Bringing the Benefits of Technology to All
    4. Bridging the Culture Gap Between Techies and Policymakers

    The real challenge here is that each of these four pillars depend on one another, and must all be advanced simultaneously.  If we can bridge the gap between techies and policymakers, surely that will improve cybersecurity.  If we are able to make government more transparent, then that will work towards bringing the benefits of technology to all.  Can we simultaneously make government more transparent, and also improve cybersecurity – especially when so many of our cybersecurity initiatives are led by classified organizations?  Where do we begin?

    I hesitate to think that Mr. Schmidt will be the catalyst for this change.  I also hesitate to think that President Obama will have the political capital to drive a meaningful shift in policy or practice – especially with the current struggles over healthcare, jobs, the bailout, or any number of issues.

    Does this, then, mean that we must sit and wait for positive change to happen?  What happens in the meantime when Google and China seem to be racing towards the boiling point?  As individuals, who are often left responsible for their own security online, what recourse do we have?

    Unfortunately, these are not questions to which I have an answer.  Like the rest of America, I will be tuning in at 9 PM (EST), and listening intently to see if President Obama mentions the state of US Cyber initiatives, and any plans for the future.  If progress on the issues is made as slowly as progress on the selection of the Cybersecurity Coordinator, it would seem that our cyber future may be bleak.  On the other hand, I truly believe that a concerted national effort, not unlike those that created the Space Program, could produce some very real, very positive, and very impactful results.

    The floor is now yours, Mr. President.  We’re listening.

    This essay originally appeared at Information Space.

    Walking Away, Part 3

    NPR ran a story this morning about a homeowner who is considering walking away from their mortgage because they are so far underwater.  Regular readers will recall my recent entries (here and here) about my feelings on this issue.

    What I found most interesting in today’s NPR piece is not that the bank’s renegotiation of the mortgage includes a $107,000 balloon payment (though it does), or that the new terms of the mortgage are more favorable on paper (40 years @ 2%).  What I found most interesting is that the person the bank referred NPR to for comment, Mr. Scott Talbott, Senior Vice President of Governmental Affairs at the Financial Services Roundtable, had to say about this particular homeowners obligation:

    Talbott says that homeowners who get modifications have an obligation to stay — and pay.

    “The borrowers have signed a contract,” he said. “They have signed a promissory note, which says, ‘I promise to repay.’ So in addition to a legal obligation, you can argue there’s a moral obligation to repay.”

    Fortunately, University of Arizona Professor Brent White was quick to point out that this is not exactly the case.  You may recall Prof. White as being mentioned here before, as he has become the face of the non-morality argument for walking away.  He responds:

    “A contract is not a moral document, it’s a legal document,” White said. “So all this language about moral obligation and contractual obligations rest upon homeowners not knowing what a contract is.”

    In reality, these contracts are built with clauses that define the course of action should the homeowner walkaway (essentially a default).  These are known by both parties, and agreed upon, when they initially enter the agreement.  There’s no trick, no subterfuge, and nothing untoward – it’s simply business.

    However, there may be consequences, as Mr. Talbott from the Financial Services Roundtable reminds us:

    walking away from a mortgage would bring down the Salters’ [the homeowner] credit rating. And, he says, if everyone did it, home values would go down even more.

    Both of these consequences seem appropriate for the situation – especially the reduction in value of other homes.  That’s the point of the market: to adjust the value in accordance with the supply and demand in such a way that the item in question is valued accurately.  If that means that these homes are suddenly “worth less,” it’s not because of the homeowner’s walking away.  It’s because their initial valuation was inflated (through many means, likely) and this adjustment was due.

    There has been much discussion that the integrity of individuals has been on the decline, and that people in previous decades or generations would never have walked away from their home.  While individual integrity may have changed, walking away from your home is not an issue of individual integrity.  It is a business decision.  Those who criticize homeowners for walking away would surely laud a businessman who shed a losing investment or big liability.

    Don’t get me wrong – there are consequences for walking away from a mortgage.  But, there are (usually far worse) consequences for paying on an underwater home for the next 40 years – even if it’s only at a 2% interest rate.  The contract will detail how to handle this situation, should it occur, and following an agreed-upon protocol will see the situation through.

    Ultimately, if individuals act in their own best financial interests, the market and the financial institutions will adjust accordingly.  If that means walking away from an underwater mortgage, so be it.

    If you feel like sharing your feelings on this issue, I suggest you send a note to Mr. Talbott – scott@fsround.org.  I’m sure he’d be glad to hear from you.

    More on Individual Market Freedom

    It appears that the New York Times has finally caught on to what I’ve been saying since December: Homeowners – think like your bank.

    Some homeowners may keep paying because they think it’s immoral to default.

    The problem here, is something called “norm asymmetry.”

    In other words, they think they are obligated to repay their loans even if it is not in their financial interest to do so, while their lenders are free to do whatever maximizes profits. It’s as if borrowers are playing in a poker game in which they are the only ones who think bluffing is unethical.

    One very interesting (dare I say, great?) way to combat this problem is nonrecourse loans.

    That means the mortgage is secured by the home itself; in a default, the lender has no claim on a borrower’s other possessions. Nonrecourse mortgages may be viewed as financial transactions in which the borrower has the explicit option of giving the lender the keys to the house and walking away. Under these circumstances, deciding whether to default might be no more controversial than deciding whether to claim insurance after your house burns down.

    This will serve to keep everyone honest about the transaction taking place.  For the bank, do they feel like they are giving an appropriately sized loan to a person who is adequately likely to repay, for a property that is fairly valued and poised to hold or gain value?  If so, grant the loan.

    For the consumer, they are no longer worried about the extremely negative impacts that could result from these actions today – detrimental notes on their credit reports, legal proceedings (and the associated costs), etc.

    But, these sorts of mortgages do come with a cost – about $800 in closing fees for every $100,000 loaned – a small price to pay, in my opinion.  Will these sorts of things become common?  Not likely any time soon:

    So far, lenders have been reluctant to renegotiate mortgages, and government programs to stimulate renegotiation have not gained much traction.

    So where does this leave the consumer?  Looking out for themselves, as usual.  If you are in this situation, and your financial institution is unwilling to work with you, I would offer that the ethical considerations of walking away should be just about the last thing on your list, if at all.

    Would your bank think twice about foreclosing?

    Digital Literacy – It’s Important! (Seriously)

    This stuff matters.  Really!

    I feel compelled to confront a very serious issue facing the newest members of Planet Earth: digital literacy.  Just as we teach our children to read, teach them manners, and, as best we can, teach them the difference between right and wrong, we must teach our children the ins and outs of navigating our new digital existence.

    NPR ran a very interesting story this weekend about a research lab at the University of Maryland.  The lab, funded by Google, recently released a study about the ways in which children search for information online.  The results may be surprising – not every kid is a computer whiz.  As it turns out,

    There were many children just sat there and watched until they would find the information. As opposed to, hey, couldn’t you do a keyword. Nope, uh-uh. This is what I do. I’ll find it, don’t worry. We had one child swear he was going to find the Vice President’s birthday next year in the Spongebob Squarepants Web site.

    This is not good, people!  As someone who was in charge of learning these skills on their own, I implore all of you to take an active approach to rectifying this situation.

    Let’s be honest about this – people in my generation (ages 22-30, for the sake of discussion) are members of a unique generation that was in charge of bridging this gap on our own, learning the necessary skills as we progressed.  My first computer, a Commodore 64, was a complete mystery to nearly every person of responsibility in my life.  How do you use it?  What can it do?

    My parents certainly couldn’t teach me these sorts of skills.  My mom only recently learned how to send a text message (a major technological achievement, believe me).  So, I did what everyone else my age did – tried different things until I found one that worked reasonably well.  Occasionally, I would share tidbits with friends, or pick something up in a magazine.

    Once the Internet came to my house (which was admittedly late – they just got high speed connections in my neighborhood last year), the floodgates opened.  I could connect with other people who were facing the same problems I was, who knew more than me, and who could speak my language when it came to technology.

    Now, I am in charge of working to pass this torch to those who come after me – we all are.  It’s vitally important that our children grow up knowing how to successfully use technology.  They need to know how to navigate the pitfalls and gold-mines that can be found online, and be made aware of the implications of their online actions.  This is no small task!  Where do we begin?  According to Dr. Allison Druin, director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland, parents

    can be mentors in the sense of trying to motivate a kid to go further and farther.  Also, being able to let kids see how you search and what you do to refine a search.

    This might be a great start, but it’s not nearly enough.  Children need to know where to go to find resources, what kind of things are likely to be found online, and what kinds are not.  For these things, try contacting your local librarian, they are fantastic at these sorts of questions.

    Children also need to be given the skills and knowledge to navigate these online areas, become able to recognize trouble if they see it, and know how to handle things that they might not be familiar with or know what to do when they get in over their heads (hint: ask an adult you trust!).

    If you don’t have any children of your own, that doesn’t mean that you can’t help with this process.  Contact your local library to volunteer, share you skills and knowledge whenever you can.  Do you have a certain area of technology that you’re particularly fluent in?  Be an evangelist for using it correctly, and share what you know – kids talk to their friends, and your positive influence can quickly spread.

    I encourage all of you to become involved in helping the children in your lives learn as much as they can about becoming engaged online citizens – not only does it benefit each individual child, but our society as a whole depends on their ability to function in an online world.

    You can hear the whole NPR story at this link.  And, for the record, this study concluded that girls were more persistent, but less successful, than boys at performing these online searches.  I’m just sayin’.

    This essay appeared originally on the Information Space blog.