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Make blogging safe for kids

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MUMBAI: Kids with their endless curiosity have taken to the internet like fish to water, and they may be getting in way over their heads. This virtual world -- just like its physical counterpart -- has things that are good, things that are a waste of time, and things that are downright dangerous.

"Take blogging, an internet activity that has become all the rage with kids. There is a very good chance that your child has a blog, and that it may contain some fairly shocking personal or made-up content. For example, we are seeing some children creating seductive adult personas, and these fictitious alter egos are matched by predators passing themselves off as kids. It's time to make blogging and online communities safe for kids," said Industrious Kid founder and CEO Jeanette Symons.

Lacking such places, kids eagerly seize free space and blog-building tools and publish their online diaries -- web logs, or "blogs" -- on sites such as MySpace.com and LiveJournal. These sites are intended for adults and are full of adult content, but that just adds to their attraction. Kids can simply lie to get around the age restrictions, and studies show that many do.

There are already millions of kid-authored blogs today as baby bloggers try to one-up each other and make their individual creations stand out from the crowd. The password protection feature makes it seem like access to their blogs is quite limited, but in reality the kids are baring their souls and personal information to the world.

Technology entrepreneurs like Symons are working with educators to make blogging safe for kids. They are creating blogging domains that combine strong protective measures and controls with the kind of content, applications, and dynamics that make the environment compelling and exciting to kids.

The details for such kid-friendly, parent-approved blogging environments are still being hammered out, but experts have identified three key ingredients:

Strongly authenticated access that creates a controlled ecosystem through identification of users, which weeds out the undesirable elements and limits the scope of publishing.

Powerful tools for parental monitoring and control of the "who, what's and how often's" of their children's activities.

Dynamic age-appropriate content and applications to interest and stimulate the audience.

Many people simply want to ban blogging for kids, but it actually has many positive aspects. Instead of yakking on the phone or meeting at the mall, children online are creating something, expressing themselves in new ways, communicating with the written word, and becoming computer- and Internet-savvy -- all important skills that have much broader applications.

"We can't stuff the online Genie back in the bottle," said Symons. "The digital landscape with all its faults is a permanent backdrop to our kids' lives. We need to engage this new reality and create on online environment that is not only safe and constructive, but a place where our children simply want to be."

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