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Companies Scare Parents, not Social Media

After talking with parents over the summer, I am compelled to unequivocally state the following:

Social media companies expose your kids to risk by choice, not necessity.

The data-grabbing, tracking, voyeuristic apps that kids flock to are implemented that way because the company chose to build their app that way.   I was dumbfounded the first time I saw a parent react to that statement, they were shocked and then kind of disgusted.

KevinAva_July2017

I, as the builder of iXMessage Social Media, decided how to implement the social networking piece. People often lump social media and social networking together.  I don’t.  Social media to me is sharing photos, messages or an instant video clip from a vacation, or writing a blog.  All this in the context of fun.  In other words, sharing media can be just a fun engagement with the world.

When I think of social networking, I see the dark side of technology.   I see the data confiscation, tracking, commercialization, and branding, poking, friend-ing, searching, liking, the potential for bullying, and the stalkers and the predators.  This behavior is now endemic to the social media landscape because that is how companies chose to use the technology available to any and every app builder.

I left all this out of iXMessage, except friend-ing, but even that is within the boundary of the trusted-environmentTM.  This is the commitment I made.  It is kind of an old fashioned commitment.  You, the customer, buy my product and you get just the product.  There is a boundary around around it and you can trust the company.  I’m not doing anything in the dark, behind the scenes.

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Other social media apps may be free, but at a huge cost to privacy, public exposure on the Internet, and the ever-present threat of frightening incidents perpetrated by strangers.  

I am hoping that parents  look at iXMessage as something more valuable that just another messaging app, late to the game.  A friend of mine defined the current landscape as

“…they say use my product for free, but [wash their hands] of any moral responsibility…”

I think existing apps proved there is a messaging market with girls, which is valuable.  Girls have definitely appropriated messaging.  Just like boys appropriated gaming in the 1980’s and 90’s, except boys grew into wanting to make games so they pursued computer science degrees.  Education and industry leaders attempted to interest girls in gaming, it didn’t work.   iXMessage takes messaging, the space girls have appropriated, and within that space, quietly steers them toward the idea of being builders.

My niece Amy said about iXMessage,

“…it’s more than text in a black box…”

The corporate commitment from iExchange Software is to deliver social media and social networking within the trusted-environmentTM,  along with creating a space where girls think of themselves as builders, not just consumers, of technology.

 

 

 

AppReview, Discussion

From Barbie to Mortal Kombat

I was never a gamer.  No interest at all.  The closest I’ve gotten to liking games is playing Wii with my 6 year old nephew.  We were competing in a dirt bike race through the mountains.  That was fun, but only because he was so silly about it.

The very first incarnation of iXMessage was back in 1995, when Sun Microsystejavams held a coding contest for it’s new coding platform, Java.  The Java version I used to submit my app was the very first version called Personal Java.  What was clear to everyone who jump on this train was that the Internet, and companies like Sun, were providing a way to circumvent the power of the technology giants.  The ones who were preventing innovation.

Shortly after that I began researching the issue of girls in technology.  At that time, the collaboration of industry, scientists, feminists, and educators focused on video gaming and how it affected girls and their relationship to technology.  Reading the Code Studio mission statement  in my previous post, reminded me of the following.

barbieKombat“…The game console may help to prepare children for participation in the digital world, but at the same time it socializes boys into misogyny and excludes girls from all but the most objectified positions. The new “girls’ games” movement has addressed these concerns. Although many people associate video games mainly with boys, the girls games’ movement has emerged from an unusual alliance between feminist activists (who want to change the “gendering” of digital technology) and industry leaders (who want to create a girls’ market for their games)…” – From Barbie to Mortal Kombat, Gender and Computer Games, by Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins, published 1998.

This wave of action dived into the issues of the gaming culture, and other crucial issues around girls and technology.  My digging lead me to Seymour Papert and constructionism.

“Constructionism shares constructivism’s connotation of learning as ‘building knowledge structures’ irrespective of the circumstances of the learning. It then adds the idea that this happens especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity, whether it’s a sand castle on the beach or a theory of the universe.”

The context Papert describes here explained what I was seeing early on.   My coworkers would ask me to visit with their daughters for Take Your Daughter to Work Day, at IBM. At first I had no idea what to do, but then instinct kicked in.  I walked my first visitor through a coding session using my tools, as fast as possible, before she got bored, and managed to get her to run her program.  It popped up a big box with a phrase she had selected.  I saw it in her reaction, she thought this was cool.

If I rework Seymour Papert’s statement above for the iXMessage Social Media Platform, I get this:

“iXMessage Social Media Platform is a way for girls to learn about programming by building small applications that look like messages they send to their friends, and their friends send back.”

My hope is that the “context where the learner is consciously engaged” is the iXMessage Social Media Platform, where the “public entity” is iXMessage, and this is how we plant the first ideas that girls can build things with technology, not just buy.

AppReview

Code Studio

The other day I ended up on Code Studio, at code.org.  This relatively new community provides online Computer Science learning for ages 4-18.  The organization is exploring which large-scale classroom interventions might encourage girls to pursue STEM related studies.

Applause.

The organization is sponsored by large technology companies, and some of the activities are branded.

Hmmmm.  Is branding necessary?

“…Code.org® is a non-profit dedicated to expanding access to computer science, and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities. Our vision is that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn computer science, just like biology, chemistry or algebra…”

Applause.

I was never a gamer, but I thought it would be good to see what is going on with Code Studio. I tried Course 1, for ages 4-6.  I picked this age because I’m preparing to execute a case study for iXMessage for girls this same age.  Here’s how it went.

I am now on the fifth straight page of matching image blocks to a full picture. There are three image blocks, and you have to drag each block over to the matching spot in the full picture.  Matching the images gets slightly harder as you go through these puzzles, then gets easier. So in 9 tries, assuming no repeats, success.

On the eighth set, I purposely put the blocks in the wrong order and clicked next. The application reordered them for me, then played a “ta-da” sound as if I got them correct. So I get a ta’da’ when I get it right, or wrong, and other times I get the “ta-da” when I click next.

Oh no, the dashboard is showing that I’m not even half way through this course.
For the next puzzle, I didn’t move anything and just clicked the next button.  Yikes! A really ominous female voice thundered “Arrange the blocks to form the image”.  I can think of 10 ways to make that user experience not scare kids.

Next…

Hold on, a new challenge.

The images are now magnetic, so to speak. I have to separate them, then try to drag them to the main staging area. There is also a force field for a certain distance. If I drag within a certain space of another block, they click together and I have to stop to separate them out before dragging them to the full picture.

All of the above is supposed to teach drag and drop.  Are we sure the kids didn’t get the drag and drop concept 7 screens ago?

Puzzle 11 was odd.  The placement completely relied on color first, then order, but not shape exactly. The last piece changed it’s size automatically before the ta’da’.

Ok, moving onto the next activity.

Cool, there is a 5 year old girl giving me instructions, fun and friendly.  This activity is called Maze.  There is a matrix, with a bird sitting in a block.  You have to move the bird to a destination by picking a set of arrows – up, down, left, right. This activity has more sound queues, it’s fun, and the characters change expressions.  It has a bomb blowing up visual and sound queue when the bird moves to an incorrect block.  I’m not sure that’s a good idea.  Did women design this puzzle, and did they really want the event queues to include bombs blowing up?

The arrow blocks have NSEW on them.  Why is the visual up/down/left/right being associated with NSEW?  This bothers me because it wrongly correlates Up to North. I learned orienteering while living in Colorado, and this distinction could save lives when you are in the back country. Navigating by compass is a nuanced skill. Up is up, not necessarily North, when you are in the woods.  The dashboard also shows “All-time total: 36 lines of code”.  This seems kind of harsh, and competitive.

Once you select your set of arrows, you click Run.  I appreciate the use of Run instead of Go, because that’s a coding concept,  but it feels like it should be Go.  The system tells you that “You just wrote 2 lines of code”.

Does picking arrow images correlate to coding, and does that resonate with kids? I’ll leave that to the experts.  Kids probably just want the bird to move.

I know I have an inherent disinterest in games, so maybe that’s why I don’t get the point of the associations made in the Maze game.

Oh no, the next exercise is dragging blocks again.  I’m done.

Intellectually, I recognize that there is nuanced, educational expertise behind how this activity functions.  But, I have to believe kids get bored with page after page of basically the same puzzle.  I do not see how this can lead to kids, especially girls, to make a connection with technology as builders.

Discussion

“Playing Data Privacy is a Team Sport”

I recently added a quote to the front page of my blog from an article posted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).  I was so astounded when I saw it.

“…Protecting digital privacy is a job no one can do alone. While there are many steps you can take to protect your own privacy, the real protection comes when we recognize that privacy is a team sport…”1

It is my pleasure to introduce the EFF to those who haven’t heard yet.  I was working in the Silicon Valley after college when EFF started, so I cannot actually remember life before them.  I grew up in a union town, and I sensed that EFF was important, but I didn’t fully understand the vision behind an organization that intended to “…work to ensure that rights and freedoms are enhanced and protected as our use of technology grows.”  It wasn’t until around 1995 that I realized the Internet would level the playing field for people with ideas.  They actually now had a route to making their dreams a reality.

The article, “FOR DATA PRIVACY DAY, PLAY PRIVACY AS A TEAM SPORT”1, a commentary by Geenie Gebhart, January 27, 2017, describes how end-to-end encryption works, along with the bigger issues around whether or not your community is using it.

“…don’t just change your back-up settings to prevent unencrypted cloud storage of your messages. Talk to your contacts about changing their settings, too. If any one participant in a conversation has cloud back-ups turned on, then copies of your conversations with them will be stored in the cloud unencrypted…”, Gebhart writes.

As the article outlines, the team sport applies to the emails we share, how we all use encryption, how we resist tracking by all using Privacy Badger, how we use social media together, and how we manage community activism.

In 2012, it was discovered that Apple Apps were not asking permission before uploading a user’s entire address book to it’s cloud server.  The LinkedIn mobile app was also gathering and sending calendar and meeting notes to it’s cloud server without notifying users explicitly, the transmissions were in plain text, and were used to synchronize connections or possible connections between users. 2,3

Last month, TheIntercept writer Sam Biddle exposed Uber’s use of data, which it bought from Unroll.me, to “gauge the health of archrival Lyft”.4 Unroll.me is a service people might use to manage unwanted email, but it’s selling user data to advertisers without users knowing.
After reading through Sam Biddle’s article, and looking at the related links like the Slice Intelligence Blog, I agree with the following statement regarding the founder of Unroll.me:

“…If your privacy were important to Jojo Hedaya, the contents of your email, even if anonymized, would not be for sale. Were he ever serious about keeping your inbox private, an apology blog wouldn’t have been needed to begin with…”4

iExchange Software has a built-in countermeasure to the issues described above for it’s iXMessage Social Media Platform.  The iExchange company mission subscribes to the “Team Sport” concept already by breaking away from the established norms of social media.

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Socializing online does not require the exposure outlined on the right side of this image.  iExchange Software has chosen to architect a trusted environment for girls to socialize with when using the iXMessage app.

As parents, using iXMessage and asking your family and community to use it as well, is a joint commitment to “Play Privacy as a Team Sport”.

1FOR DATA PRIVACY DAY, PLAY PRIVACY AS A TEAM SPORT, commentary by Geenie Gebhart, January 27, 2017
2Apple Requires User Permission Before Apps Can Access Personal Data in iOS 6,  Jordan Golson, June 14, 2012
3LinkedIn’s iOS app collects and transmits names, emails and notes from your calendar, in plain text,  by — Jun 5, 2012 in INSIDER
4STOP USING UNROLL.ME, RIGHT NOW. IT SOLD YOUR DATA TO UBER., by Sam Biddle April 24 2017

Uncategorized

Build not Buy

I’ve been asked many times in the last month “Why?”. Why am I doing this? I initially wanted to spout out all the functionality and features that iXMessage has, or will do, and how I think girls will love it. I got a little frustrated, before realizing I was doing a sales pitch, a boring one. And a bad one.

Pontificating on the features of iXMessage is not why I’ve build the platform, nor is it why I’ve been holding onto this project for most of my career, trying to get it to some version of done. I’ve been interrupted, disrupted, and self-defeating many more times than I care to admit. I would like to explore this question of why iXMessage, by first talking about why I’m writing this blog.

My niece, Heather, texted me a few weeks ago. She texted me, did not call. She was over-the-top excited about doing a blog and wanted me to help her set one up. Of course I would help her. Her teachers invited a professional blogger to present the business of blogging to her class. This idea really appealed to Heather as she has many talents and interests and wants to talk about them and help others learn to do things.

Who helped who here?

I never thought I’d ever need or want to blog about anything. The lightbulb went on, however, and I decided to create this iXMessage blog. I then re-discovered a video clip from a small design session I had 3 years ago with my two tween-age nieces, their neighbor friend, and my brother as “the parent”. During this session Heather just tossed out the idea for a blog feature for iXMessage, like it’s the most natural thing in the world. She explained why it would be a good feature, as well. This was three years ago, she doesn’t even remember it. I’ve since added the blog feature to iXMessage. So I’ve experienced this life-cycle of my 10-year old niece identifying a blog feature for a product I’m trying to build, forgetting that she even thought of it, then, as a teen with more freedom, she wants to create a blog on her own website for herself, and she also inadvertently gets me going on writing a blog myself.

Girls know what they want.

Core technology is computer languages, frameworks, operating systems, networks, and software design methodology, basically. I’m a coder, I program software, and I design software. I know core technology. I do not profess to be an expert in anything, but I know enough to have built the iXMessage Platform. I took my idea from 20 some years ago and built it, changed it, rewrote it a few times, and finally landed on what it is now.

My experience as a coder is not – NOT – represented in the public perception of what being a coder means. The stereotypes, sadly, have persisted, even to the point of sexism around pay and advancement in the workplace, and declining numbers of women pursuing careers in computer science.  Knowing core technology allowed me to take breaks throughout my career. I’ve traveled for extended periods of time. I pursued film making at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, lived in the Silicon Valley as well as the beautify mountains of Colorado. It has been a creative and inspiring adventure.

Why did I build the iXMessage Social Media Platform?

Girls deserve a culture that supports choices, not stereotypes. Tween-aged girls, that’s around age 12, that appropriate technology as builders, not just buyers, are more likely to pursue careers in computer science.  Girl coders can build and produce their own ideas without technical roadblocks.  They are the brains.

Core knowledge ultimately affords women more freedom and choice, many creative endeavors, and many, many fun adventures.

Discussion

Text in a Black Box

Text message is something girls definitely love.  They’re social by nature.

My nieces only text me now, rarely will they answer an actual call.  Even if I call them the second I get a text, they usually won’t answer.

I noticed a while back how emojis became a big deal.  They always take the time to use them.

blog_main.png Personalization.Sometimes there is just one, sometimes many.  I started using them, too. The feeling I get with adding the bling is that I’m making the otherwise text-in-a-black-box something fun, or cool, and just mine. The message takes on a uniqueness at that moment, even if the message is “I’ll be there in 10 minutes”.  It feels fun, and light.

Social Media vs. Social Networking vs. Socializing

So basically, on the one hand they want to socialize, but they don’t want to talk on the phone. My first instinct is to think that they’re really not learning verbal interaction skills, but I’ll leave that up to the experts.

I’m curious about the tactile interaction of writing instead of talking.

Social media apps typically force you to share all kinds of personal details, in multiple forms, in a public venue with corporations in the background tracking and using this activity data, as well as personal data, for other things, like ads.  The user-facing part of all these apps are different, but the social media platform underneath is basically the same. Social media as it stands is not designed with girls in mind.  It’s designed for the general public, the broadest audience.

To talk about what girls would like, we first have to think about social media as something separate from social networking.

Uncategorized

Yinz Parents

If you’re not from Pittsburgh, or a Steelers fan, this title might not make sense.  Yinzers, a.k.a. Pittsburgh natives, have their own language.  It’s documented on T-shirts everywhere.  In this title, “Yinz Parents” really means, “All Parents Out There Everywhere”.
I was recently asked how parents find out what’s going on with all these apps that kids seem to find.  How do you keep up? The kids seem to lock into certain apps for a while, then they find something else.  I’m a bit jealous that they actually have the time to hang on social media that much.

PictureAnyway, at issue is the risk of exposure for their kids. When I started looking at apps, ​I myself was shocked at the number of apps where kids can accidentally expose personal information. Along with that, there is the corporation in the background that is collecting data and pushing commercial ads and targeted ads out to kids.

If you as a parent are in this same place, drop me a private note through the contact form, or below in the conversation form.

Tell me what you’re thinking!