Expedition Through Kid Virtual Worlds Continues

In case you missed previous posts about it or the little badge down there on the bottom right of this site, I also contribute to the This Mommy Gig blog. I connected with the site’s founder on Twitter and found that I shared similar attitudes about motherhood with her and the other founding contributors; so, was happy to take them up on an invitation to join.

Lately, I’ve been working on a series of posts there reviewing kid-targeted virtual worlds. The latest one comes after my girl and I spent a few hours this weekend exploring Disney’s new Pixie Hollow. Here’s an excerpt:

“…And if all that cross-promotion wasn’t enough, the real jewels in the crown in my opinion are the toys. Sure there have been Disney Fairies toys for a while, but the dolls my girl had already collected are nothing like these new Fairies toys. I’d heard Steve Parkis mention them at his Virtual Worlds Expo keynote and was most amazed at the scenario he painted where two girls could meet on the playground, touch their bracelets together and then go home to find their virtual Fairies already connected in-world…”

You can read the full story at ThisMommyGig.org.

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The Girl Effect in Uganda and Tanzania

On October 15, Blog Action Day, more than 12,000 bloggers banded together to discuss the issue of poverty. It was so nice to receive the following e-mail update after my own post that day, that I wanted to share it with you all:

Dear Laura,

Thank you so much for your gift of $50 as well as your recent blog post about BRAC’s initiative with the Girl Effect. We appreciate your support of our work and your desire to alleviate poverty and empower the poor.

The incredible support we’ve gotten for our programs to empower young girls has already enabled BRAC to set up 36 clubs in Uganda, reaching nearly 800 girls and providing them with the training and support they need to improve their lives and their communities. I’ve attached a photo from one of the meetings of the clubs in Uganda, where the girls try to teach Country Manager Arif Islam some new dance moves!

BRAC Girls in Uganda

Now, we’re piloting the same initiative in Tanzania, and I invite you to take a look at our project on Global Giving.

Together we strive towards a common mission: to end absolute poverty in Africa and Asia, through holistic development programs carried out by BRAC, the largest non-profit in the world. BRAC focuses on microfinance, health, education, and social justice, and is the world’s first international development organization initiated and led by people from the developing world with solidarity and support from the developed world.

Best wishes,

Susan Davis

BRAC USA, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. All contributions are tax deductible as allowed by the IRS. No goods, services or benefits were provided to the donor in conjunction with this donation.


11 East 44th St., Suite 1600

New York, NY 10017

Tel: 212-808-5615
Fax: 212-808-0203

Website: www.brac.net/usa

BRAC Blog: blog4brac.blogspot.com

You Tube: www.youtube.com/user/bracusa1

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Social Media Press Releases Gone Wild

Let me start this post off with a reminder that this blog is simply a repository of my own personal, random thoughts.  That said, here goes.


The social media press release is out of control. In the hands of public relations practitioners (and agencies that cater to them) who do not really understand online communication, much less the new social media elements of it, it’s like a first-year college student on spring break – engaging in excess with no real direction in life.

Sprung up out of the churn behind Tom Foremski’s “Die! Press Release! Die! Die! Die!” diatribe back in February of 2006, it has morphed two years later into a full-blown product microsite aimed more at the masses than at mainstream news media or even the bloggers it was intended to embrace. There’s nothing wrong with microsites, we’ve been using them for years to market products or provide an online presence to a particular issue or campaign. However, they are not press releases and they don’t serve the same purpose.

Don’t get me wrong here. If you know me, you know I’m absolutely a fangirl of social media and I champion its use in online communication. I agree with people like Brian Solis that social media is vital for the marketing, communications and public relations professions. I thank pioneers in the field such as Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz (fellow ABCs) for introducing me to much of it. I want more of my colleagues to embrace the new tools, but to not lose their ultimate goal in all the sexiness of them.

However, I believe that rather than asking for more flair or pizzazz in a press release, the heart of what Foremski was asking for was simplification. Take off the spin and the fluff and give journalists and bloggers easy access to the facts and multimedia elements they need to craft their own stories. I think IABC does a good job of sticking with Todd Defren’s original focus with their SMPRs and am proud to see them taking a leadership position on the topic.

Equally as upsetting as the SMPR gone wild is the other side of this “if I call it a social media press release then it is one” thought process that I’ve witnessed. In this case, PR pros equate a social media press release to a less important press release – it’s not big news, but they want to say something about it, so they use a wire service’s “enhanced” distribution channel but incorporate no social-media-friendly elements in it. No photos. No videos. No blog or podcast links.

I can cut these people some slack because I know where they’re coming from. When we attended school, most likely earning journalism or similar liberal arts degrees, there was no YouTube or Flickr. The words blog and podcast didn’t even exist in our vernacular. The Internet itself was still not available to the general public and the first web browser didn’t even exist when I graduated in 1992!

However, it’s not that hard to learn. Plenty of groups like IABC and PRSA are working hard to educate their members. There is a wealth of good information online such as PBS’ Mark Glaser’s Media Shift blog. And, the real way to learn is to just dive in first-hand. It’s the same advice I give groups when I am introducing them to virtual worlds for the first time – get in there yourself and learn about it before you try to apply it to your organization.

I think there is certainly a place for the content coming out in these new sites companies are building that integrate social media elements. And there’s also still a place for the ultra simple press release to announce news. But, please, don’t call either of them a social media press release.

And maybe there is the root of the issue, really. Simple semantics.

“What is in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” – Romeo & Juliet by Shakespeare

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Help a Girl Out (of Poverty)

Poverty is bad. How’s that for over-simplification of a complex issue?

But, poverty’s impact is felt even harder by girls. What do I mean? Take a moment to let these tidbits sink in:

  • Approximately one-quarter of girls in developing countries are not in school. (Cynthia B. Lloyd, ed., Growing Up Global: The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries [Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2005].)
  • In Nicaragua, 45 percent of girls with no schooling are married before age 18 versus only 16 percent of their educated counterparts. In Mozambique, the figures are 60 percent versus 10; in Senegal, 41 percent versus 6. (International Center for Research on Women, Too Young to Wed: Education & Action Toward Ending Child Marriage, http://www.icrw.org/docs/2006_cmtoolkit/cm_all.pdf [2007].
  • Medical complications from pregnancy are the leading cause of death among girls ages 15 to 19 worldwide. (United Nations Children’s Fund, Equality, Development and Peace, http://www.unicef.org/publications/files/pub_equality_en.pdf [New York: UNICEF, 2000], 19.
  • 75 percent of 15- to 24-year-olds living with HIV in Africa are female, up from 62 percent in 2001. (Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, Keeping the Promise: An Agenda for Action on Women and AIDS, http://data.unaids.org/pub/Booklet/2006/20060530_FS_Keeping_Promise_en.pdf [2006a].)
  • The total global population of girls ages 10 to 24—already the largest in history—is expected to peak in the next decade. (Ruth Levine et al., Girls Count: A Global Investment & Action Agenda [Washington, D.C.: Center for Global Development, 2008].)

Now, watch this video. Really. Do it before you read more.

Then, just a couple of more facts to chew on:

  • An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent. An extra year of secondary school: 15 to 25 percent. (George Psacharopoulos and Harry Anthony Patrinos, “Returns to Investment in Education: A Further Update,” Policy Research Working Paper 2881 [Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2002].)
  • When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man. (Phil Borges, with foreword by Madeleine Albright, Women Empowered: Inspiring Change in the Emerging World [New York: Rizzoli, 2007], 13.)

So what is one person like you or I supposed to do to impact that? The Girl Effect campaign directs us to some great resources, including globalgiving. Globalgiving connects you to more than 450 pre-screened grassroots charity projects around the world. You can feel confident that your money is being put to good use because projects on globalgiving undergo compliance checks to ensure they have a bona fide charitable purpose and meet applicable laws relating to international philanthropy (sort of like giving through United Way). The organization also has some interesting volunteer opportunities for writers, photographers and web developers.

BRAC is “one of the pioneering implementers of the Girl Effect” and an organization nearly as old as myself founded in Bangladesh in 1972. Its focus is on long-term sustainable poverty reduction and BRAC reaches more than 110 million people with their development interventions in Asia and Africa. Their newest project in Uganda and Tanzania provides safe spaces, informal education and micro loans to girls, which will help them lead confident, self-reliant and dignified lives. As little as a $50 donation to BRAC could provide a loan for a girl to start a business of her own, so that was my first contribution today.

Then I contemplated the work of several local bloggers today who are focusing on poverty in Austin – should I be following the Think Global, Act Local style of participation and look for a volunteer opportunity in my home town? Or do I worry less about acts of volunteerism and more about the city’s I live here, I give here campaign?

In the end, I think I have to do a little of both. So, I also made a donation to the Capital Area Food Bank where every $5 donated provides $20 worth of nutritious food to Central Texas families; and, I enlisted my own girl to participate in their “Hunger is Unacceptable” meme:

Hunger is Unacceptable

It was a great opportunity to initiate a conversation with her about just what poverty is, but I’m not sure it really sunk into her 6-year-old brain. So, I’m also going to look into some of the volunteer opportunities at Mobile Loaves and Fishes that we can do together to help make it real for her.

Hopefully, it will be the start of our own Girl Effect.

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I Want a Fact Checker

These days we most often hear reference to fact checkers in regards to the U.S. presidential election. After every debate, the major news networks and newspapers have their cadre of fact checkers hard at work to see if the things each candidate said ring true.

But, the fact checker I want is the one I learned about during my days at the J-School at LSU. This fact checker researches the stories set to be published in periodicals such as The New Yorker where this entry-level job is apparently considered prestigious. And, not only do I want one, I think everyone who blogs should get one (even though it will probably mean hiring ourselves for the position).

This is not said as a rant about irresponsible, inaccurate blogging. And I’ll not dip my toe into the debate about whether or not a blogger is a journalist. No, this is simply a little story I share in the hopes that it reminds anyone reading it who also blogs that it is important to make sure we get things right.

I was working on my next post for ThisMommyGig.com. It is the fourth in a series of reviews of kid-focused virtual worlds. It was pretty much wrapped up and ready to go when I started surfing for some links to add to back up points I’d made. That led me to find out that one main assumption I had – that you had to be a paid subscriber to get full access to this latest world I was reviewing – was totally wrong.

Turns out, there is no charge while they are in their beta launch period. When I had seen that there were two levels of membership, I just assumed the higher level cost money because that is similar to the subscription-based model other kid worlds use. In this instance, however, the upper level simply was one that required the children’s parents to create an account of their own and verify that their children were indeed permitted to access the world.

Wow! That totally changed a large portion of what I had written about this world called Dinokids. Instead of pay-for-play it was free. And, not only that, but they have additional parental involvement and controls that had not been visible to me before – something my review readers should definitely be told about so they can take full advantage.

Now, I’ve got to go back and rework a large portion of what I’d written. It’s more work, and my post will be later than anticipated, but going out with such inaccurate information could have been very detrimental to this new virtual world just getting its start.

I won’t flatter myself into thinking that I’ve got tons of people ready my material, but I do know the long life of anything that is published on the web and the long reach of Google’s spiders. Someone asked by their child to let them join Dinokids is very likely to Google it before giving an answer and my inaccuracies would have influenced their decision.

So, I’m just putting this out there for the record and as a reminder to other bloggers: Just because we don’t work for The New Yorker doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take the time to get our facts straight.

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What I Blog About

In getting ready for Blog Action Day coming up next week, I noticed that while they ask everyone to blog about poverty, they also say: “We ask bloggers to try to keep their posting related to their regular blog topic so that posts are individual, suited to their audience and look at the issue in many different lights.”

That got me to wondering. What is my regular blog topic? I tend to ramble on about whatever strikes my fancy, so there really is no particular theme to this blog. It’s just the place to talk about things in a longer form than I can in my usual twittering. But, I hopped over to Wordle.net to see what my “word cloud” would indicate I blog about.

Here’s a look (click on the image to make it larger):

They say the size of words in your Wordle is proportional to the number of times the word appears in the input text, but I’m not so sure. Seems to me (based on having done a few of these over time between different posts) that how recently a word is used must have some impact. Because, I mean, did I really say “challenged” that many times in the last post?

To see what I mean, compare today’s Wordle above, with this one from August 28:

So, I still don’t feel like I’ve got a grasp on just what my blog topic really is – do you?
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