REFLEXIONS ON CYBERSPACE
The Good, The Bad and . . . The Ugly!
By Robert Ross


The Good
Having access to the Internet is like being a kid who's stumbled into a candy store . . . the largest candy store in the world, and everything is marked "free!" Whatever you can think of, it's probably there, on the net, just a mouse click away. So what is it about the Internet that makes it so appealing? Well, if you're a kid (or a kid at heart) the adventure of the Internet is as alluring as our fictional candy store. Fun, excitement, and learning . . . all at your fingertips.

Let's take a quick trip. A good jumping off point for parents and kids is www.surfnetkids.com . This is an exemplary site with links (and reviews) on everything from ecology games (like the EPA's DumpTown game at www.epa.gov/recyclecity/gameintro.htm ) to kite making instructions 
( www.surfnetkids.com/kites.htm ). And, from "Surfnetkids" you'll be able to link to hundreds of other sites that are fun and educational; sites that'll keep the kids in your house busy for hours. There's even an Internet site on candy making for kids! ( www.Kidscandy.org/index.html   )

For the computer savvy (a.k.a. big kids), a few must-visit sites are www.Shareware.com  where you will have access to more than 250,000 files, all available for free "trial runs" to help you decide if there's something you want to purchase. Programs like Paint Shop Pro and McAfee's Anti Virus programs are free, usually for a thirty-day trial period. Another similar site is www.Freeware.com . The software programs here are all free for the downloading. And, for one of the best sites on the web, with hundreds of articles on the environment, health and personal growth, don't forget Awareness Magazine's Web Page at www.-awarenessmag.com. Whatever your interests, from traveling to cooking, you'll find an abundance of Web sites with information and like-minded individuals with whom to exchange ideas.

The Bad
The bad? How do you find all of this good stuff? Well, there are currently six popular search engines which dominate the field: Yahoo, Lycos, Web Crawler, Excite, Infoseek and HotBot. Each search engine does a keyword search against a database. Lycos is one of the largest search tools on the Internet covering sixty million plus web pages. I've had excellent results using HotBot, where you can tell the search engine to place more emphasis on a specific term. You can also search by educational institutions (edu) or countries (e.g., uk). HotBot also allows for the use date searches. For example, if you were looking for articles that were posted within the last six months on a particular subject, just plug it in and let HotBot do the rest.

The Ugly
So there you are with your eight-year-old having the time of your life and you, or your eight-year-old types in the word kids in a search engine, (sounds innocent enough, right?) you click the mouse button and within seconds your looking at . . . kids, but this time, it's child pornography. And that is . . . the ugly side of the Internet.

Without a doubt, the underbelly of the Internet, is the instantaneous access to sleeze. You, or your kids, or your classroom (if you're an instructor) are always one click away from some really foul material. Whether or not sleeze should be allowed on the net is a debate that is going to heat up over next few years.

Fortunately, a number of software programs available can help you "block" accessing these inappropriate sites. Two of these parental control software programs are CyberPatrol www.Cyberpatrol.com  ($29.95), and CyberSitter ($39.00) from www.solidoak.com   . If you have children or teach a class in which the Internet is available for student use, these programs are worth investigating. In the absence of a blocking software, there is the Yahooligans Search Engine. This search engine is designed specifically for kids  
( www.yahooligans.com ). Also, there are a number of organizations which are involved in monitoring the net. You might want to visit Cyberangels 
( www.cyberangels.com ) for further information.

The Internet is in its infancy, and one can only wonder what the future holds. In the meantime, have fun, but be wary, there is the "sleeze factor" on the Net.

Well . . . it's time for me to continue my in-depth research. I think I'll start with that candy making Web site. After all, how can I make a true evaluation of the site without testing some of the recipes!

If you've discovered some real "finds" using the Internet, e-mail me at  SanDiegoRoss@Yahoo.com  and I'll share your tips in future columns.

 Copyright 1998 by Robert Ross, all rights reserved


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