Religion more popular than auctions, banking, and other activities online
Churches and religious folk use the Web. Shocking, isn't it? That people that believe in such backward concepts as an omniscient, omnipresent God, a Virgin Birth, and the resurrection of Jesus would use computers? You'd think so from the way some media have been reporting a recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project. It shouldn't come as a surprise that churches—like everything else in America—are creating Web sites and using e-mail to make their presence known and to communicate with members. But there are still some interesting findings: 21 percent of Web users have looked for spiritual or religious information online, which is more than the 18 percent that have banked online or the 15 percent who've bought, sold, or bid in an online auction. But the latter two have received a lot more press than e-religion. One interesting note is how project director Lee Rainie explained the simplicity of church sites to various media—duplicating as few words as possible and tailoring each to the tone of the publication. To the Associated Press, he's short, sweet and to the point: "It's pretty simple stuff. It's not real fancy, but it helps them stay connected with each other and extend their good works into the world." To the San Francisco Chronicle, whose Silicon Valley readership is going to be snootier than most, he sticks his nose a little higher in the air: "These are pretty elementary sites for the most part. They're not fancy and full of graphics, but in their simple way, they seem to matter to these faith institutions." And to the populist USA Today, he speaks the language of the people: "These aren't whiz-bang, Star Wars-type extravaganzas. They're real meat-and-potatoes sites." Actually, it's USA Today that probably does the best follow-up reporting. Reporter Leslie Miller also talked to the folks over at Internet ratings site Media Metrix, who note that if people are visiting religion sites, they're not all going to the same place. "These are still very much niche resources," measurement analyst Anne Rickert says. "None of these sites approach the visitor numbers you'll see on major portals, search engines, retail or Web service sites. That isn't to say they aren't important for a number of people." She notes that the most-visited religion site is still only the 1,565th most popular online. USA Today dutifully runs a list of Media Metrix's most popular religion sites, but it's a strange list. The Christian Science Monitor? Wouldn't that be better considered a newspaper site? Geneology site is run by the Mormons, but it's pretty religion-free in itself. And amateurish wolf-centric really gets more unique visitors than Something's awfully fishy about those numbers ...

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Filtering is now mandatory for libraries and schools, but fight is far from over
Congress passed—and Clinton signed—a bill requiring all schools and libraries receiving federal funding to install and maintain filtering software on Internet terminals. Institutions that don't install porn filters will lose the government money. As you can imagine, it's pretty controversial. "This is a mandated censorship system by the federal government," said Chris Hansen, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. "No adult anymore can read what they want at the library." (He doesn't have a very high view of adults, does he? Weblog thought all those adults in the library were actually reading legitimate books and magazines, but apparently all that's a cover for pornhounds.) The ACLU plans to sue. The ACLJ tells them to go ahead and try. Conservative religious groups pretty much applauded. Liberal free speech groups pretty much complained. The New York Times noted that filtering software companies can expect a windfall, but also a lot of controversy. But one of the more interesting pieces came from BostonGlobe columnist Hiawatha Bray, who was going to write a column denouncing the new law, but ended up not so sure. "I can repeat the usual cliches about narrow-minded prudes and the sacred right of free expression," he writes. "My problem is, I can't help thinking. I imagine my two young daughters waiting to use the Internet computer at the library, while some guy in a raincoat amuses himself at the notorious ... I'm dismayed that the federal government wants to dictate policy to every public library in the land. But I'm equally dismayed by the idea that every public library computer must become a free-fire zone for flesh-peddlers."

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