I haven’t done this in a while – written about products and services – so here’s the caveat up front: These are not product reviews or tests; they’re meant to spotlight options for parents to consider and trends in youth tech.
1. Safe playgrounds for kids
It’s like there’s a “walled garden” trend afoot! Four of these services – three new ones and one tried and true – immediately come to mind. The one caveat about typical kids’ safe playgrounds is that they’re a lot more about consuming than producing media – in other words, pretty Web 1.0. Kidzui and Glubble are exceptions, you’ll see. Though we want children to learn safe, constructive surfing and searching, kids’ browsers are only one tool in the online-safety toolkit. Kids also need training wheels for constructive media-producing and -sharing in the very user-driven online environment they’re growing up in. It’s really a blend of 1) safe browsing, 2) civil and mindful play (virtual worlds, multiplayer gaming, etc.) and communications (phone texting, IMing, etc.), and 3) engaged parenting that foster kid-parent communication and therefore safe use of technology. So here are some creatively created walled gardens:
If not already, Kidzui social-networking features will be available starting this Monday, 10/13. They include the Zui avatar kid members create and customize to represent them in the service; profile pages that members can customize; member-created “channels” for the photos, videos, and sites they pick (KidZui lets kids see what members’ collective top picks are); and a mini newsfeed like its big brother on Facebook (allows member to keep up on each other’s moods, opinions, and personal news).
Parents can receive emails showing where their kids are spending time on this walled-off part of the Web. They can also choose to have kids locked into Kidzui (in “full-screen mode” that requires a password to use other software on the computer) or to have is as an option kids go into on a computer the whole family uses. Kidzui says “all friend requests are subject to mutual parent approval.”
The idea behind the kids’ section is that they learn how to surf, search, and chat only in this closed environment, unable to stumble upon any inappropriate content or contacts out on the Internet, and only with family members (they’re locked into Glubble by default, behind a password the parent has as account admin). There’s a monitoring tool for parents – not for spying but for the purpose of learning about their kids’ interests and browsing patterns. Aimed at an online/offline balance in children’s lives, Glubble also has non-Web content for kitchen-table activities such as printable pictures and cut-outs called “gotchas” for coloring and kid origami.
2. New social sites and virtual worlds
This is certainly not a comprehensive list (something more like that can be found at Virtual Worlds Management). You might call them a representative sample of new kids on the social-Web block:
Meanwhile, more and more teens are creating their *own* social-networking sites, their own mini MySpaces and Facebooks, at Ning.com, and new youth virtual worlds have mini apps that connect worlds to existing friends lists in MySpace and Facebook. As for some things to watch out for in virtual worlds, see also “Top 8 workarounds of kid virtual-world users.”
Comments from readers on their own experiences with these products and services are most welcome (via anne[at]netfamilynews.org or the ConnectSafely forum