Tools & sites aimed at better kid time online

By Anne Collier

There seems to be this firewall between kids’ products that kids like and kids’ products that parents like. It’s rare and amazing when that wall collapses, but I think what helps is when the product, while passing parental muster, is just plain useful to kids.

Kid-friendly online utilities

Children’s Web browser Kidzui meets those criteria – after all, kids need to browse the Web, and a lot of parents want them to do so in a kid-friendly environment. Kidzui is a very large “online playground,” with more than 2 million kid-appropriate sites to browse. I wrote about this and some other great parent-approved services last fall, but now Kidzui has added another kid-friendly utility – one of those social-media tools like Twitter, Facebook, or good o’ email that users of all ages didn’t know they needed till they tried it or till all the VIPs in their lives used it. For kids, the utility is a site for viewing and sharing videos, a very social experience. Kidzui’s is called ZuiTube. ZuiTube claims to have the biggest collection of child-appropriate videos in existence; it doesn’t say how many but that those videos are found in “6,000 channels,” which should keep kids safely entertained for a while. ZuiTube and Kidzui were very briefly reviewed at CNET recently.

2 brand-new social ‘products’: FaceChipz, WonderRotunda.com

One is social, the other educational. FaceChipz may get the nod from tweens partly because it’s very attractively packaged and partly because it’s a rarity: a social site (not a virtual world, which is more common) for people under 13. [If you're under Facebook or MySpace's minimum age (13), and your parents aren't, like many parents, looking the other way where your online social networking's concerned, you have few options; two somewhat similar options are YourSphere.com, which checks parents registering their kids against a sex-offender database, and MySecretCircle.com, which sells accompanying security hardware for $24.99.] For kids, the trick with these products is going to be luring their friends who are, right or wrong, already in Facebook or MySpace into this very closed, safe (in terms of adults gaining access, not necessarily peer harassment) social options with them.

FaceChipz, just launched in beta, describes itself as “Facebook with training wheels.” As its president, George Zaloom, put it in an email, “For the kids, we tried to make the site fun and the chips collectable. For the parents we tried to make the site SAFE and the chips affordable.” The chips themselves come in $4.99 packs of 5 sold at ToysRUs and in the FaceChipz site. Users register the chips online with the code on the back of the chip, then give them to their friends. Once the chip recipient registers its code, giver and receiver are linked and the code becomes invalid for anyone else (so it can’t be used again by anyone creepy). The more chips kids buy, the more friends they can add or points they earn toward virtual goods in the site. After they register, their parents have to verify them so the site complies with the US’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. To verify, all that’s required is a $1 fee paid once by credit card (no proof of guardianship is required).

There’s a brand-new educational virtual world out there, WonderRotunda.com, that may turn out to please both parent and child. It’s a good sign that Washington Post tech writer Mike Musgrove tested it on his eight-year-old, who told his dad, “I think this is educational” but then actually stuck around “to explore the virtual theme park, intrigued by the prospect of winning and spending the game’s ‘wonder dollars’ to buy virtual food and loot with which to decorate his virtual treehouse,” Musgrove writes. He, the 8-year-old, doesn’t care that CommonSenseMedia.org gave the site 5 stars, but another good sign was that eMarketer senior analyst and parent of a 6- and 8-year-old really liked it too. Maybe her kids did as well? Musgrove doesn’t say.

The Post reporter does say that WonderRotunda was created by a concerned dad who wanted to create an alternative to Club Penguin and Webkinz for his daughter and her peers (ClubPenguin.com is more social, and so is Webkinz.com, with the added element of trading in “real world” stuffed animals).

It seems that’s the other divide at the pre-tween level (around ages 5-9): Either they’re interacting with the site (as in KidThing.com and WonderRotunda in ways designed to enrich or educate) or they’re interacting with peers (socializing and playing games) in an environment run by companies that usually moderate and/or restrict communication for users’ protection. The very popular Poptropica.com, by Pearson Education’s Family Education Network, tries to straddle that divide by being both fun and educational (check out what Undercover Mom says about it: Part 1 and Part 2). I’m rooting for these companies that work hard to meet the exacting standards of kids as well as parents! Let me know if your kids like them – and about other virtual worlds, videogames, and blogging services that work for under-13s at your house (via anne[at]netfamilynews.org).

Related links

* Help with YouTube safety: As the world’s 4th-most-visited site on the Web, YouTube is a fact of life in most households. Marian Merritt, parent and Symantec’s Net-safety advocate, recently wrote up some meaty advice for families that also, importantly, raises some parental awareness.
* Google is YouTube’s parent, and here’s is Google’s own advice for Making YouTube a safer place”
* Recommended sites for tween girls from Connect with Your Teens blogger and parent Jennifer Wagner.


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