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Nick and the inappropriate game links

January 12, 2010 Leave a comment

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) is a group which aims to stop the effect that corporate marketing has on children. Based in Boston, this group has a list of several dozen campaigns such as “CCFC to Nick and Burger King: SpongeBob and Sexualization Don’t Mix!” and “Stop PG-13 Blockbusters from Targeting Preschoolers”. The group has now targeted Nick.com for promoting its sister-site, AddictingGames.com, because the latter site contains “sexualized and violent” flash games like Sorority Panty Raid, Naughty Classroom and Perry the Sneak. CCFC requests that NickJr.com and Nick.com stop linking to such content “to children as young as preschoolers.”

The Escapist : News : Nickelodeon Taken To Task For “Inappropriate” Game Links

Zoinks!  Click the link above for more information regarding this…

Typically sites need to have some sort of:

A) URL Clicking Policy – I subscribe to the two clicks method (used to be three clicks method, but times change).  If I can get to inappropriate content within TWO clicks of a main page – that’s not good.  My problem?  Social media and the idea of the “e” audience… aka EVERYONE.  So many people are using Facebook and Twitter as community tools to help engage a wide-reaching audience.  I understand this… but here’s my problem: even if I control the content seen on my facebook page, and even if I control the content on my twitter account… I can’t control the content of the people who friend me.  So, if you’re in my facebook group, I can click on your picture in my “friends” box and possibly access inappropriate content. Le sigh.  This is a sketchy area and I feel as a community/safety profession I lose ground on this almost by the month.

B) Bumper page – the intention of bumper pages is to help young users “pause” in their link-clicking and rethink their decision to leave that site, as the site they’re traveling to is not under their power, and content may appear that shouldn’t.  But… if Viacom owns the sites in question – why would they bumper page their own content? 

It’s something you need to talk about, be aware of, and try to form policy or decisions around… don’t get caught.

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Connect Safely Kids’ Virtual World Safety Tips

January 11, 2010 1 comment

Virtual worlds are online spaces where kids create avatars (kind of like cartoon characters) through which they communicate, socialize, learn, shop, play games, and generally express themselves. There are hundreds of virtual worlds on the Web aimed at users of all ages. Some aimed at young children have controlled text chat, “profanity filters” to block offensive or sexually related chat, and staff or contractors moderating user behavior – you’ll want to check for these safety features. Parents also need to know that there are worlds kids can find and access which are not designed for them.

As with all kids’ online experiences, the No. 1 safety practice is routine parent-child communication. Keeping it low-key and frequent helps our kids come to us when stuff comes up. The most likely risks in kids’ virtual worlds, just like on school playgrounds, are cyberbullying or peer harassment and social-circle drama – including clubby behavior and kids playing “teenager” and talking about “boyfriends,” “girlfriends,” “breakups,” etc. The latter escalates and gets more sexually charged as they head into middle-school age. Language filters help, but kids can be creative with workarounds (see below). The main thing you need to know is that virtual worlds are user-driven: Positive experiences depend on users’ behavior toward each other and how well the space is supervised. Here are some pointers for safe, constructive in-world experiences.

Connect Safely |Kids’ Virtual World Safety Tips | Safety Tips

I truly suggest you head over to Connect Safely’s tips for navigating kid virtual worlds as a parent (and kid). 

Anne Collier, esteemed author, is amazing and is always watching these area with her eagle eye and brilliance. 

The trends and behaviors of kids online are always changing, and yet not changing at all.  It’s  like a tag cloud – there are all sorts of behaviors a foot and they’re always floating around… they just take turns in the “who gets to be the biggest issue”.  It’s never a stale world, my friends – probably more cyclical than anything else, but there you have it… kids. Lol.

I can’t stress to you HOW IMPORTANT it is to understand many of the safety tips that Anne points out.  SHARE THEM. Seriously…. SO MANY PEOPLE ARE SEVERELY UNDEREDUCATED or MISEDUCATED regarding the crazy world of web social media.  It’s easy, it’s hard, its crazy, and it’s exciting, and all shades of each. 

Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease pass that link to any / all of your friends with kids, working with kids, etc. 

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Wowza: Designing and practice for kid sites

January 8, 2010 Leave a comment

How would you like to design a beautiful, colorful, stimulating website that is captivating, memorable, and allows you to let your creative juices flow without the need to worry too much about conventional usability and best practices? In today’s web design market, it’s rare that such a project would present itself — unless you were asked to design a website for children!

Websites designed for children have been largely overlooked in web design articles and design roundups, but there are many beautiful and interesting design elements and layouts presented on children’s websites that are worthy of discussion and analysis. There are also a number of best practices that are exclusive to web design for children’s sites — practices that should usually not be attempted on a typical website.

This article will showcase a number of popular commercial websites targeted towards children, with an analysis of trends, elements, and techniques used to help keep children interested and stimulated.

Designing Websites for Kids: Trends and Best Practices – Smashing Magazine

CHECK THAT LINK – THE ONE IN BLUE JUST ABOVE THIS SENTENCE… do it.

I can’t go into a ramble, as it’s Friday and I’m a busy-busy gal.  However, its definitely FANTASTICAL for the amount of content the author goes through. Seriously – check it out.

And to you, Mr. Louis Lazaris, thank you for creating such a jam-packed info-share!! Props.

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Buildabearville Stats Shared

January 7, 2010 Leave a comment

ST. LOUIS–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Build-A-Bear Workshop®, the interactive entertainment retailer of customized stuffed animals, today announced new data that supports an evolution in how kids play and connect in their real and virtual worlds.

“Children and their parents have helped us develop a space that combines fun, learning and community service. We are in a new world of play for kids and we want Build-A-Bearville to be one of their top choices”

With over 200 virtual worlds for kids in existence or in development today, Build-A-Bearville® is one of the only virtual worlds for kids integrated with actual retail store locations in the United States. Build-A-Bearville, launched in December 2007, enhances the experience of Build-A-Bear Workshop, extending the social engagement that begins in the store with the creation of each new furry friend.

“Because of the unique perspective with our real world stores and the extension into our virtual world we see firsthand, how kids blend the way they play. This new generation of kids is changing the boundaries of play between traditional and virtual types of interaction,” said Dave Finnegan, Build-A-Bear Workshop chief information and logistics bear.

Finnegan is a featured panelist and presenter at the 2010 Kids@Play children’s technology program which takes place during the Consumer Electronics Show Jan. 7-11.

An example of how soft touch and high tech experiences can result in total brand engagement is demonstrated by recent survey results from Build-A-Bear Workshop:

  • One out of every three Guests who visit buildabearville.com have recently visited a Build-A-Bear Workshop store.
  • Forty percent of all girls eight through 12 and nearly 50% of girls age 10 through 11 registered their stuffed animals made at Build-A-Bear Workshop stores online in Build-A-Bearville.
  • Nearly 17% of kids got their first furry friend from Build-A-Bear Workshop after they joined Build-A-Bearville.

Finnegan will discuss this topic as part of his presentation on the Build-A-Bear Workshop virtual world, Build-A-Bearville.

“The interactivity of the in-store Build-A-Bear Workshop experience is the foundation for our Guest engagement with Build-A-Bearville,” said Maxine Clark, Build-A-Bear Workshop founder and chief executive bear. “Today’s kids want to combine their experiences and the friendships they develop in the real world with those in the virtual world. This process is seamless for them and a part of their everyday lives. Our aim is to provide positive real and virtual world experiences to reflect children’s imaginations and natural interest in learning, sharing and having fun.”

How Kids Play Today… in the Real and Virtual World Build-A-Bear Workshop and Build-A-Bearville Presenting at Kids@Play, Consumer Electronics Show January 7-8, 2010

Forgive the PR-fluff that covers that post (at least they’re light on the “beary” creative spelling, which I’ve seen in the past).

What I found interesting was the stat I highlighted.

With sponsorships growing more and more all the time – I find it fascinating to watch the patterns between buyables like stuffed animals (webkinz mentality) and virtual worlds: how entry points affect (or don’t) and how trends occur.  Partnerships from the likes of fast food restaraunts, toy packages, store marketing intiatives, etc… these are only now starting to ramp up, but there are that many statistics regarding this right now (at least none that people are eager to share, lol).

There are going to be interesting advertising techniques popping up in this VW sector over the next year… I’m very very keen on eagle-eyeing this particular revenue source and how it either camoflagues itself into the experience (which many will not like) or works WITH the experience as a opportunity for the users.

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Lookie Lookie: Wizard101 has the cookie!

January 7, 2010 Leave a comment

One game, however, stood out among the rest as the Best Family Game of 2009. The nominees were:

  • Club Penguin
  • Free Realms
  • Fusion Fall
  • Maplestory
  • Wizard 101

The Winner: Wizard 101

Wizard 101 has been heralded as the kid’s MMO for adults. The game is geared toward a younger audience with its playful characters and cartoon graphics, but don’t be fooled by its exterior. Inside Wizard 101 is an intense MMO that uses great special effects for spells, daring and risky card game style combat, and a fun universe to explore for players.

The reason Wizard 101 takes home our Best Family Game of 2009 is because kids can play it with their parents and no one will be bored. Hardcore MMO players have come forward and said the game is fun and exciting to them as well.

Wizard 101 : Best Family Game of 2009 – Wizard 101 for PC at MMORPG.COM

LOOKIE LOOKIE, WHO HAS THE COOKIE!

YAHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!  I am really pleased with this out come.  For as much as I still nod-in-appreciation to Club Penguin, this is really a well-deserved win.

Think about it:
Wizard101 came from an independent company without broadcast support (aka, no big dog marketing pushes, like Disney / Cartoon Network / MTV / Sony, etc).  It was smart enough to find an IP that could be both independent in content & game play, but also capitalize on a desired-yet-missing brand (HARRY POTTER, PEOPLE). 

It’s got boy game play, girl game play, school play, card play, and it effectively finds ways to suck a wallet drive (subscription only gets you so far – potions & rides/mounts are extra $$).

It’s the MMO I play as often as I can, and because I ENJOY playing it – not just for work / research.

What I’d like to see Wizard101 do in the next year?
1. Make houses more important – why do I care I’m in the Fire house? Why do I care others are in the Fire house?  Give me reasons to be Fire-House-Evangelist in the game, please!

2. Change the chat set up.  By “redding” out the words that I cannot use – you are giving me clues to work-arounds.  OH, I can’t say “dork”? Well then, let me try “door k” DONE. Thanks red for telling me WHICH WORDS weren’t allowed, and confusing me other times when you’re not allowing me to say something I need to say (like “fizzling”).

Other than those two wee things – keep on keeping on, Wizard101. I’m psyched for you!!

ON a SIDE note… why the heck is MapleStory in there? Um, last time I played that game a guild named “Pedophile” was causing rukus through the servers… Kids swear like they’re afraid its going out of style, it’s Ad Mad, and it’s not family appropriate.

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Top Points in the latest FTC Report

December 10, 2009 Leave a comment

This is pioneering stuff on the part of the US government. The Federal Trade Commission today sent to Congress its close study of 27 online virtual worlds – 14 for children under 13 and 13 aimed at teens and adults – looking at the level of sexually explicit and violent content and what the VWs were doing to protect children from it. I think it’s important for parents to keep in mind when reading the study or just the highlights here that “content” in virtual worlds means user-generated content (which is why, in “Online Safety 3.0,” we put so much stress on viewing children as stakeholders in their own well-being online and teaching them to be good citizens in their online and offline communities). Here are some key findings:

http://www.netfamilynews.org/2009/12/ftcs-milestone-report-on-virtual-worlds.html

As I rambled (extensively) earlier, the FTC report has been making its way across the web today.  The oh so wonderful Anne Collier at NetFamilyNews.org has picked up the pdf and given it a good read over… click the link above to read her top points.

I’m so jazzed to see what comes of these findings, and how they improve digital citizenship, or enlighten those who did not realize the power of TEXT online.

w00t.

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Virtual Worlds and Youth: Accessing Explicit Content

December 10, 2009 2 comments

FTC Report Finds Sexually and Violently Explicit Content in Online Virtual Worlds Accessed by Minors

Recommends Best Practices to Shield Children and Teens

The Federal Trade Commission today issued a report that examines the incidence of
sexually and violently explicit content in online virtual worlds. The congressionally mandated report, “Virtual Worlds and Kids: Mapping the Risks,” urges operators of virtual worlds to take a number of steps to keep explicit content away from children and teens, and recommends that parents familiarize themselves with the virtual worlds their kids visit.

The report analyzes how easily minors can access explicit content in virtual worlds, and the measures virtual world operators take to prevent minors from viewing it. According to the findings, although little explicit content appeared in child-oriented virtual worlds, a moderate to heavy amount appeared in virtual worlds that are designed for teens and adults.

Virtual worlds are popular with children and adults because they blend 3-D environments with online social networking, allowing users to interact in and shape their own online content. Through avatars – digital representations controlled by humans in real time – virtual world users socialize, network, play, or even conduct business in graphics-intensive landscapes using text or voice chat, sounds, gestures, and video. Despite the educational, social, and creative opportunities virtual worlds offer, the FTC’s report found that explicit content exists, free of charge, in online virtual worlds that minors are able to access. In fact, some virtual worlds designed for teens and adults allow – or even encourage – younger children to get around the worlds’ minimum age requirements.

“It is far too easy for children and young teens to access explicit content in some of these virtual worlds,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “The time is ripe for these companies to grow up and implement better practices to protect kids.”

The FTC surveyed 27 online virtual worlds – including those specifically intended for young children, worlds that appealed to teens, and worlds intended only for adults. The FTC found at least one instance of either sexually or violently explicit content in 19 of the 27 worlds. The FTC observed a heavy amount of explicit content in five of the virtual worlds studied, a moderate amount in four worlds, and only a low amount in the remaining 10 worlds in which explicit content was found.

Of the 14 virtual worlds in the FTC’s study that were, by design, open to children under age 13, seven contained no explicit content, six contained a low amount of such content, and one contained a moderate amount. Almost all of the explicit content found in the child-oriented virtual worlds appeared in the form of text posted in chat rooms, on message boards, or in discussion forums.

FTC Report Finds Sexually and Violently Explicit Content in Online Virtual Worlds Accessed by Minors

HEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRREEEEEEEEEEEEE WE GOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Okay, for as much as I would love (and you know I would) to ramble ramble ramble about my opinions on this piece, I am going to stay MUM.

Why, you ask? Well, because according to engageexpo.com, I am (and very happily so) speaking on this VERY topic with Phyllis Marcus, who was commissioned by the FTC to research and report on youth and virtual worlds.

Safety in Online Worlds: How the Federal Trade Commission Sees It
In March of 2009, Congress mandated that the Federal Trade Commission study the types of content available in online virtual worlds — paying close attention to explicit sexual and violent content — and the mechanisms those worlds use to manage access by minors. In this unique session, the Commission’s senior most attorney assigned to the 2009 Virtual Worlds Report to Congress will present results and discuss the agency’s recommendations for strengthening access controls to virtual worlds while allowing free expression to flourish online. This first-ever analysis of virtual worlds by the FTC will be discussed by senior attorney Phyllis H. Marcus who heads the Commission’s children’s privacy program and is responsible for enforcing the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Marcus expects this session to be the first detailed public reveal of her division’s nine-month study of virtual world content. She will present data, offer recommendations, and participate in a lively one-on-one interview with virtual world child safety advocate and online community activist Izzy Neis.
Phyllis H. Marcus, senior attorney, Div of Advertising Practices, FTC’s COPPA lead
Izzy Neis, Senior Community Safety Lead, Gazillion Entertainment

http://www.engageexpo.com/ny2010/schedule/track2.html

Score, right? Right. Couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity :)

I’m looking forward to this, especially after reading the article on the FTC page, and subsequently skimming through the document while printing (it’s a relatively good sized print, fyi).

I’ve never been shy to discuss the social (and sometimes sexual) exploration of youth in free, identity-less (or identity-filled) web environments – from Language play in phrases to bumping to sexting to warplay.  Playgrounds can be a very confusing/odd place for those who do not understand or are not a part of the intricate socialization patterns and learning curve.  And even for those of us who DO understand these same things, it’s still nerve-wrecking and frightening to behold (don’t even get me started on my 13 year old cousin’s behavior on facebook).  But, we react that way because we MUST.  It’s the elder’s duty to help guide and educate the young.  But, that’s not always enough (this doesn’t mean stop, it just means, more is needed).

We cannot expect kids to just inherently know NOT to behave certain ways – especially if that behavior or action can illicit some sort of euphoria or adrenaline rush.  They don’t learn “No, don’t do that” through osmosis.  Fire = bright & warm & pretty & powerful, but you don’t know it hurts until you touch it… you could listen to your folks who say “don’t touch the fire, it burns”, but the curiosity will always be there because you don’t precisely understand the magnitude of “it burns”.

Naturally, someone has to say it – NO, don’t do that.  And when youth refuse to listen (and when they decide to touch the fire), we have to be there to guide, educate, and then PICK THEM UP once they learn their lessons, or after they suffer the consequences… and then, encourage them to share their lessons with others – peer mentorship.

Also, as businesses we need to EMPLOY WELL EQUIPPED, HIGHLY CAPABLE, HIGHLY TRAINED MODERATORS & COMMUNITY MANAGEMENT STAFF… and give them time to DO THE JOB RIGHT.

Moderation is expensive. It just is… Before you even contemplate the idea of “moderation” and how to lower the cost for a teen & younger site – companies really, truly need to accept it.  Say it out loud. Do a little jig. Throw a party. Make a badge and wear it everyone “YOUTH MODERATION AND ONLINE COMMUNITIES ARE EXPENSIVE”, and then swallow that pain.  NO amount of cheating  or pinching the system is going to replace the expense without putting your audience or your brand at risk, UNLESS you employ full restrictions. Full. Restrictions. As in, no UGC – this includes user created avatarnames/usernames, open or filtered or dictionary chat, no pictures, or uploads, no fan fiction, no forums, no blog posts, videos, podcasts, art, nothing. Kinda takes the community out of community, doesn’t it? Yep – remember that jig you did and that badge you wore… there’s your reason.

If a user can type or upload and submit – that’s UGC, and it needs moderation before it ever appears on any live site.

User Generated Content is a privilege for your audience, but also a privilege for your site/brand/ip/experience as a company.  With privilege comes someone else’s responsibility, and that lies with the company to offer opportunity.  Think about it ;)

Anyway… take a look at the FTC article (link above) and follow the white link rabbit to the pdf itself.  Happy reading!!

Annnnnnnnnd, if you’re going to be in attendance for Engage Expo on February 16th & 17th in New York City, please bring some of your lovely and oh-so-brazilliant questions to the 3:30-4:30 chat on Weds the 17th.  I would love to see your smiling faces and bask in your question-filled glory. :D

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Coins for Change is back again!

December 7, 2009 Leave a comment

Disney Online is taking its Coins for Change program live on December 11. The program allocates $1 million which is targeted to a number of worthy causes — Club Penguin players who participate in the program can choose to support kids who are sick, kids who are poor, or the environment. At the end of the campaign, the players’ donations serve as votes to determine how the $1 million Coins for Change fund is to be allocated.

Virtual Worlds News: Disney, Club Penguin Kick off Coins for Change

Just worth mentioning, because it’s one of the coolest, most successful programs in a social / entertainment site for youth kids.

Having said that – there are some great programs run by other sites, such as Dizzywood.com and ElfIsland.com (twitter @gamingforgood) and so on…

Gotta love initiative and positive/proactive events for youth.

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Transparency for KIDS on moderation practices

October 21, 2009 3 comments

Okay, this is kinda rad.  I’ve been re-examining moderation practices from a user to user perspective lately.  Sometime recently Club Penguin added a new REPORT A PLAYER UI page in their reporting flow.

It used to go: Are you sure you would like to report? > Why are you reporting? > More specific details on why you’re reporting? > Thank you for reporting, perhaps ignore them in the meantime?

Naturally, it wasn’t in those particular words, but its the general concept.  They have now added this page to start the process:

club penguin report a player

That’s pretty rad – simple, informative.

Kids report like crazy – bored, angry, nervous, confused, random, tattling, rebel-rousing, testing, frustrated, etc.  There is a great number of useless reports that come through.  Giving kids a bit of context (also, alluding to the fact that the entire chat log will be reviewed, which includes ALL participants, including that chat: ACCOUNTABILITY) helps redirect their activity and lower moderation “boy who cried wolf” scenarios.

I like it :)

p.s. PLEASE remember, when making a virtual world for youth- have users click on other users to report.   In a chaotic situation – it’s much easier to tag an offender as he’s snatching your purse, then ten minutes down the line with some sort of police line up list.  Less responsibility on the memory, more accurate identification.

So Are You Prepped for Possible State Gate 09?

August 12, 2009 Leave a comment

Tips to Deal With Maine’s New Law Regarding Minors’ Personal Information

As we recently reported, the Maine governor signed a new law effective September 12, 2009, relating to the collection and use of personally identifiable information (“PII”) of people under the age of 18. We have received a number of questions already regarding how to deal with this law, and we thought it would be helpful to provide some thoughts on the most frequently asked questions.

SPECIAL ALERT – Winston & Strawn LLP

So… I’ve not heard too many people whispering or worrying about this.  I find that strange.  Granted, there’s still like 3 weeks for someone to contest, but with house/senate on hiatus and things not resuming until Dec/January, seems like a bit of a narrow time period.

Can I suggest – if you’re a website that deals with any collection of personal information for anyone under the age of 18 (kid sites, teen sites, yadda), that  you talk to your legal reps (or safe harbor reps, if you’re in the uber-safe club).  Why?  Well, there’s new (well intentioned but poorly written – loop holes for both sides of the bill) legislation thanks to adhere to the state o’Maine.

Ahem, facebook, dude, I hope you’re ready.

No grace period. Consider THIS your grace period.  Better consult and figure out how much you’re in the safe zone, and if you’ve got your state gating, or whatever you need, in place.  Here’s some more info (click on the link, head to Ypulse, and read some more, or follow ypulse’s white rabbit link trail):

This morning Privo alerted us to a legislative move in Maine that will dramatically affect how companies interact with minors. The new law, which will go into effect September 2009, bans the use of minors’ health-related or personal information for marketing purposes. The Maine law expands on COPPA, using a similar definition of “personal information” but pertaining both to online and offline use and collection.

Under the new law:

- The knowing collection or receipt of health-related information or personal information for marketing purposes from a minor without first obtaining verifiable parental consent is prohibited.

- The sale or otherwise transfer of health-related information or personal information about a minor is prohibited, regardless of whet

- The use of health-related information or personal information regarding a minor for the purpose of marketing a product or service to that minor or promoting any course of action for the minor relating to a product is strictly prohibited.

As far as enforcement, the law can be invoked by the State Attorney General as well as in a private rights of action – meaning private parties can sue companies for collecting or using minors’ personal information in violation of the law. In other words,  companies, both insidious and not so insidious, that currently collect personal information from minors may consider seeking out legal advice about the best way to avoid coming under fire this September.

Ypulse: Maine Bans The Use Of Minors’ Private Information For Marketing

Kudos to you folks, and best o luck!  Hopefully someone will swoop in and save the day before this comes to pass.

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