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Let’s Chat: COPPA

April 25, 2010 5 comments

Twitter. I promised a rant on twitter. I promised a rant due on Thurs. It’s Sunday.

My apologies for the lateness and the possible lack of DRAGON FIRE that I was spittin’ on Thursday.  Indeed I was angry, and it had to do with weird (if not troubling and disappointing) rumors spread about COPPA.  But like the fear-mongering such rumors create – a tantrum is not what is needed here either. Clarity is what is needed.

So, my dear poppets – lemme share the facts about COPPA: Past, Present, and Future…

PAST

COPPA is the only “real” legislation we have to enforce/protect children under the age of 13.  COPPA stands for: Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.  It was created to stop marketers from collecting and exploiting personally identifiable information from children.  What is personally identifiable information (or PII)?

First name / last name, phone number, email address, social security number, home address.

It’s also to good to consider the following PII:

School name, instant message clients, usernames for other sites, sister/brother/parents/teacher full names, zip code, small town + states, after school activity locations. – These are not held as stringently as the first group, but they’re equally as important since you can locate any child regarding this information. Basically: if I can find you easily with the info you provide… that could be argued as PII.

Remember this tip for the kiddies and yourself: Tangible/Open Air (non computer) life = Clark Kent, Online life = Superman.

COPPA is upheld by the FTC, who regularly posts announcements on their page: http://www.ftc.gov/.  There is a program governed by the FTC called “Safe Harbor”, and it is upheld by four organizations (CARU, ESRB, TRUSTe, Privo).  If you wish to be a part of the Safe Harbor program – you will get aid in meeting regulations, suggestions for “going beyond” and being better than bare minimum, and you will have legal representation if your compliance comes into question.  I have had the privilege to work with CARU and the ESRB (whom I am very happy to work with now), and I know the fine folks at Privo.  I would definitely suggest that any company or individual wishing to learn more about Safe Harbor reach out to these companies.

At one point they tried to make additional legislation: COPA (Children’s Online Protection Act) and DOPA (Deleting Online Predators Act) – both of which have been dismissed due to First Amendment (COPA) and sheer impossibility due to variables (the latter).

PRESENT

How is COPPA being used?  Well, no longer just a deterrent for Marketers, it is the sole legislation for anyone collecting any information regarding children under 13. But why would someone need to collect info from kids?

1. Newsletters
2. Registration for games
3. submitted in conversation (chat), pictures, audio, etc (basically – UGC, “User Generated Content”)

I exist in the epicenter of business, safety, entertainment, common sense, community, and I’m telling you… there is no real arguable reason to collect PII from children.  The decision regarding the sharing of any such PII information belongs to the parents. Ahh, now there’s the rub – how do parents make/enact/provide/receive that permission?? Lemme get to that in a sec.

What I forgot to mention in the “Past” section is that – COPPA legislation pinpoints 4 acceptable ways to gain PERMISSION to collect PII: a fax with a parents signature, valid credit card, phone call acceptance, and email-plus.  Naturally there are problems with all four methods.

  • Fax = expensive, not “earth” friendly, and who really owns a fax anymore? Not to mention – kids attempt to sign and fax themselves (the wily things they are). You lose more customers than you gain when you expect them to stop at KINKOS to fax something out – too much time, so long future customer.
  • Valid Credit Card = No one wants to put their digits in (and they had the 1 dollar charge, despite the fact we dismiss the charge), kids as young as 9 are toting their parent’s credit cards, it’s an opportunity to collect PII inadvertently from a child (AGE GATE MEMBERSHIP, pls), and kids have been known to take the card from mom’s purse (the cheeky things they are). Strangely enough – for parents who do not have any intention on purchasing a membership – they don’t really want to put in any CC information. Do I blame them?  Nope.  Too many “but what if my kid can access my number” or “But I don’t want to tricked into paying” or “Ugh, I have stuff to do. Dinner is almost ready. I don’t want to do this now, let’s go eat.”  deterrent!
  • Phone Call Acceptance = Heavy lifting on the part of CS, expensive call services, and how do you determine an adult’s voice if the adult happens to be squeaky?  Or a child who has low tones?  And, kids attempt to call in pretending to be parents (the sneaky things the are). One of the easier methods “in theory” – parents can just pick up and dial and say “yes” or whatever. No biggie. Except that – parents can’t make those phone calls if they’re at work, and sadly, from what I’ve heard, more kids call in than actual parents.
  • Email Plus = The least rigid, most used, least reliable method.  You request the parent’s email during the kid registration, you send a “Welcome” email that includes a click-through link that will open up UGC possibilities, the adult visits the link and chooses to allow or not allow UGC, and 24 hours later the parent gets another email reminding them that they did this (in case kids invade the family email, they will be caught “unawares” by the follow-up – or at least that’s the theory). The problem is that – a certain percentage of kids are putting their own email into the Parent Email slot, and trump the whole parent connection.

Personally, I lean towards Email Plus as a method these days.  As I said – I’m in the epicenter of a lot of needs.  My first and foremost goal is: SAFETY, followed by ENTERTAINMENT (kid style), and then the business, etc.  Granted Email Plus isn’t the “safest” – but that’s why I have POLICY AND PROCEDURE. I have moderation toolsets and staff, and, well me (cue chip on shoulder, my apologies).  We work behind the scenes during the live existence of the game to ensure that privacy remains active, despite the audience themselves. AND TRUST – this ain’t no walk in the park.

Children DO NOT understand what they should / should not speak about, nor do they get (en masse, I’m talking about now) why they should / should not speak.  So… you can pretty much guarantee that kids will attempt to share SOMETHING – the way around collecting this is:

  • Pre-screening & scrubbing content,
  • Filters that block anything close to PII (heavy, heavy black lists, or CLEVER dictionary chat that also reads phrases),
  • Filters that jedi-mind-trick the user (have you tried chatting with another user in Club Penguin? Only like 25-30% of what you try to say actually shows up to the public – this lowers frustration from users while safety guarding them from the public),
  • Scripted chat (Poptropica is still uber-popular and there isn’t an ounce of open or filtered chat
  • Post-hoc moderation – LIVE 24/7 staff on the look out for kids who figured out “work arounds” (like toe tree fort hive stick stephen for two three four five six seven)
  • Reporting mechanisms for kids to pinpoint those who are cheating the system

You don’t have to have all of them… but it’s a big decision to make, and not lightly either. Get council (from someone not selling you a product, please).

Once I have my front-line and behind-the-scenes methods in place – my next goal is to make sure kids come in and play the game… that they’re active and enjoying it.  If I don’t have kids on my site, I have no audience: no money, no sustainability, no kids to protect, no job.  And where does that leave kids?  Instead of at Disney World with the families and the attention to detail and overpopulated staff, they’re at Six Flags with the gangs and high school peer pressure (seriously, have you BEEN to a Six Flags in the last ten years? What is up with that? Um, NO, I don’t want to watch fourteen year olds try to make babies while I’m in line to ride on Batman, thank you. And no, I didn’t bring my Latin Kings sweatshirt today, darn I don’t fit in).

I do not, not, not recommend “Email Plus” for who has no intention of truly backin’ up the LIVE safety on their site.

If you do not have valid parental sign off for your online experience: you cannot allow UGC of any kind unless it’s screened first by staff and scrubbed of possible PII.  That means: usernames, chat, forum threads, forum posts, blog comments, guest books, comment walls, upload pictures, upload video, upload audio.  Basically: anything a user can submit needs to go through filters and screening.  Anything considered PII needs to be scrubbed.

What’s good policy?  Well, even when you GET the “valid parental permission” – you still filter the content, and you still have staff moderating.  This is YOUR brand and YOUR audience.

BTW: If anyone comes to you and tells you that a toolset will solve all your problems and that it will replace human staff – you better get your warning flag up.  THEY’RE SELLING YOU. Gross.

THE FUTURE

So, about two months ago I had the EXTREME privilege to sit on a stage at the Engage! Expo conference in NYC with Phyllis Marcus.  Phyllis is from the FTC and had been commissioned to look into behaviors in virtual worlds.  She has an interesting report here regarding the behaviors that were found.

When I spoke with her – the majority of my questions were around: How, when, what.  This was just an initial peek for the FTC into behaviors, and much of what they found was from first time viewing.  We talked a fair bit about COPPA, and what was next for the FTC.

Both Congress (on April 29th) and the FTC (June 2nd roundtable) are re-examining safety and privacy – and what that means from their standpoint.  Okay, their standpoint… but what about OUR standpoint, what will that mean for us?

  1. COPPA HAS NOT CHANGED.
  2. Talks are beginning: People are looking to open up conversation, reassess, get feedback about COPPA
  3. If changes are made to any part of COPPA it will not be immediate
  4. If COPPA does receive some changes, adds, tweaks, deletes – it will have a “Goes into Effect” date
  5. If there is a “Goes into Effect” date – companies will have a GRACE PERIOD in which to react
  6. But most importantly: NOTHING HAS BEEN PUT INTO LAW YET.  And regardless of any rumors regarding: “So and so said this” or “I heard that the FTC has already decided” – etc.  Stop perpetuating rumor that scares others into reacting.

IF COPPA changes, it will probably change due to parent verification – either attempting to find better methods of verification or deleting old methods of verification considered ineffective.

This shouldn’t affect any LIST (be it black, white, etc) that you have on your site.  As long as kids who ARE NOT PARENT VERIFIED are set to default “Scripted Chat” (or pre-written chat) you’re fine.  DO NOT ALLOW KIDS TO CHAT (filters or no) WITHOUT VALID PARENT VERIFICATION.  How to do that? Talk to company offering the Safe Harbor program.  Lawyers know a lot – but they’re NOT workin’ on this side of the biz daily, and it’s basically they’re job to be paranoid about the law (not necessarily how kids are using it). With the exception of a handful (@steph3n , @amymms , @mikepink , Liisa Thomas – yes two i’s, and Jim Dunstan, etc), I’d be mindful.  Don’t overreact because of fear.  Be proactive in finding out how, why, when, what it means to address kids online, to collect information, and to safeguard kids online (people to follow: @annecollier , @joipod , @twizznerd , @amymms , @tlittleton , @larrymagid , @shapingyouth , @chasestraight to name just a small handful, there are many more).

You have the parent’s permission – now it’s about upholding that parent’s permission and your brand and the safety of your audience.  Robust chat filters are great – THERE IS NO ONE SINGLE COMPANY SELLING THE ONLY APPROVED LIST THAT FOLLOWS THE LAW.  If you hear that? That’s bullshit.  Straight up. Someone is scaring you into buying a product, and that just breaks my heart…

I would LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE to get into a discourse about my hopes, intentions, and goals for our industry.  I have met some really amazing, dedicated, SMART people – and together we’re continually trying to improve.  But when people come in and say things to “sell”?  That. Just. Guts. Me.  I know I live in the country of capitalism… but that doesn’t mean I have to support it.

I’ve put a LOAD of information in here.  My apologies for a lengthy, not so cheeky, probably boring post.  But let’s be honest – I needed to ramble on this topic.  Clarity is good.  If you don’t believe me, or wish to dispute any claims I’ve made… please feel free to GOOGLE COPPA YOURSELF, and/or talk to lawyers AND safe harbor folks.  Heck, place some comments, questions at the beep and we can walk/talk through it together. :)

Taking a moment to GEEK OUT: Muppets

February 10, 2010 Leave a comment

As you know the script for the film was written by Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, How I Met Your Mother) and Nicholas Stoller (director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall), the movie used to be called, The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made, the film is now called, The Greatest Muppet Movie of All Time, which is definitely a much more positive title.

They’re story follows a man named Gary, his girlfriend named Mary and the man’s life-long nondescript, brown puppet best friend Walter must round up and convince the now retired entertainers from the original Muppet Show to help save the famous television studio that the original variety series was filmed in. The film’s evil villain, Tex Richman, is due to take over the property, and wants to destroy the theater and drill for oil underneath.

Now, thanks to The Playlist we’ve got some more information on the script for the film and what we can expect. Here is a part of their review:

It’s a solid attempt at recapturing what made “The Muppet Show” and the first two Muppetmovies so great, but “The Great Muppet Movie of All Time” is no “Great Muppet Caper” — ‘Caper’ being to the first Muppets film, what “The Empire Strikes Back” is to “Star Wars” — but it is a fresh, younger approach. Stoller and Segel have fun with the characters, are aware of what made the Muppet early years so great (winks to the audience, friendly musical numbers, single gag repetition, friendship and togetherness being the answer to everything), and hit the mark 65% of the time. We’re hoping the songs (the majority of which were missing from the script) help elevate the script from a harmless Muppet flick to a more memorable one, but there’s more work to be done first. But what their script lacks (oddly enough, this being a Muppet movie and all) is forward pulse. “The Muppet Movie” is about a frog’s drive to get to Hollywood and the people he meets along the way and the friendships he makes.

The person that read the script definitely isn’t 100% sold on the script. Perhaps the script he read is a first draft and has since been polished. I’m still holding out for hope that it will end up being a good, solid, fun Muppet movie. Make sure head on over to The Playlist to read the rest of the review.

more-details-on-jason-segels-the-greatest-muppet-movie-of-al.html from geektyrant.com – StumbleUpon

Yes: I do realize that this isn’t the “most glowing” of script-review previews… but I don’t really care (yet, of course – if its crap, hell hath no fury like an izzy scorned).  My heart just skipped several beats. I officially do not need coffee now.  If a girl could possibly geek out over anything more in the world… there is little that could possibly bring about the glee and joy I am currently emitting.

Ya know, I was psyched for Where The Wild Things Are, and still LOVE that property with all amendments and additions and awesomeness (I have very long, ramble-y tangents about why I still believe in what Jonze did, and the overall WTWTA awesomeness, but they’re best left for another time).

I love the muppets. I am a muppet – or as close to a muppet as possible without actually being made of felt and some stranger’s hand.  So forgive me as I take a rather lengthy moment to explain why I – and many of you – could be considered a muppet, and then another moment on why this future edition of the Muppet Movie could be, in fact, like a moment of pure unadulterated youthful bliss – if delivered the way it seems to be promised.  So forgive this momentary blog entry, a partial love-letter, in a way… to the Henson (may he be praised).

Like I said. I am a muppet. Hi, nice to meet you.
There are many versions of Muppets in this world – and many wannabe muppet-puppets.  Lambchop, you are not a muppet.  Clearly.  Howdy Doody, sorry bud, not a muppet.  Elmo, not a muppet.

errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, rewind. Yes, I said Elmo is not a muppet. Okay, okay – you’re a muppet, Elmo, I just tend to believe that the Henson (may he be praised) would never have okay-ed a muppet that a) has a “breakout star” attitude for a show about community, b) have a “Me” first attitude, c) look-at-me, look-at-me, show & tell character format, d) is so babyish.  Say what you want about the nature of Big Bird and his young voice – but he never seemed to revel in anything babyish, he was always about growing and learning and love and support.  Clearly, I have deep seeded issues about Elmo, like one does with a backwater cousin (aw snap).

Anyway – I’m getting off on a tangent here about Elmo that probably will get me in trouble one day with some Elmo-fan.

As I was saying, I am a muppet.  So might you be?

Outside of my direct family, the entity that affected me most in life would have to be the worlds and lessons and community of Jim Henson (may he be praised) (we’ll leave my TV family, the Cosbys, and the epic Disney for other conversations).  Henson, in many ways, taught me:
1. Acceptance (of yourself, and others, yet the push to reach for your dreams and not accept what you don’t want for yourself)
2. Cultural diversity (I’ll have to ramble on this particular point some time)
3. Simple lessons (near, far – COME ON, it’s BRILLIANT)
4. Love & Friendship (you can complete anything with your friends)

And most importantly: Community (the sum of 1 – 4)

Community was at the base of anything I’ve ever seen from Jim Henson (may he be praised) – it was about people: diverse, unique, the same, friends, soon-to-be-friends, group triumph, etc – the story of “together”.  I may be a “kook”, but I’m not alone – there are other like-minded (or complimentary alternative) kooks that you’ll come across in life.  Acceptance of others is also, sometimes, acceptance in self – love people for what they bring in your life, and the adventures they accompany you on, and the support they provide – and oh, the laughs of it all!

It takes all kinds of people in life – all kinds!  And if Jim Henson (may he be praised) not only presented this concept to you, but also empowered you to express your addition to community, both large and small (whether it be with silliness, creativity, support, and/or acceptance), then yep – you might just be a muppet too :)

Now, enough about me explaining my muppetude.  After the Henson passed (may he be praised), the Muppets (all Muppets) had a heck of a rollercoaster ride – what with Sesame Street going one direction, and the Muppets (Piggy, Kermie, Gonzo, Foz, et all) going quite another (finally ending up in the lap of Disney).  There have been many movies – some cute (I do love Muppets Treasure Island), and some slightly lost at the heart (Muppets From Space), there have been television shows (the two attempts at reviving The Muppet Show), and many, many commercials (Piggy supporting Pizza Hut… um… Sausage Pizza, Piggy… not ideal for you).  Somewhere in my soul, I can’t help but fear that the Henson wouldn’t be too happy to see his creations hocking Disney products – or any product, for that matter.  Some Muppets were created (Jim Henson Creature Shop simply must be a magical place) for alternative programing (I seriously began watching Farscape only for the muppets), and keep alive a beautiful form of art that CGI seems to want to destroy (ugh, don’t even GET me started on how I feel about the lack of muppets in Star Wars: Ep 2 & 3).

For the last year, The Henson Company and Henson Studios have been slipping further and further into the new age of viral content – and THANK GOD FOR ME.  From Twitter – @hensoncompany & @muppetsstudio, and @muppetnewsflash and @muppetcentral, to Youtube – youtube.com/MuppetsStudio, where they’ve been delighting muppet-loving-viral-audiences with hilarity – on the street vids, music vids, Waldorf & Statler doing what they do best, and clips.  This is the first time in a LONG time that I’ve seen the original Muppets doing what they do best – silliness and fun.

But there’s no connector piece – no full-stage, chaos.  No collection of diveristy & no drive forward in some representation of teamwork, community, and sense of togetherness that can be seen in the old TV show, or in the movies – the review that Playlist has in the clip I snagged above clearly points this out.  Adventure – the linear path of adventure.  The beginnings and middles and sad-to-be-leaving, endings.  This is the make or break for Muppet movies that seem to achieve the tone we all like, but feel “flat”.

I watched the “director’s commentary” version of Forgetting Sarah Marshall a year or so ago – and I particularly remember the mention that Jason Segel is a HUGE muppet fan, and that he geeked out massively when he got his Drakula muppet (um, who WOULDN’T, I mean, really – IT’S A MUPPET, a girl could only wish!).  I can’t help but feel that Jason Segel is of muppet origin, just as I claim to be (perhaps, a wee different version, but still).  I commend anyone for taking on a massive undertaking like a Muppet movie – for me, it’s like drinking my own koolaid and trying to predict what happens next.  In other words, I couldn’t do it, not faithfully, and I’d get WAY too caught up in playing out stories, like an 8 year old with her Barbies, to be able to give it a fitting and concise story.  I’d want it all, neverending, and repeat, lol.

I really do hope this movie gives a fitting nod to the Muppet dynasty. Really, truly.  Sometimes I wonder if the youth today are benefitting the way I did from the Henson (may he be prasied).  How horrible it would be to be raised without Cookie Monster who eats COOKIES (not freakin’ fruit), Big Bird and Telly, Oscar the Grouch, best buds Ernie and Bert, and Snuffy – both imaginary and real, Kermit and Fozzie Bear, Ms. Piggy (who came to my 8th birthday – best visitor ever), and my BELOVED Gonzo, not to mention Sam Eagle, Waldorf/Statler, the entire Muppet show ensemble, Ludo and cast (The Labyrinth), and all of the realistic characters from The Storyteller – which, had one of the LARGEST impacts on my imagination of all time (save that story for another reason).

Okay, I’m realizing I could keep going with this… I should probably end awkwardly now with no closing point, as I feel this topic is going to keep bubbling up over the next year. But before I do:

Please feel free (if you made it THIS far in this love-letter-ramble) to comment on your favorite Henson reprocussions of your life, or in general!!  I’d love to hear it.  I’m fascinated with how one puppeteer subtly altered our generation and entertainment….

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NFL Agrees: There are some issues for Teens with digital dating

February 5, 2010 Leave a comment

NEW YORK, Feb. 4 (UPI) — The National Football League Players
Association has joined Family Violence Prevention Fund to stop digital dating abuse, the union said Thursday.

The NFLPA and the FVPF have launched a national public service
advertising campaign designed to help teens recognize online dating
abuse and prevent it from happening with e-cards called “That’s Not
Cool.”

The campaign invites teens to create their own “Callout Cards” that
can be used to raise awareness of teen dating abuse and win cool
prizes, with the grand prize winner receiving a trip to Washington to
attend players’ gala later this year.

NFL players to fight digital dating abuse – UPI.com

I’m going to be perfectly honest: I have no idea what this is about.

Things I see & assume:
1. Based on my tenure in moderation: Digital dating (or, more particularly – digital explicit sexually charged conversations) are on the rise, and kinda sketch – and for tweens/early teens in social gaming, these relationships are with people they meet online.

2. Based on what I’ve seen from teens in social networks & real life dating – they are not ashamed of explicit content nor do they hide their highly charged, uber-sexual social exploration (example: a 13 year old relative of mine posted lyrics to a song which suggested the sexual act. Her boyfriend of the moment commented on her status saying, “you mean you wanna f*ck”. Our whole family can see these comments, and neither seem to care).

3. Sports social gaming / etc sites, that I’ve visited, have had the most – THE MOST – aggressive audience, if we’re talking about tweens/teens.  Why?  They’re not getting the adrenaline payoff or euphora-burst they would get from a hard fought game, or from a big-win as a fan.  Due to most of the sites treating sportsfans like adult-kids (stat tracking and not emphasizing the playground crazy love of sports & games), they are looking for social competition – and from there its all an equation, right?

Hormones of demographic + need for euphora + competitive drive + strength and determination + excitement + social environment + boredom + mixed gender avatars of cartoon-cuteness = forms of dating abuse? …Perhaps… It might be a leap, or it might make sense… up to you how you want to swallow that pill.

4. The current plight of mega-star athletes and their, ahem, discretions (and inability to stay faithful, perhaps? …Tiger, Shaq, Kobe, and the many, many football players who are outted in the press – wasn’t there a football player killed last year by his mistress?)

Whatever the NFL’s reasons for this campaign – I say thank you.  I like to believe that every little bit helps, and if the NFL wants to help an image, I think this is a smart path.

Why?  Technological education is NEEDED – but not just “math blaster” education, but a variety of support that reflect digital lives AND offline lives.  This is an excellent example, just as Sweety High’s youtube videos about cyberbullying and netiquette.

Problems teens/tweens are experiencing online are now very much reflecting problems offline, and vice versa.  Finding new ways to educate and empower youth to protect themselves, build a voice, find a mentor, become a mentor, protect others, better themselves, believe in the systems surrounding them, etc… the better off we will all be.

Long story short, I’m hoping for good things of this initiative, and I hope they don’t drop the ball (muhohahahaha, sorry, i love with a pun works well with a story).  There’s something here, and it’d be nice to see the NFL support it for the long haul, and with a boisterous voice, yeah?  None of this “PR” schtick and hide.  Fingers crossed.

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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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