2017: Let’s Do this

February 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Hello dearest internet. How are you? It’s been ages.

Ok, with 2017 – and the politically active (if not aggro in all directions) market has sparked activism in me. But I’m choosing that activism in the form of digital education. The social frontier is at a new level of everything: from awesome to horrifying. And magnified in tone and exposure.

In late April (perhaps early May), I am going to earmark a week for on-site assistance (starting with northern and central Illinois). I will be building three presentations (well, two, but three):

  1. PTO & Parents: Raising A Digitally Active Kid, what to know, do, and watch out for.
  2. Teachers: Understanding your digitally active classroom
  3. Kids/Assemblies: The Social Smarts of Playing Digitally With Others And Having a Blast

When I say “digital” I mean it in the form of SOCIALLY CONNECTED computer games, console games (consoles = XBox, Playstation, Nintendo, etc), ipad games/apps, iphone games/apps, tablet games/apps, mobile phone games/apps.

The biggest importance for me right now is arming parents with knowledge. Fear is not the goal – understanding and insights are.


  • Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network: They all have youth programming that reference, center, or embrace social functionality in the digital space.
  • Banning social digital experiences makes them elusive to your child. Elusive things gain curiosity points. Where there is interest there is a will, where there is a will there is a way.
  • Trust (and amazing) preschool/kid-focused companies and brands ARE building certain levels of social features into games, apps, and experiences. It’s happening.
  • There are many kid-focused companies trying to teach netiquette.
  • There are many GENERAL AUDIENCE games/apps that people MISTAKE for “child-focused” — they may have educational value, or youth oriented aesthetics/play… but they are general audience.

One perspective: Would you allow your child to run to the open playground in the middle of the city unattended? Would you leave your child in that brand new over-crowded child pen without concerns in a town you’ve never visited before?

Another perspective: Are you going to make your child sit and look out the window as all the other neighborhood kids play in your front yard?  Kids cannot run out into the world during the summer anymore, and running about, playing in the neighborhood (don’t say YOU didn’t do this — I sure as heck did) — virtual experiences are the new forms of freedom play, and they’re growing in importance.

Bottom line: Don’t turn a blind eye. Embrace and educate yourself. 🙂 The best way to meet concern is to do so openly and with both hands on the steering wheel.

If you’d like your school or youth-oriented organization to get in on these presentations, leave a comment below. They’re pre-moderated, so I can review and contact you without exposing your information. 🙂 I will not post comments that have personal data visible.


Categories: Izzy Neis Links

Blogging Blogging Blogged 2013: Here I am!

June 17, 2013 Leave a comment

Dear Johnny/Molly/Henry/Willamena Fredericka II/Bubba Adelbert,

My apologies for the multiple names.  You see, you’re still too far away to even be a twinkle in my eye, and in my Disney-youth I princess-dreamed all the names I’d have for my future kids, so I thought I’d start with those (p.s. the II to Willamena is because I already have a Willa-dog. I love her desperately, so don’t take the “second” title as an insult. On second thought, I’ll budget for therapy, just in case).

Anyway, I digress.  Dear future muppet-of-mine,

I’m writing you now, well in advance, about a few things that worry me about the current state of our youth online.  Seems like an odd topic, right?  Yes, well, I figure that about the time you’re old enough to start using digital tools (funny thought: zygote = z-iGote), I may have Wendy’ed myself right out of the nursery (Peter Panreference), and (dare I say it) lost my knowledge of the younger generation (this may seem an impossible concept for most of the people around me, particularly your grandparents, who still don’t quite understand how I found a career that encourages my interests in cartoons and toys).

Read More:


Ok, so more developments. In December of 2012, I finally took the much anticipated leap of joining my friends Amy Pritchard and Regine Weiner (amongst others, Mike, Rich, etc) at Metaverse Mod Squad.  For years, I had been a client and a friend to MMS… it only seemed natural to join in on the fun ;).

So, I’m now the Director of Digital Strategy & Engagement.  I really like titles that are a mouthful.  The longer the title, the more giddy I am.  The best part of this gig?  Instead of wrapping myself around ONE project, I now get to wrap myself around any number of projects!  I get to help many people – yay!  [sales pitch accomplished in a very covert way, now add the contact digits: izzy at metaverse mod squad dot com].

As for my beloved blog, which is growing to be quite the latch key pre-tween [epic fail, izzy]. I am happy to say that I’ve been part-time blogging for Metaverse Mod Squad’s blog (as seen in the quote above).  For a period of time, I stopped blogging here due to commitments elsewhere, followed by lack of content (or doubling up of rants).  We all know, I always have a rant shoved up my sleeve, but they’ve been in short bursts, and much more acceptable within the Twitterverse.

Overall, in regards to kid entertainment – I’ve not been impressed.  Movies have been “ok,” cartoons have been “ok” (exception: Adventure Time is amazing), live action shows have taken a turn downward, and the toys “over baked” or “over sexed” (what’s new there? le sigh).  Digitallly speaking – there’s definitely been a few highlights here and there.  Some interesting stuff on the horizon, but it’s a tough time for kid-based digital properties.  Even when awesome kid-based interactive experiences pop up, there seems to be low cash flow, or complete ignorance and misunderstanding on the high-exec level of what it means to have a kid/family based property (and how the monetary growth happens).

Sometimes I get weary of “pouring one out” for your fallen homies (RIP, my virtual world friends).  My bitter sweet sadness is temporary, I still have the faith!  I think we’re going to see an uptick in kid experiences in the next 2 years… I’m just waiting to get excited about something juicy & innovative & fun.

I will say – Youtube has DEFINITELY changed the game for digital entertainment & IP creation.  For the last year I’ve become obsessed with watching trends rise out of Youtube… and even when they’re “for teens” or “for adults” -> the early adopters tend to be the 9 – 12 year olds who find and share this content first.

Note: Kids in social apps are booming (and I’m not talking the apps created for kids).  The new social world for pre-tweens, tweens, and teens? Comments left in UGC (Vine, Instagram, Youtube comments, even comments on app rating pages in iTunes) – and don’t get me started on the smart phone tween empire… lawdy!

I have a bunch of rock star clients now, and I’m having fun playing in new playgrounds (general audience social media, large scale game companies, smart phone app strategy… you name it, we’re rockin’ it!).

Anyway – check out my blog post above for Metaverse Mod Squad!  You may see a bit more insight on where my brain is at these days (in regards to kids online).  🙂

xoxoxoxox I shall be back.

January 28, 2013 Leave a comment

I hope to see everyone at Digital Kids! My dearest friend Joi Podgorney will be emceeing a good portion of it (which is always fun to watch), and I’ll be hosting a panel on Wednesday. 🙂

In addition, we’re trying to think of a cool place to do “drinkie poos” (as my late/crazy Grandma Neis used to say) for socializing, hanging out, casually networking, etc. If anyone has any ideas or thoughts on such a place – comment in the comments below!

WHO IS GOING TO BE THERE? “You” better! 😉

Joi Podgorny

I am excited to be involved in this years Digital Kids Conference as an emcee for the first day’s talks.  It’s collocated with Toy Fair again in NYC, so we should have a nice crowd.  Tonda, Chris and crew are promoting on the regular social channels – Facebook, Twitter, etc.

There is also an affiliated Digital Kids Safety Summit as well – you know I’ll be THERE too.

In prep for the conference, I was interviewed about my predictions for our industry in 2013.  Here’s a snippet:

“The new COPPA articulations have changed the digital climate. COPPA requires a level of parental engagement and involvement that many families don’t realize. Parents don’t understand how much parental consent they have to give, and new online safety and privacy articulations are going play an important role in online parenting,”

You can see the whole interview here.


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Categories: Izzy Neis Links

An Izzy-torial: ADD N Me

October 11, 2012 2 comments

So, recently I’ve been experiencing moments of mental “fubar”-ness.  There’s rhyme and there’s reason for it, and it goes well beyond what I chose to discuss today [there’s a time and place to discuss heartache, personal frustration, and bereavement – and its called ‘vague facebook statuses’ Lolzerbot].  But, I digress…

In my attempts to logically understand some of the chaos I’m trying to sort through in my brain, I’ve come back to a small nugget of a “disability” (and I use that term lightly, as it’s more of a “unique ability”) I’ve grown up with… and that’s what I’m going to dive a bit into. Oh bless cathartic posts.

If you have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), or a child with ADD, or a loved one with ADD… maybe what I will share will help you understand a bit of process or frustration they experience.  This is, of course, just my point of view… but you never quite know who may identify with it.

College photography “self portrait”.
There’s a whole lot of “god knows what” going on in that brain/expression.

I grew up with ADD (and no, against popular belief, NOT ADHD), and I probably still have some forms of adult ADD.  I do not conceptualize the knowledge around me the way that others might consider “normal” (case in point – the phrasing of that statement), or in a way that the greater populous might understand/identify with.

“Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.” – Alber Camus

Before I was diagnosed at age 10 with ADD, I was “not correct”.  Weird statement, right?  Lemme explain: I didn’t hear things the way they were meant to be, I didn’t understand directions the way they were given, and I didn’t complete tasks the way they were required.  Not on purpose, mind you.  You know the phrase “reading between the lines” – it was as if I’d read all the wrong parts, heard non-existent intentions, created context unsaid, and imagined another method for an end result (an end result of my own determination).  None of these were consciously chosen.

It was very difficult trying SO HARD to be a good student, a good child, a good person when my interpretations were SO far off.  Which goes back to – I was incorrect.  I’d go as far to say – I was incorrect about 65% – 75% of the time.  Not very good odds, and very hard on a mushy child’s brain in the middle of “formation”.  And I haven’t even introduced the fact that I was a stubborn force-to-be-reckoned-with, if not “passionate” child.

The “less awesome” things I learned (or adapted to) from having ADD (tough to swallow for the aforementioned child):

  • Never immediately trust my (first) instincts,
  • The majority of the world is “correct”, and I am not ,
  • “At least my failure is well-intentioned”,
  • With context and lots of over-explaining, I too can curb my understanding to eventually match everyone else’s!

When I was diagnosed with ADD – it was a bit of a god send.  I wasn’t stupid, and I wasn’t lazy (as were mentioned by some twit-teachers).  I had something to cling to – an explanation, a CONTEXT of why I wasn’t “correct”.  We started seeking alternative methods to help support my learning disability – finding my strengths in the play patterns I naturally gravitated to — STORIES.  Me and my world-o-Barbie?  Oh man, no Soap Opera could have EVER compared to the epic, dynamic events that I created in my own wee little world.

Nothing was EVER so powerful as the opportunity for fantastical creation by an imaginative child grasping at “reality” straws.  

I made my rules, I made the logic, I got to play GOD and I learned what it felt to be CORRECT. Yay for self-contrived self-confidence! (Lol, sure, but its true).  Additionally, writing provided me an opportunity to appeal to others with context, emotion, and creative expression – I discovered the existence and the magic of possibility through another perspective. WHAT? Two people can be correct but with different statements? <- strangely, this is a foreign concept to SOME children who end up having to go by structure and set-statements made by others because they were always made to feel inferior, stupid, or incorrect.

It wasn’t until I started taking my creative writing in college seriously that my soul blossomed and life started to FIT.  With a little creative logic, I was able to give context and structure to the things in life I was misunderstanding or failing.  With story – it was no longer “memorize this word because everyone else understands it”, but facts and information became tools within a larger story that formed a general understanding – one that I created and could identify with (or “understand”).

Things I learned that benefited me long-term:

  • Imagination is so powerful in the entertainment world (occupationally speaking, lol)
  • Self-deprecation & humor
  • The ability to apologize & accept responsibility (this is actually a fault too, as I’m quick to appeal for an apology for things I shouldn’t apologize for… but I prefer to assume responsibility myself, then be accused)
  • Mediation (beyond people, but mediation of differing concepts)
  • Reading people and treating judgements carefully
  • “There’s always another way” – one door closes, there’s probably 12 more down the hallway (if you will).
  • Question. Everything. But respect the populous for their structure.

The strange result of me HAVING ADD, and me ADAPTING my ADD to the world is that I approach everything with 2 reactions.  This can be very tiring, and at times like a thunderstorm of frustration internally.  Occasionally one perspective comes swiftly – like a locomotive train, full of tunnel-vision and speedy determination (and if proven wrong… the subsequent reaction is just as powerful with spiraling questions and epic self-doubt), while the other moseys through the devil’s advocate debate of context and understanding like a Sesame Street skit of silly, imaginative rationals [this is near, this is far. Near. Far.  See it?].  Also, when the spotlight is on and your knowledge is questions – there’s a certain measure of insecurity and defensiveness that can come through — but that’s not too far off from how the majority of the world feels, I know.  The difference is… growing up with ADD, you already know that you’ve been proven to be “wrong”, and you know the world knows you have a greater % of actually successfully being accused as such.  Sure that definition of “wrong” changed over the years to a “unique perspective” (empowerment) – but there are times you can never shake that 3rd grade F because you misunderstood the question or the directions.

I’m thankful for a great many things that ADD empowered me with — as it was a fault that increased my talents.  But learning how to “overcome” is much like “success” – it’s a path, a roving goal, and rarely a destination.  So, maybe I don’t have adult ADD, and maybe I’ve learned how to adapt to certain things in life… but that doesn’t mean that events from childhood ever truly go away.  Every action has a change for thousands of reactions… some you don’t see right away, and some you live with every time your feet get nailed to the floor.

Find outlets, support each other, be empathetic, be certain, and be creative – and help others do the same.  I think I have to learn a bit more about self-forgiveness, and I would encourage you to do the same for your child who may or may not have ADD.  There’s no better way to end a post like this then with one of the BEST quotes of all time, from my person deity – Jim Henson:

“Watch out for each other. Love everyone and forgive everyone, including yourself. Forgive your anger. Forgive your guilt. Your shame. Your sadness. Embrace and open up your love, your joy, your truth, and most especially your heart.”

Fightin Monsters

May 22, 2012 1 comment

No, not another rant.  Taking a deep breath after that Muppet/Bachelorette tirade I just finished off.  It’s never good to shake a finger at a Big Dog in the industry; however, to quote Leslie Knope (Parks & Recreation on NBC): “If I seem too passionate, it’s because I care. If I come on strong, it’s because I feel strongly. And if I push too hard, it’s because things aren’t moving fast enough.” lol.

Anyway, on to brighter rambles: I thought I’d give ya’ll the heads up (and make it known in blog-form) that I recently joined the team at FightMyMonster.com, and I’m getting back to my hands-on community-roots.  I had missed the gaming side of the industry.  I love this demographic (tween boys) & general concept/direction (monsters & strategy).  As always, there’s a fair share of work to do (again, tween boys are never dull in community/behavior management), but I’m jazzed about it & ready for it (<cracks knuckles>), and the team is awesome (high five to Dylan & Dominic, et all).

With all the due respect in the world for previous employers and contractors, this is the first time I’ve walked into a company that’s already crossed the 1 million user mark BEFORE my arrival on less than a year lifespan & a skeleton crew.  And it turns a profit? What?  Yes.  I’m very impressed with the folks here, and psyched to see what mischief we can get up to in the name of awesome entertainment.

In my tenure, I’ve worked with Virtual Worlds, interactive websites for cartoons/books, MMOs for kids AND adults, and social networks for kids… and now I’ve got interactive strategy game too.  It’s a simple site concept, but boys just EAT it up.  I’ve never seen anything like it.

I’m excited to see what this company brings – both in entertainment shenanigans and life/career lessons.  😀

OH – and by joining this team, I also made a career goal: I was mentioned in a post by Kidscreen (squeeeeee!):


Other things for you to check out:



Categories: Izzy Neis Links

Dear Parents: Help me help you. Help ME. Help YOU.

September 30, 2011 1 comment

So, there’s a LOT of interesting conversation happening lately… or at least I think it’s interesting (lol).

  1. About COPPA, future plans to COPPA, adherence to COPPA, and the FTC’s role in supporting COPPA.
  2. Cyberbullying & Cybersex (from the small to medium to high level interactions)
  3. Site responsibility vs Parent responsibility.

#3 is more or less a conversation that @JoiPod (Joi Podgorny) and I continually have as we develop methods to service our sensitive, bright, clever audience, and their parents (adjectives pending context of situation).

There are TWO ways of approaching the above topics: A) As theory & Industry conversation, B) In practice & actuality.

It’s great to come together and talk about how WE – as adults, participants in youth culture online, responsible citizens, and concerned governing bodies- can build opportunities to help kids succeed.  I will ALWAYS be up for that movement / discussion. 🙂

And yet, during my tenure within this industry and all the varieties of platforms I’ve worked with – I have started to recognize a growing movement of response and expectations for responsibility.

And so, I’m going to point my bloggin’ ranty finger at this growing movement.  Fair warning, I weave in and out of all sorts of open issues regarding kids online, beyond just COPPA, and often bleed many ideals together (because when you are in the market of “practice”, it’s either you can or can’t…, and that transcends what is defined in the ‘law’, and often leads to the variety of expectations and public assumptions).

Picture this:

Instead of Superman dressing himself as Clark Kent everyday (in his ongoing efforts to protect his identity), now dozens of

Clark, close your shirt... your Superman is showing!

invisible moderators frantically attend to Superman with a mission to keep his secret safe, and a dozen invisible moderation floating through the air, shielding & blocking the public’s vision of Superman (ya know… just in case he’s forgetful or makes a mistake).

COPPA is the only legislation available to protect kids – and it’s centered around identity – NOT appropriate content.

I have always believed that if you HOUSE a site, you have responsibility for maintaining the integrity and safety for that site too. That being said:

  • Is individual identity/safety becoming a community responsibility more so than personal responsibility?
  • Is it the community’s ultimate responsibility to stop your child from inappropriately engaging another child?

Identity is huge, and kids need to protect themselves as much as sites are expected to.  With COPPA – we know that personally identifiable information CANNOT be shared without parental approval.  Ok… so that’s step one, but you and I both know, that is NOT the only expectation out there, and nor sure it be.

Extreme cyberbullying often happens when real identities are exposed online (whether usernames are shared offline or real names/contact information shared online).  It also exists with inappropriate language, or just simple rudeness (you’d be surprised how simple it is to bully someone with non-aggressive, non-obvious words).  So, now we have to be prepared for: privacy issues, cyberbullying, and explicit attempts at communication.  (I’m not complaining, mind you!)

If I (as a site operator) set up rules and tools and back-up policies… and a child STILL tests the system with work-arounds – how far down the line will sites be held responsible for rule-breakers?  Best policy suggests actions to the account (suspension or ban, access loss to features, etc), and best policy suggests that sites notify, learn, and improve systems.

Cyber-education is available ACROSS the net (there’s maybe a couple hundred organizations dedicated to cyberbullying awareness on Twitter alone).  Here’s my question: when does the public’s engagement with cyber-education happen?  When should it happen?  And why does it feel like cyber-education only receives attention when negative things happen?

Ultimately – there is a growing need for responsibility to be taken within the home – and responsibility to be explained to the child.  How do we help educate and involve all the parties (like families, schools, extended families, friends, individuals) WITHOUT having to change a website’s business-model?

This has been an open conversation for a LONG time now, and it’s a rather sensitive topic as NO ADULT who loves his/her child wants to be called out for a possible issue or failure (failure being a rather strong word, my apologies).

Our industry’s endless enigma: How to involve parents who don’t have time to be involved.

Not all garbage comes in a can... It's your business to secure your CRAP 😉 ("Check yourself before you wreck yourself" - Ice Cube)

Look – please don’t shoot the messenger here, Parents.  Momma Bear has claws and Poppa Bear bites… I know that (I was a ref for toddler soccer for 2 years in college… if you have EVER been a ref or a coach – you know what I’m referring to here).  I respect the amount parents have on their plate!  That being said, I ask you to talk to ANYONE who deals with kids online, and you’ll get the same response… the majority of parents only involved if something negative happens (and then it’s typically an aggressive conversation of blame with the site).

My fear: Does this mean that the government has to step in and point a greater finger of responsibility to sites?  Is that what will happen with the expectations of a new COPPA?  States are adding new Cyberbullying rules – are those rules going to bleed into COPPA, and therefore introduce new enforcement responsibilities or expectations on sites?

I know parents need help, they can’t possibly have eyes EVERYWHERE.  Most of us in the industry want parents to expect nothing but happiness and rainbows and fun and friends, etc, within our kids websites/games.  Safety reassurance is almost always a part of the business model.  And industry people like me?  WE ARE TRYING EVERY SINGLE DAY TO PROTECT YOUR KIDS, and often succeeding.  However, new slang happens by the moment, and a minxy tween exploring language/sexuality/peer competition, etc, will do what they need to in order to surpass the mandated boundaries blocking them from their goal.

The more blocks, the higher the frustration, the more determination to get a result.  Such actions = more pressure on a business, and more money spent on scaling/tools, and a greater difficulty for success which affects the audience, business, and general site entertainment.  Let me reiterate another way:

  1. The more obstacles put on a business directed to children now will result in…
  2. A decrease in businesses directed to children later while will result in…
  3. More young kids involved in 13+/adult sites that do not have “Best practices” or “Good policy” or even “COPPA”.

We know there are a GREAT amount of kids who lied about their age to join sites like Facebook, Formspring, Foursquare (with their fancy smartphones), and Twitter.

So, as COPPA gets its make-over, and as this nation of helicopter parents grows, and kids make privacy/identity mistakes or keep attempting boneheaded social interactions… how do we aim for online success for youth without building landmines & sinking traps?

Help me, help you?  Help me, help you…. Seriously.  Let’s tackle this together.

How about instead of "Show me the money!" we go with "Show me the united front for taking responsibility in protecting and educating kids across the net!" ...What, not catchy? Oh, Beans.

Add your thoughts at the beep… be they charged, devil’s advocate, sympathetic, or requesting more context.  I’m really interested in this as an exploration conversation.  

Categories: Izzy Neis Links

It’s Arrived! FTC’s Proposals for COPPA amendments

September 15, 2011 1 comment

FTC Seeks Comment on Proposed Revisions to Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule Changes in Technology Drive Proposed Updates

The Federal Trade Commission is seeking public comment on proposed amendments to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule, which gives parents control over what personal information websites may collect from children under 13. The FTC proposes these amendments to ensure that the Rule continues to protect children’s privacy, as mandated by Congress, as online technologies evolve. The Commission proposes modifications to the Rule in five areas: definitions, including the definitions of “personal information” and “collection,” parental notice, parental consent mechanisms, confidentiality and security of children’s personal information, and the role of self-regulatory “safe harbor” programs.

FTC Seeks Comment on Proposed Revisions to Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule Changes in Technology Drive Proposed Updates

Wow… so, after a year of research and reflection from the COPPA round table in DC, the FTC has come forward with some proposals / amendments to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.  This should be VERY interesting, considering the upcoming push for kids to participate in Social Media platforms (*cough* Hearsay… Facebook *cough).  Take a look at the link above for full run down from the FTC website. Otherwise, here’s a quick bullet list.

Proposed changes include, my notes in RED:

  •  Updating the definition of “personal information” to include geolocation and persistent identifiers such as tracking cookies for behavioral advertising. (Wow. I actually think this is GREAT for all those platforms now collecting location.  Seems like a no brainer in regards to children.  As for Behavioral Advertising?  Man oh man, this should be an interesting shake-down.)
  • Modifying the definition of “collection” to allow children to participate in interactive communities without parental consent. (Sites must employ reasonable measures to delete all or virtually all children’s personal information before it is made public) (I’m not sure how different this is from what is already practiced?  I will need to do a deeper dive to understand what this is in exact reference to, or what this actually affects – if anything at all).
  • Streamlining/clarifying information that websites give parents prior to collecting children’s personal information (adding more information in the notifications, and not hiding in only in the Privacy Policy) (This is great in “theory” – but let’s be honest… it’s hard enough to get parents to see the BIG GREEN CLICK HERE / URL at the TOP of a welcome email, regardless of the information buried within the email.  I feel this is a “good policy” amendment more than something that will prove helpful, which is sad.)
  • New Parental Verification / consent opportunities (Yay! we need new methods!):
  1. Electronic scans of signed parental consent forms (The modern “fax”, lol.  No brainer here.)
  2. Video-conferencing (Bwaha! Dear gawd almighty – this is BONKERS for scaling… Great for quick-fire Customer Service & Skype, nuts for staffing and sustaining large groups)
  3. Government-issued IDs checked against a database (note: promptly deleted after verification) (Interesting! Lots of “Big Brother”-esque thoughts stream through my head, and I don’t necessarily think its a bad thing in regards to children… But that’s because those actions help me do my job in protecting my audience).
  • PROPOSED DELETION OF EMAIL-PLUS (This is a HUGE FTC proposal. It could affect a LOT of businesses and platforms for kids. Seriously.  Not to mention, marketing emails & virtual worlds… People who have been using email plus + great policy are about to lose a LOT of numbers in registrations!  Oooo doggy!)
  • New 180-day proposal for companies seeking “new” types of verification processes to be vetted and approved (or rejected) by the FTC
  • Safe Harbor programs must do annual audits. (Um. Yeah. I feel like there should be biannual audits done, but in a cooperative, friendly manner.)
Overall – interesting day of information.  Commenting has started on these proposed amendments… so get on it if you feel the need to speak out.  The only yellow flag for me = deletion of Email Plus.  It has been the EASIEST method to engage kids… and the lowest barrier to entry for parents (*no comment on the easy work arounds).  I worry that this will just send kids tenfold into adult areas or into opportunities of lying to get what they want.  Overall, maybe it will be a great thing?  I think I’m just foreseeing the crunch various companies are going to have between removing the “email plus” approval system and entering the “full verification” method.  I know a lot of companies have used email plus in a positive method – with extensive filters, moderation systems/practices, and staffing.
So… what do you think?

Zuckerberg wants children under 13 on Facebook?

May 20, 2011 1 comment

Zuckerberg said he wants younger kids to be allowed on social networking sites like Facebook. Currently, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) mandates that websites that collect information about users (like Facebook does) aren’t allowed to sign on anyone under the age of 13. But Zuckerberg is determined to change this.

“That will be a fight we take on at some point,” he said. “My philosophy is that for education you need to start at a really, really young age.”

But just how would Facebook’s social features be used by younger children?

“Because of the restrictions we haven’t even begun this learning process,” Zuckerberg said. “If they’re lifted then we’d start to learn what works. We’d take a lot of precautions to make sure that they [younger kids] are safe.”


Here are my first thoughts.

1. PESSIMISM: Of course Mark Zuckerberg wants kids on Facebook – Facebook is a advertising & trend analysis GOLD MINE dressed as a happy, friend-connecting social network.  Kids are the largest licensing group, and advertisers would LOVE to get their hands on that kind of market.

So much for the ENTIRE POINT OF COPPA – which wasn’t created for your immediate privacy, but created to PROTECT CHILDREN FROM MARKETERS STEALING OR SWINDLING PII.


Also see: Facebook Forced to Address Legal Gray Area of Kids and Advertising from AdAge. http://adage.com/article/digital/facebook-forced-address-kids-advertising/227633/

2. FEAR: Oh, that’s a GREAT idea.  Why not make more PERSONALLY IDENTIFIABLE INFORMATION ABOUT MINORS available?  Tre sigh.  Yes, education is VERY important – particularly about secret identities.  But, children under the age of 13 DO NOT HAVE THE COGNITIVE CAPABILITIES TO BE SOLELY RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR PUBLIC PERSONA.  Part of being young is that you’re protected and allowed to make mistakes – by allowing that on Facebook – a public platform that reaches far beyond the lunch room, and far beyond your mom telling your aunt about that stupid detention you got?  BOO.  Not ideal.

3. LOGISTICS & CONCERNS: MODERATION. SCALABILITY. COST. Even if Facebook DID man up and start pre-screening all content contributed by U13 sources, what a nightmare!  Staff to cover something like that?  Insane.  And neither revenue nor cost efficient.

4. HOPE: Any sort of “educational program” that comes with U13 on Facebook would have to be an entire new entity.  Think: Facebook Junior, profile training wheels.  It would have to be limited, with tutorials and information, and educational guidance.  Leverage the sort of YouTube content that SweetyHigh has created (worth checking out).  But in no way, would Facebook be able to cruise right into allowing U13 without redesigning the fundamental/core use of Facebook.

4. REALITY: I deal EVERY SINGLE DAY with kid chat, and kid posts, and kid interactions, and behavior crises from U13.  I worry about social networks for children that do NOT rely on fantastical role play or themed-content.  Those two elements help protect direct attacks (or even mistaken, indirect attacks) on a sensitive and underdeveloped child by allowing creative persona & identity hiding (to a certain extent, of course – real friends playing in fantasy worlds blends that reality vs role play, and takes interaction to a different level).  Children are still in the process of social learning.  Social learning CAN be expanded – and I do applaud the idea of social network education… but tossing youth into the deep end, where there are daily Trojan attacks on accounts, stolen identity issues & account phishing, cyberbullying, advertising lures, and STRANGERS is not ideal.  Think about it: not even normal, rational adults can successfully navigate Facebook accurately…

If there is a way for Zuckerberg to incorporate social networking education, with Facebook structure, I’m eager to see it – but there are quite a few MASSIVE problems in his path.  And with this audience?  Bowling through the ideals without proper guidance, understanding, or safety nets = not a safe agenda.

I hope Zuck collects his facts, has the necessary research concluded, and (excuse the phrase) gets his shizzz straight before he really dives into something like this.  For as much as I applaud optimistic philosophy, I desire educated practicality.

Age Gate Complications

March 14, 2011 1 comment

How the Public Interprets COPPA-Prompted Age Restrictions

Most parents and youth believe that the age requirements that they encounter when signing up to various websites are equivalent to a safety warning. They interpret this limitation as: “This site is not suitable for children under the age of 13.” While this might be true, that’s not actually what the age restriction is about. Not only does COPPA fail to inform parents about the appropriateness of a particular site, but parental misinterpretations of the age restrictions mean that few are aware that this stems from an attempt to protect privacy.

While many parents do not believe that social network sites like Facebook and MySpace are suitable for young children, they often want their children to have access to other services that have age restrictions (email, instant messaging, video services, etc.). Often, parents cite that these tools enable children to connect with extended family; Skype is especially important to immigrant parents who have extended family outside of the US. Grandparents were most frequently cited as the reason why parents created accounts for their young children. Many parents will create accounts for children even before they are literate because the value of connecting children to family outweighs the age restriction. When parents encourage their children to use these services, they send a conflicting message that their kids eventually learn: ignore some age limitations but not others.

danah boyd | apophenia » How COPPA Fails Parents, Educators, Youth

I really, truly encourage you to head over to the link above and read the beginning and end (I sectioned only a portion) of Danah’s post.  She’s right. 

Back when I was an early blogger, I used to get frustrated with the casual nonchalance of parents who let their kids watch Youtube, then create accounts, and then post videos (ack!)… teachers/parents who friended their U13 kids on myspace and facebook and twitter (blergh).  There are a lot of these conflicts-of-interest I see happening regarding the dynamic between parents & children accessing the social/entertainment world online.  As the years have gone by, I’ve stopped ranting so much about these other social media sites.  I just try to make sure that the wee corners of the interwebs that I touch have some sort of care, logic, appropriateness to them.

Having said that… I, fortunately & unfortunately, have the hands-on experience working with Age Gates from one stance NOT mentioned in Danah’s post…. youth-targeted sites.

Age gates = have been a battle for many a kids biz.  Frustration points I’ve encountered, or had others relay to me:

1. Most kids, teens, adults, parents don’t even bother putting in the right info – they just choose the easiest option (either the pre-populated date or January 1, 2011) from the scroll gate option.  > Now they’re caught in the filter.

2. The session cookies.  Yes, I think on many levels a session cookie is necessary (why would you have a gate if they can cheat the gate?).  However, as mentioned by Danah, and my point 1 above – parents / adults either put in the easiest information OR they put in their CHILD’S information… > Now they’re caught in the filter and frustrated (CS ticket if you’re lucky).

3. How do you determine a child from an adult when receiving a poorly spelled (btw, yes, many parents do not spend time editting and their emails often look like a child’s – identities have been tested and proven via phone conversations, arrrg!) CS ticket regarding the age gate?  Fun times. > Now they’re caught in the filter. Cookie sessioned. And possibly a poorly educated parent looking for a bit of help for their kid.

4. TIP OFF LANGUAGE – Due to the FTC & Safe Harbor Co’s attempts at trying to keep some sort of legitimate gate-action happening… This is frustrating to navigate.  I agree with the need for non-tip-off language, however, this can get really questionable fast when you really start to analyze the language you’re using to explain how to use the age gate without explaining how to defeat the age gate.  > Now they are caught in the age gate, cookie sessioned out, confused by why, with CS tickets submitted and no where to go…

5. Every biz wants kids to enter the lists for their closed Beta… but you can’t have a minor agree to the legal documents associated to a Closed Beta session.  Ruh roh, age gates doing what they’re supposed to do against the need for the site… > Rock, meet hard place.  Also, add in: Caught in the age gate, cookie sessioned out, confused by why, with CS tickets submitted, no where to go, and now questioning the legitimacy of a kids site that won’t let kids in…

Ruh Roh + Fail whale?  Or age gate success?  Tre sigh.

I’m not going to give you my solutions to these frustrations, but having pointed them out, hopefully you’ll understand some of the yellow flags out there regarding Age Gates.  Every little heads-up helps, yeah?  I hope so.

Now go read Danah Boyd.  She’s much more eloquent than I am today… 😉

Mining for Awesome: Metrics to Identify Your Community

January 26, 2011 2 comments

This fine young man has a different type of impact on the community.  He impacts more users … without his participation, about 2% of the community no longer participates.  He does not impact the total oxygen of the community as much, in other words, he doesn’t impact the number of tweets or number of conversations.  But he does bring along 2% of the community.  And his impact lasts through the forecast cycle, meaning he impacts new participants as well.

This exercise can be run for every user in a community.  We can easily forecast what impact each user has on the overall future of a community.  By looking forward, we get to see what might happen, and we can take steps to change the future.  When we simply look back into the past, we only measure what happened in the past.

In this simple example, when we remove just two users from a community of about four hundred weekly participants, we lose close to 8% of all future activity in this community.  In spite of a ton of new users, these two folks, @michelehinojosa and @immeria, foster a wonderful and vibrant community.  That’s a decent measure of influence, don’t you think?

Kevin Hillstrom: MineThatData: Hashtag Analytics: Removing a Member of the Community

(Received in Twitter via @TiffanyRichison – my AMAZING Community Lead, who scored it via @TheCR and @mindthatdata)

Over the last year there have been THREE huge benefactors to understanding an audience that I feel like I can’t stress enough:

1. Avoiding the operational FAIL WHALE (oh man, do I have withheld rants on this)
2. Understanding that a competitive site in this industry must have diversity in everything (from gaming, to customizations, to approaching an audience)

For a few short minutes here, and I stress short, I simply must ramble about the importance of metrics and how our industry HAS to step to bat and start finding the value of users NOT just the abuse.

And when I say “our” industry – I mean specifically the CS, Moderation, and Community.  We need to TOTALLY BFF-up our Metrics peeps… and if there aren’t metrics peeps at your biz, then you need to step up to bat and figure out enough of a base line understanding regarding metrics and analytics to be able to support what you do.

Why? WE’RE EXPENDABLE.  That’s a lie.  I know it, you know it, but there are many a board member who don’t understand why CS & Community & (more specifically) Moderation staffing/tools/practices are so important – POST launch, when the belt gets tighter and the big bucks are takin’ a bit longer to roll in.

We’re just people who manage people – anyone can do that… interns can do that, right? PUUUUUUUUUUUKE.

WRONG. UGh. Shudder. Frustration + fist at the sky with some sort of user engagement battle cry!  Just because you have a background in marketing – that doesn’t mean you have that GUT understanding, nor ability to read a community.  Marketing folks can spin statements and emphasize the value of advertising and approaching product, but it’s not the same […feeling another tangent coming on. Must jump off this tangent path, my apologies].

What was I talking about?  Oh yes, Metrics.  Analytics.  Whatever you wanna call it – basically, this day and age those of us people-people need to have back up.  Stories are fun for conferences and for nailing a point home.  Leaderboard-esque insight into top players is great to show your front-line knowledge of the audience’s ability.  Social media platforms and conversations are great for keeping the product within fingertips of users everyday conscious.  But when it comes to number crunching – dude bettah getz some backup. For realzies.

So far, metrics have been great for game designers and registration flows.  It’s been great for microtrans and heatmaps (which, may I say – I love me some well developed heatmaps).

Blargh – OKAY, I’m biting off more than I can blog-chew at the moment.  I’m going to kinda filter through my metrics conversation from the big point (overall metrics and their importance), and wittle it down to SPECIFICALLY moderation + community necessity.

Finding ABUSE
– Individuals who abuse the system / community / experience
– What is the individual abuse (on a case by case, report, basis)
– Brings questions of WHY individuals abuse: is it the lack of game? Is it the drive of the content?
– Is it a growing group behavior?
– What exactly is the abuse of this growing group behavior?
– Brings again the questions of WHY individuals abuse: is it the lack of game? Is it the drive of the content? Is it the lack of appropriate competitive interaction?  CAN YOU FIX THIS?

Finding VALUE
– Individuals who represent the best of the community
– Individuals who engage from within
– Individuals who lead by example
– *Individuals who seem to be the best of the best, but actually become somewhat cancerous in their righteousness and maybe should be used as a best case
– Groups who lead by example
– Groups who promote desired community efforts
– Areas that promote desired goals for game or specific area
Individuals or areas that can help promote the MONETARY VALUE OF UPGRADING (via microtrans or subscription)

Remember – you want to gently lure and entice users into becoming monetary assets… and not just monetary assests but SUPER USERS.  For as gross as statement from a “purest” perspective as that is… YOU CANNOT RUN A GAME WITHOUT INCOME.  Just can’t.

Why would you just use metrics for landscapes and game agendas, or finding bad users?  Dude – it’s the day and age of community! Of social media!  Own it.

Just as this AWESOME article above points out – not all users are just “good” or just “bad”… Use metrics and analytics from:
– Chat (a filter that reads positive chat and associates percentages, a chat filter that reads abusive chat and associates separate percentages)
– Interactions (Community event item clicking and purchasing metrics, guild-grouping, chat submissions, logins, time spent online, friending, time spent in social areas, time spent in gaming areas, time spent multiplayer gaming/interacting, leaderboards, time spent in “home” areas customizing, etc)
– Friending – viral quality outside of game, as well as inside the game.

If you are in the MMO or VW space… I would SERIOUSLY suggest taking a moment to have a solid “think” regarding understanding the bookends of your community, and the elements that drive the bulk middle either direction over the course of their experience.  The more you can automate that process for your moderations, customer service reps, and community managers – the stronger / swifter / and better the process will be for you!!  You will still need the insights and stories and multisocialmediaextravaganzamadskillz of community pro’s – naturally.  But you also need number crunching and proof of pudding products.

So, my dears, in this slightly confusing, probably ADD fueled post – my point is this:
Community and Moderation and CS folks… go rogue for a moment, totally ninja-BFF any metrics/analytics people on staff.  Make tools or practices that will help you to find the value, find the abuse, and back it up with the best kind of numbers you can find… AND THEN use your mad community skills to help understand why numbers show what they show, and improve your audience, your product, and the WORLD.

Make sense?  Hope so.  If not, as always, leave a comment at the beep……