Engage! Expo Conference Prezzie

September 27, 2010 1 comment

Hello, hello. Long time no talk. Yes, I realize this, and I send my apologies.

Last week (Sept 22nd), I spoke at the Engage! Expo conference in Santa Clara on User Engagement – aka, the art of engaging users (specifically online gamers 13 and younger, although you could argue for a General rating).  It wasn’t one of my most stellar performances, I drown a bit in having FAR too much to say… but I successfully rambled a few decent points & tales, and hopefully shared some new understandings as well.

I am always grateful to the Engage! Expo team (Tonda you’re amazing), and it was great meeting some new people.

Now, prepare yourself for some Heavy. Duty. Slide. Action.  I Powerpointed it up HARD CORE (my speech teacher would be throwing ninja stars at me if he knew).  Luckily, many people have contacted me asking for my Powerpoint slides… so, I am providing a video of them here.

Questions, comments, problems, scenarios, rambles, quips, complaints, queries, and soliloquies should be directed to the comment section of this post.  I’ll do my best to get back to you.

Things I’m kickin’ myself for leaving out: Monetization and the “velvet rope”, How to use live staff well,  the Parental Unit, and The fine art of event planning and support.  Thank god there’s always future conferences – I can do a “Part Two” slide set 😉

The Conundrum that is Planet Cazmo

August 2, 2010 6 comments

Planet Cazmo is going to partner with Fox’s Teen Choice 2010 awards and entertainment mogul Tony Mottola to create a custom virtual environment called the Virtual Teen Choice Beach Party. The special virtual environment will be directly accessible from a link on the Teen Choice Website. The Teen Choice 2010 awards will air August 9 at 8 EST on Fox Users will be able to visit the virtual beach party after casting their votes online.

In the Virtual Teen Choice Beach Party, users will be able to design an avatar and a virtual home. In the virtual world, users can chat, play mini-games, virtually dance, and even purchase virtual goods. One of the goods for sale will be a branded good shaped like the award show’s signature Teen Choice Surfboard. This won’t be the first virtual event Planet Cazmo has developed for a major brand or celebrity partner. Previous projects developed by Planet Cazmo were primarily virtual concerts or music-themed, though.

Virtual Teen Choice Beach Party

Okay… So, wow.

First, I do find it absolutely RAD that Planet Cazmo has broken the start-up, non-uber-brand IP curse and managed to score such a marketing bonanza as TEEN CHOICE AWARDS on Fox.  That’s kinda huge.  Brings in the eyeballs – aka, sudden brand awareness.

For the last two years I’ve watched Planet Cazmo score quite a few influential contracts with big music peeps… They’re freakin’ email machines – no one sends as many newsletters as this site… seriously.  There is always something going on it seems.

The art is easy, not too complex. The world is expansive (almost too expansive, but they try to pack everyone into the same server- providing the PARTY! feel of busy-busy).

Again, I’m still floored by their marketing department and promotions… well played for such high profile awesomeness.

PROBLEM: I just logged in as a minor and was able to share “my” phone number (or, ya know, the Empire Carpet guy’s number, five eight eight two three zero zero), “my” address (or, ya know, the white house), amongst other things.  Then I created another account, logged in, and watched myself say the same content all over again (aka, the public can read it, its not just author-only jedi-mind-trickin’).

At least they caught “shadows are as dark as holes” – but as holes, for as swarthy a curse as it is in kid land, is NOT A LEGAL PROBLEM.

I can’t believe I just logged in, approved my “child” via email plus, and then passed out faux-personal information.  What the what?!  AND THEY’RE GOING UBER-PUBLIC WITH A TV SPONSORSHIP!  It makes me very, very nervous for them.

Talk about disappointed.  I’ve been dealing with several companies lately that are looking to ensure that they’re sponsorships/partnerships/etc with youth virtual worlds are LOCKED DOWN and safe… why the heck didn’t Fox check into the legal nature of Planet Cazmo?

I’m still absolutely astounded that I could give addresses and phone numbers. Baffled, even.

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Is there such thing as 100% Safe Chat for kids?

June 28, 2010 6 comments

My oh my, ain’t this the question of the hour.  I’m definitely not going to win any friends from some people on this one, but folks – I’m not going to B.S. you here.  There are people who philosophize laws and legislation based on all sorts of elements, there are people who make tools, there are people who are charged with helping, there are people who research theories, there are people who spend efforts for education or overzealous protection, there are people who have propoganda & agendas (good-good, bad-good, good-bad, bad-bad), and then there are the people who just gotta get the job done: every. single. day.

There are a lot of people in the pot trying to decide what “safety” means these days – especially regarding chat.  I’m just gonna tell you a bit of insight from my side, the “every. single. day” perspective – think of it as the stage manager telling you what’s happening behind the curtain, but also knowing what is expected to be seen by those in front of the curtain.  It’s a very different view from the director, or set designer, or critic, or actor, or audience…

Here are a bunch of questions I get:

1. What are the safeguards for chat for kids? (aka, what are “filters”)

As we know (or as you’re now learning), registration processes aren’t the only method of PII collection (PII: personally identifiable information – which is prohibited from being shared by children under the age of 13 through the legislation called COPPA).  In these virtual experiences like MMOs and Virtual Worlds and Chat Clients and Social Networks – there are a thousand ways to share information.  People put in “filters” that are trained to catch or allow content, based on the type of filter it is, so that content can or cannot appear within a social space…

  • Dictionary Phrase list – basically a list of predetermined statements with no room for alteration
    Pro: Your users cannot alter or break any of your systems, unless they’ve figured some alterations ultra-serious language using codes of first initials to sentences, lol
    Con: Really, really, really frustrating. Really frustrating.  Not a great user experience because everything is dictated, and unless it’s a GINORMOUS list of pre-determined statements, there is little room for off-the-cuff roleplay, and being dictated to is never something a pre-teen/tween child likes…
  • Dictionary lists – basically a list of all permitted words – like an uber list straight from the dictionary (lol – hence the clever name)
    – Pro: You’re only allowing certain words and blocking out any phonetic work arounds or garbled attempts of spelling (ex: words like funkyou or asstronaut are not in the dictionary and therefore caught in the filter before appearing live).
    – Con: Dictionary lists are HUGE. Let me repeat HUGE. You better scan through them for medical terms like “pubic” or “pedophilia” both of which are in the dictionary, as are “address” and “phone” and “email”.  Also – phrases are not in the dictionary – such as “as hole” or “read hard dead” or “name at yahoo dot com” and “my house is on third street maytown illinios”.  Heck, you can even use work arounds like “my digits are ate hero hero tree tree fort hive sicks mine on” (that says 800-334-5691 which is a number i just made up using the types of easy work arounds KIDS USE EVERY SINGLE DAY – no. joke.  All words in the dictionary).  Also – with every user who creates a new username – there is yet another addition to your white list.  Kids have to be able to speak to each other, right?  1,000,000 users = 1,000,000 additions to the dictionary… YOUR CHAT PROGRAM IS GOING TO BE VERY, VERY SLOW.
  • White list – An extensive list of appropriate words (and some phrases) that your team has specifically allowed in chat (much like the dictionary chat).  Typically, must have a smaller blacklist to balance out some of the issues.
    – Pro: You’re starting with a set list of approved words and statements, you have a little more control over the types of conversations you wish your users to have.
    – Con: Young users with issues spelling will never get to say what they’re trying to say unless you have the foresight or capability to see what they’re attempting to say and add to the white list.  You have a smaller range of free community unless you’re actively keeping up with the chat of kids and making new allowances, etc.  Also – good luck with symbols, characters, punctuation, and numbers – since your system has already chosen the words it likes, kids can use these other things to break what you’ve set up.  Youre mini black list better be prepared for statements like “silky fingers” or “hard purple staff” or “up your skirt” or “chocolate kid” or “lets have sax”
  • Black List – An extensive list of inappropriate words/phrases blocked from chat, with a subsequent white list that helps balance out the black list for appropriate content.
    – Pro
    : It’s an active list that is monitored, changed, and edited by the day to support the growing needs and cleverness of youth & pop culture in general (which can also be considered a con, lol).  You know exactly what they cannot say, and removing all negative content is the emphasis while trying to be clever enough to not break the user experience (as we know, inappropriate content changes by the day – thank you South Park and Family Guy). Urbandictionary.com is a great help.  You can prepare the blacklist to look for such phrases as “my addy is” or “real name” or “in your pants”)
    – Con: Unless you have a tool set that can separate words, find gem-of-words within bigger cluster-words, ignore run-on vowels or extra characters, read thru spaces and numbers and symbols, etc, well…  you’re going to have problems (and there ARE tools out there that do this… you just have to look, test, research, etc).  This is what I call “control over your active road map” – you need to be working to verify that all options around and through your blacklist controls are sticking tight.  Example: the word “ass” is inappropriate, but can be said in “class” and “assembly”… make sure it’s not caught.  On the flip side, the work “retard” is never appropriate in any variation – so the filter needs to be able to catch “uretard” or “retardation” or “ret@rd” or “r3t@rd” or “mrretardkid” < all of which I’ve seen kids attempt.  Also – this is not something just anyone can pick up… knowing how to work and manage a black list effectively is a solid job and needs care & cleverness.

2. Can I be 100% certain my chat system is safe from PII collection or sharing by children?

NO.  Not unless everything is pre-screened before going live (example: the phrase dictionary or canned chat alternatives).  And even if you had moderators screening all content before it goes live – that is a heavy scaling issue, with a lot of room for human error.

I’ve already mentioned the types of identifiable location words that need to be removed in Dictionary Chat / White list / Black list.  But what I haven’t mentioned are first name / last names.  Unless you restrict first names completely (including a user’s avatar name), you’re already in the hole.  Why?  I don’t know about you – but just because someone once told me not to date guys with two first names doesn’t mean they don’t exist (teasing about the two first names… clearly that’s just a myth… hehehe).  Ryan Edwards. Tiffany Addam.  Joe Gail.  Larry Drake. Then you have the first name + object last name, such as Jack Hall, Charlie Brown, Jerry Trainer, Sally Stir.   There’s not a chat list in the world that’s going to block that unless it’s prescripted.

On the flip side, you also have numbers (should always be removed from even TYPING a number on a keyboard – why give what they can’t even have?), symbols should be removed (there is no need for @ or > – smilies are what emotes are for), and really the only punctuation should be the exclamation point and the question mark.  Even THEN you’re going to see abuse for PII sakes… “My digits are ! !!!!!!!! nil nil !!!! !!!!! !!!!! ! !! !!!! !!!!!” and there’s an 800 phone number.   Or the progression in chat for this:
“my digits are after the a. write em down. A!!!!!!!!” “A nil a nill” “A!!!!” “A!!!!!” “A!” “A!!!!” “A!!!” “A!!!!!!!!!!”  Again, prescripted might help stop this.

Now… here’s the thing about prescripted agendas.  YOU LIMIT A KID IN A WORLD WHERE THEY’RE EXPECTED TO FORM A COMMUNITY – AND THEY’RE NOT GOING TO STICK AROUND.  Sure, if the game is fun, they’ll play the game, maybe stick around for a session or two… but why even make it a social game? YOU CAN’T BE SOCIAL IF YOU CAN’T BE SOCIAL.  And, heck, kids are just going to fire up their aim and/or gchat and/or msn and/or text messages.  At least with the filters and time/effort you were putting it… you were doing YOUR job in trying to protect them.  Put massive restrictions on chat and lose the social experience for users to some other techniques that are less capable / less responsible to do the job YOU could be doing the right way.

Which leads me back to – WHY MAKE A SOCIAL EXPERIENCE GAME? I’ve only seen Poptropica.com do this well – and they’re not really going for a social community.  They’re going for game-based/story-based interactive, educational fun without community or self-expression or role play… it’s about the agenda decided for the purpose of the game.

But how do we protect / stop users from these simple methods of info sharing – like first name + last name?  Put it in your rules, your Terms of Service.  Inform the users, and the parents, that there could be a chance that something is shared by accident… and that your site will remove any/every user who breaks this rule.  Put forth the best effort with filters and POST MODERATION (various ad hoc methods that illuminate users who are breaking the policies you’ve set).  If they can’t play by the rules and regulations you’ve set, and if a user is putting your brand/game at risk… SO LONG, GOOD RIDDANCE.

The only way we can REALLY attack this problem is through education.  Either in-game, pre-game, parental education & guidance… but for me, I’d like to see POP CULTURE EDUCATION.  Ad campaigns, commercials, etc.

And by the way… these are only a *few* of the examples there are in work-arounds.  There are MANY, MANY more, and they change, grow, mutate by the day.

3. What is the safety method of chat filtration?

The safest method is whatever you know works the best for YOU.  There’s no “one” perfect situation for every company, every philosophy, every policy.  Look at what your variables are:

  • Who is your target user (and what might he/she say around the lunch table with friends), who is your secondary target, and who is going to show up unwanted at the party…
  • What is the type of content/genre/fantasy you’re building, and how will the language that corresponds with that effect or change the typical every day language scene (example: if you have a world where everyone is an ice cream flavor – being called vanilla kid or chocolate kid doesn’t have the same context as it does in an athletic world where kids are sassing each other)
  • Who is in charge of policing your policy in your world – do they understand the type of content that needs to be caught?
  • Do you/your team have a sufficient enough understanding of language / pop culture / kid behaviors / online minxiness to be able to properly control / handle what you want for your audience?
  • Do you want to control your language road map – or do you wish for the aid of another company to control the language?
  • Do you understand what legally CANNOT be shared in chat?  Do you feel you have sufficiently restricted the public sharing of PII?
  • How do you want filtration to appear to the end-user?
    – Do you want them to be warned for certain language?
    – Do you want to put certain words in black boxes, where only the author can see it and the rest of the social room cannot?
    – Do you even want kids to know what words they can/cannot say?
  • How are you going to know when kids are creating language work-arounds?
  • If you allow a vendor to control your language lists, who carries the responsibility/burden if the list is not sufficient? (are you QA-ing your own policies / site?)
  • How are you going to react to users who are breaking your policies regarding chat?
  • Have you removed / scrubbed any content accidentally provided by users?

I have what works for me, and for now I’m very happy with my method.  Naturally – I am always looking / learning / finding new ways of improvement for policy, implementation, experience, etc.  That’s my job.  At the end of the day, I am accountable for the users and the company. Not only is there legislation, there is a sensitive and young audience involved.

This all leads to the “what next” step of COPPA and the recent COPPA round table that happened at the start of June.  To be honest – I’m scared.  I’m scared because there are a lot of different ideologies floating around regarding PII and chat.  The fact conversations are happening isn’t what scare me – it’s the lack of hands-on knowledge from people who have to do this every day (and I’m not talking about the directors or managers who haven’t even once signed into their tool set – trust me, there are a few of those out there).

There seems to be a lot of people looking at what’s working for others and trying to do the same… but no two sites, no two games, no two companies work the same.  Chat always seems to be one of the LAST thoughts for people… not that it needs to exist – but HOW, and what the experience is like for the end-user.  Font, character allowance, timing, content – it’s essential and standard and needs to be treated in design and creation with the same respect as EVERYTHING important to the agenda of the site.

I’d like to see more people close their doors, Willa Wonka style, and figure it out for themselves – so they can speak to it and cop to it, etc.  I, for one, should not know your chat filter holes better than you do….

Categories: Izzy Neis Links

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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Providing a Voice for Self Protections and Youth

February 4, 2010 1 comment

This is going to be a short ramble/rant.

Dear kids social gaming w/o behavior reporting mechanisms: Bravo to you for having moderation tools &  staff… those are two of the most necessary elements of a youth virtual world, I harp on them constantly, lol – but you know what is equally important?  PROVIDING THE TOOLS AND ABILITIES FOR CHILDREN TO TAKE THE NECESSARY STEPS IN BETTERING THE COMMUNITY, PROTECTING THEMSELVES, AND HAVING A VOICE.

There’s a funny thing about “behind the curtain” – it’s BEHIND the curtain – aka your audience has no idea what’s going on back there.  Rules, policy, toolsets, staff – etc – the audience doesn’t experience that at all.

If a child is getting harassed (followed, spammed, annoyed, scared, bullied, etc), pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease give the child an opportunity to express a need for aid, either on behalf of themselves, or others.  A reporting function, etc.

My issue #1.

I watched an avatar chase another avatar around (from room to room) saying things like “i ate u” and “u races base tart” and “u think ur so good”.  Firstly, that child is beating the chat filter system.  Secondly, how the heck is a kid supposed to protect himself or herself from that kind of bullying?  I was trying to report the griefing avatar and could not do so. Not good.

Yes. There is often the ignore function… that is, if you have it.  But the ignore function doesn’t stop the griefer does it? No – they’ll just grow weary and find another person to harass.

My issue #2.

We teach children to rely on adults when they need aid.  Why? Because children are still socially developing – many times they do not have experiences to draw from, the social graces or strength to navigate negative interactivity, or worse, they DO have bad experiences to draw from and that furthers fear & need for aid.  They’re KIDS, people. Minors. Youth. Inexperienced. Learning. Need guidance. Need someone to fall back on. Etc.

I’m not saying – be a momma bear, or a watch hawk.  But provide a method for children to use their voice if they need to, for themself and in protection of others.  I’m totally an advocate for kids learning how to pick themselves up after they fall, but if you provide a virtual world and label it as FAMILY FRIENDLY or SAFE, then you better create the mechnanisms necessary to provide the aid your audience both needs and requires.

The need for a moderator to respond to a negative action is almost as necessary as the relief/hope that comes after a child is able to use his/her voice to express a need for help from an adult.

I’m sorry if this is far more aggro then usual – I just hate visiting youth-based virtual worlds/mmos and witnessing nefarious activity and not being able to do anything about it, and worse – seeing a young community struggle with the same problem.

Categories: Izzy Neis Links

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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