Okay, so I learned a lesson today.
Was in the CyberSafety panel today at SXSW. The panel posed a question regarding: how do we project cybersafety in the world- education? websites?
I stood up and found my sealegs (I quake when I stand by microphones apparently… i should only sit) and then found a soap box to speak regarding businesses acting as role models & the inherit responsibility to their customers. Well, I started throwing out different ideals about this particular safety space – one of which was alluding to cyberbullying through youtube. My point was — the horror of parents within this cyberworld directs mainly to myspace, but no one pays much attention to youtube these days, particularly the example of that 14 year old kid on youtube who rates movies and gets heckled by adults… someone has to take responsibility for this space and I think companies are one piece of the pie… and a might big piece too, aside from education. Seeing as that was a rather sticky tangent, I went back to U13 brands & sites reacting towards their audience.
Well, apparently my entire point was overshadowed by this youtube comment. Le sigh. A gentleman reporter who works in the gov/educational site of cybersafety completely misconstrued what I said based upon his own issues with the issue, and then stood up after me to address the panel. He sadly offended me twice (making allusions to the fact I don’t know anything about ads, etc, or my audience user patterns, again le sigh) and then asked his own question which had nothing to do with my point.
Apparently, as I learned after the panel, he thought I was asking a question. After some re-explaining on my part, we both realized (him more explicit and harsh than I) that perhaps my use of the youtube example was distracting and that I’m an idiot. Nice. So then, with a small mic in my face, I re-stated my point, touching a little more appropriately on cyberbullying and auditing youth, and a whole bundle of other topics regarding cyberbullying that I haven’t addressed that much lately.
He tossed a few names in my face of people I should talk to (i tried to tell him I blog on this stuff as someone who works on the front lines of this market and my comments come from hands on experience), and then he mentioned that he can’t promise that his article would be nice and that the tone would be kind. And…. heart sink.
I LOVE this industry. There so many creative alternatives for things, and I definitely think if we just push ourselves and own up to what we have, could do, and will do– we could really have some seriously future-improving awesomeness on our hands. When I raise points about worries regarding safety, etc, it’s because we’re a smart group of folks dedicated to making kick arse things, and we’re working with our world’s future population (who will be taking care of us in the future, don’t forget)… I was raised by an insurance agent father who told me to avoid the pot holes you see coming, and a teacher mother who taught me to give the best to improve things for the future. So… if you see an issue, raise it to the community, figure out how to side step it yourself, and then point it out for others. I don’t have the answers (which is what I repeated several times today), I just have to deal with the problems constantly. Mis-step and it’s a black mark.
Well, my willy-nilly comment in a panel might just turn out to be a black mark. It’s kinda ironic that this gentleman’s post/radio show, etc, could eventually turn out to be not-so-friendly comments that can be audited back to me, and ironic that we spoke mainly on the content of cyberbullying & auditing.
I have learned my lesson about tossing wide, multi-tipped points into a public setting — keep it short & to the point & realize that not all people within the room have the same intentions & understandings.
Anyone else have something like this happen to them? Love to hear comments about it…. might make me feel less like an idiot at the mo.
p.s. with the exception of this learning experience– i have to say, I have had (and continue to) a great, great time at sxsw. Met loads of great people and learned some wicked things! woot.
- Personal information
- What do they collect? Do they collect your child’s real name? Your child’s email address? Address? Any type of information that can identify your child?? If they collect this information they should ALSO ask for your child’s DOB (Date of Birth) or Age.
- And if your child is under the age of 13, the site should ask for your (THE PARENT’S) email address and EMAIL you promptly regarding your child’s online registration process (either a “head’s up, your kids on our site, and here’s some info about why we’re safe” or “Your child signed up and here is your child’s login information, have questions? ask” emails).
- If they DO NOT collect any private/identifiable information (they only collect: username, M/F, DOB, and/or zip code) that’s fine. They do not need to email you– but personally– if they’re under 13 years of age, it’s my preference to see the site always email the parent. But again, in this case, not necessary for the information attained (yet…)
User Generated Content:
- User Generated Content (UGC) is ANYTHING your child creates of their own free will (and then shares online). Whether it be a screen name, a blog/forum comment, a blog/forum post, chat comments, a drawing, a story, and uploaded photo, etc.
- It is my professional opinion that all UGC from U13 users should go through filters & screening processes. Always. But that’s not necessarily always the case.
- This goes ESPECIALLY for usernames. Registration processes always ask for username identification. The uber-safe sites provide a mix&match screen name builder. Others screen moderate.
- Eyeballing the usernames: are they screened? How to tell:
- Freshly created usernames that haven’t been approved yet have four processes:
- 1) the user is dubbed “Guest” (or similar) until the screen name is viewed by staff (sometimes the user can see his/her own name, but others cannot– they see “guest”);
- 2) the username has gone through a filter and deemed appropriate by passing through without hitting a blacklisted word/phase (this is NOT my ideal method of screening names);
- 3) the user cannot play (only set up profile, etc) until approved by staff;
- 4) the site is stupid and has no corporate responsibility (aka, they don’t care about personal safety or inappropriate content appearing live on their premises)
- In my HUMBLE professional opinion… filters DO NOT ACCURATELY SCREEN USERNAMES… EVER. Why? Because kids… they are clever. Like the Raptors in Jurassic Park. They’ll find a way. If you have filters first & human screening before a user name goes live? That’s a lot better. Spelling, phonetics, numbers, etc make it very easy to make things look/sound like inappropriate content (remember “80081355” on a calculator? If not, go ahead– stick that in your ancient calc… we used to come up with words like that in 3rd grade)
- Freshly created usernames that haven’t been approved yet have four processes:
- Eyeballing the usernames: are they screened? How to tell:
- Further clarification: if you agree to your child’s registration process, you MAY be agreeing to your kid participating in unscreened, unmonitored viewing & uploading of personal photos, sharing information, speaking freely, etc.
- Most sites for kids make sure that they cover your basis and protect the kid… but some are lazy and do not. So it’s good to double check.
- If the site DID NOT take any of your child’s personal information, and then they ask for UGC, three things happen
- 1. The UGC is screened (a moderator/screener– adult– looks at the content and scans it for inappropriate behavior, personal information, etc)
- 2. The site NOTIFIES you of the child’s wish to display UGC on the site, and either gives you a link TO the child’s material (if already screened and deemed appropriate by staff) or keeps the UGC in a queue until you approve it yourself.
- 3. They suck: aka they post the information without screening and/or notification (which is shady)… and basically just expect the fact that the child is “nameless” in the registration process to be enough for protection & to appease COPPA legislation (which it isn’t… kids sometimes slip email addresses, phone numbers, pictures of them & their best friends, etc into UGC to make or sustain friends). This again goes back to my humble professional opinion that UGC should ALWAYS be screened by moderators & adults.
Staff and Q&A
- Something I like to check is:
- how readily available is the staff? (24 hour?)
- Are they roaming the site visibly? Or are they the “flag&come” sort that appear when a whistle is blown?
- Does content go live, or is it screened first?
- Where do I contact the site’s staff? And how easy is it to find that info?
- How do I report inappropriate content? And is it visible for kids to use quickly, simply, easily, etc
Look: you don’t have to bombard the staff with these questions (especially, since then you’re taking the time away from their jobs). Just cruise around and see for yourself. If they don’t bother to share this info with you in a parents-corner or in FAQ, etc… then maybe think again about how you feel regarding the site & your child. Chances are, they’re safe & sound… but really, it’s something to think about. It’s ALWAYS your choice. If you don’t like it, find someplace better. The market grows by day.
Ads & Content
- If you are paying for your child to play in a site… Banner Ads, well… they tend to be very uncool.
- If there are going to be ads, I’m a bigger fan of static ads than clickable ads (static = just a picture, clickable = go to another website)
- Clickable ads (like banner ads) should ALWAYS warn kids, letting them know they are being jetted AWAY from the site.
If banner ads, or clickable ads, do NOT give you a “Heads up, You’re leaving” page (usually the time count is 20 seconds before automatically sending the user along)… that is wrong. Not everyone agrees with me… but as a parent, you might.
- Sometimes free sites for kids have less-than-desirable ads flashing by. Why? Because ad revenue systems sometimes slip a non-child-friendly link through. Personally– if a site is going to have ads, I would rather THEY be the middleman, picking and choosing ads for the site instead of someone like Google Ad Sense, yadda, doing it.
- Off-Site Links: like ads, if it leads you FROM the site for kids, it should have a “heads up you’re leaving us” page attached. Kids click, click, click. Like buttons in an elevator, they tend to press them all. Better to warn then assume the kid knows what he/she pressed.
- Links: It is IN MY opinion that if a site SHOULD place exterior links on their site, they should know exactly what kind of content is available on ALL PAGES within 2 or 3 site link/page clicks. What does this mean? Well… if I link my site to your site… i better know exactly what content is on every page of your site. And if you link to your brother, well it’s my business to know exactly what is available on his site too. And if either site besides mine has inappropriate content or links or ads… well, perhaps it’s time to stop that webring, yes? Yes.
- Look for Forums:
- Forums are a FANTASTIC way for kids to continue conversations & state opinions & explore typing skillz, etc… but, if not properly addressed, they become worse than an unmonitored school yard.
- Do forum moderators participate?
- Is the content live or screened to live?
- What kind of commentary is being passed & chatted about?
- And sadly… I know it’s wrong to say (and some people might call me out on it)… But i truly do subscribe to the DO JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER. If a site looks less-than-stellar in aesthetics, doesn’t look well established or taken care of, seems to make the important information hard to find… then chances are, it isn’t a great site. The people who really do care about the kids & the community & the site will work their fingers to the bone– rolling with the times, improving, and providing.
- As for safety– always check it out for yourself:
- Registration process
- Rules & TOS
- Content: UGC, Ads, and Moderation (Staff)
That’s my tidbit of the day. If you have MORE info you’d like to share… please don’t hesitate in the comments. Thanks 😉
Okay… I’m trying to mock up a list of all these VW’s for tweens/twids that are not live yet, or exists in early Beta. Please add more in the comments, thanks!
- Bella Sera: Card game + virtual world based on horses/horse play
- MoshiMonsters: Monster virtual world based on clever gaming and monster care– easily transitions to mobile technology
- Club Pony Pals: Based on a book series about ponies, this world will be for the pony pet care
- Dizzywood: A creative, fantasy virtual world to create adventures and inspire
- Planet Cazmo: A virtual world based on gaming and MUSIC
- Freaky Creatures: A virtual world for boys regarding monster/creatures
- Build-a-Bear: Based on the popular brand, build your bear and play with it online in a virtual world. It’s LIVE now.
- FusionFall: Cartoon Network’s MMORG, based on Cartoon Network brands & exploring the worlds within the network (i’m looking forward to this!)
- Little Big Planet: Okay, okay– I know this will be a video game… but it’s community/world appeal are just too awesome to NOT mention.
- Lego Universe: It’s lego. It’s community. It’s gonna be amazing.
- Panwapa (it’s live, and been online longer than some previously mentioned): A preschool VW brought to the world by Sesame Street folks. It’s multicultural, it’s unique, it’s going to be the next big VW phase in like 1 year (preschool/kid VW’s)
- Adventure Rock: The CBBC/BBC’s robot-y virtual world
- Zibbies: A product based VW (dolls that kinda look like a mix of webkinz & Beanie Babies but with rubbery spikes for hair on their heads). Currently live in early beta.
- Pirates of the Caribbean Online: Went live a little over a week ago– this pirate existence is a downloadable app (like WOW) and currently in Beta. I love it.
- Littlest Pet Shop: Also, currently in Beta– this is kinda an exclusive experience, as they products (with the much needed code to play) are hard to get hands on. But you can demo free. No community yet.
- Wowbotz: An outerspace-feeling VW in beta-live for “preschoolers” I more or less categorize it for kids/twids.
- Mystikatz Kutties: A Virtual World for girls who like dolls dressed like colorful gypsies. Like it’s brother site “Wowbotz”, this is categorized as for “preschoolers” but I’d stick it in the kids/twids boxes.
- Magi-Nation: Based on a TV show and a trading card game, this virtual world will cater to the fantasy tweens/kids who might also enjoy shows like Yo-Gi-Oh and Pokemon and Chaotic.
- Disney’s Cars: A virtual world built on the Disney movie “Cars”.
- Mini Match: From Cartoon Network comes a MMO for casual gamers, and world roamers. It’s in UBER early beta… UBER. But so far– you can set up your avatar (promising animation, ugly avatar face/hair but that can change?, the clothing layering options = very smart indeed), but from my experience you can’t play yet. Cartoon Network seems to be treading lightly in this space– and with a good brain on their shoulders
- Pixie Hallow: Not yet in LIVE beta… but will be amazing! Loads of great rumors about this one… It’s Disney’s Fairies VW.
- T-Works (????): Looney Toon Virtual World that may or may not be launching this fall with several other Warner platforms….?
- Konstruction Zone: A new (pre-beta) VW based on cute construction characters– encourages online playtime between parents and kids.
- Papermint: another virtual world for kids– 2D art, pre-Beta (from the looks of it).
- Hello Kitty World: Not live yet, their pre-beta site offers a decent sneak peek of elements that will be a part of the world. I’m interested to find out what “in game telepathy” is– as they say in their introductory page. It’s all the bright happy bumblegum colors you come to expect from HK. I’m pumped to see what HK brings to the table.
- I’m not sure what the safety is on this yet– Sanrio Town is NOT for U13… and the HK world will tie in somehow with the pre-existing Sanrio Town community platform. So, stay tuned…. 😦
- Dragon Play: It’s a medieval world for dragon play (like the name, clever, lol).
- Chaotic: A virtual worldish(?) experience attached to collectible card-play
- Ice Age: An MMO based upon the two movies (and third to come) slated for 2009
- Minyanland: A virtual environment where kids can learn about money, banking, and managing responsibilities while gaining a virtual life. Has parent/chore metagame, etc. Based on the finance site Minyanville.com
- Planet V-Tech: described as an educational virtual world for 5+
- Earth Eternal: An MMO with educational elements that can be accessed through social networking
- Speed Racer: A virtual world (with toy tie-ins) for the upcoming movie franchise
- Web wilds: A virtual environment to correlate with the puppet-dolls.
- Hot Wheels: A virtual world to correlate with the toy-cars.
- Madagascar: A virtual world to correspond with their upcoming sequel movie.
- Seapals: A product tie-in with VW, like it’s sister product Shining Stars. (It’s gotten more PR than Shining Stars, which has been live for quite some time now– it could be interesting!)
- MyLife: An avatar/world combination toy for girls to build and share profiles (Playmates toys)
- Beanie Babies 2.0: A virtual world – pet product combo. Codes. Unlock. Dolls. Yadda.
- Guppylife: An MMO for girls not yet released, and very little info.
- Lola’s World: It’s a companion community with vw-elements for tween girls based on the Lola, Think Pink, books. It launches in April 08.
- Tronji: An MMO game based around the Tronji world is currently in development to be released alongside the TV show.
- Tech Deck Live: A Virtual world skate part for tweens who like skateboarding. Subscription based. Tech Deck is a toy product (finger skateboards).
- Dinokids: An MMO (looks just like Maplestory but with dinos) for tween/kids.
- Treetures: A VW with stuffy product tie in (Russ)
- Green: A future virtual world promoting green initiatives. Not live yet, very hush – hush. Now live.
- Kaimira MMO: BBC announced their desire to create a MMO around the Kaimira Trilogy, a book series from Star Farm Productions.
- KidsWB: Warner Bros platform site meshed with Virtual worlds??? Details still coming through the pipeline.
- DC HeroZone: Another virtual world from WB that follows comics & heroes
- WarnerZone: Another Warner Bros stealth-hush hush VW coming summer ’08.
- Zoopri: A virtual world for tweens, not live yet.
- Dinosaur Junction: Another virtual world for kids based on dinos with some educational values.
- JumpStart Advanced Preschool World: a VW for the 3-5 set. Software first, world later.
- Wizard 101: An MMO/VW for the tween, teen set based on wizardry and magic and fantasy.
- Elf Island: A tween VW based on being an upstanding member and “doing good,” not launched yet.
- Topps Town: A VW for 6+ boys (only, seriously, no girl av) based on trading card gameplay.
- Muppet MMO: A little birdy whispered this one to me that the Muppet MMO is in strategy/planning phase… so take it was a wink & a nod and a grain of salt.
- AllGirlArcade: Currently a multiplatform community site, future to be a virtual world
- AllBoyArcade: By the makers of the girl arcade, this won’t be rolling until next year.
- Kiwi Heroes: A VW in pre-Beta for tweens regarding conservationism.
- Tootsville: A toy based VW with subscription too based on elephant/pet play.
- Unnamed MMO: From the folks who created Neopets. Think Labyrinth & Dark Crystal.
- Revngenz: A car MMO for gender neutral (really for boys) with licenses for gift cards.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: MMO based on the Nickelodeon television show.
- Huri Humi: Avatar virtual world for tweens based on product to VW purchases.
- Happy Meal 3.0: McDonald’s version of a virtual world for kids.
- Action AllStars: A simply MARVELOUS virtual world for sports & tweens, currently in private beta.
- Saddle Club: VW in development for the book series/tv series (tweens, kids, teens)
- Twin Skies: An MMO for all ages from the creators of Neopets.
- Emerald Island: An MMO for tweens based on environmental issues.
- Garden Party: A virtual world for young tweens about growing plants & playing
- Ekoloko: A virtual world for tweens based on the “green” initiative.
- SpineWorld: A virtual world by Playdo based on epic adventure & fantasy
BAH! I know I’m forgetting a ton– curse you, brain cloud (reference: “Joe Versus the Volcano”). Any help here? I’ll keep adding as they come.
Also for those VW researchers/explorers, here are a few oldie but goody links:
- RT @nyctechmommy: Starry Station: Manage Kids Screen Time Like a Boss bit.ly/2msBE5Y #spon #digitalkids #momlife https://t.co/eHUc… 14 hours ago
- RT @modsquad: Meet ModSquad’s Director of Client Services, Jason Ferguson: bit.ly/2o2pe13 #ModSourcing #ModsNotCubes [AR] https:/… 14 hours ago
- PROUD OF YOU, TOBY!! #WorkHard #Talent #Artist #ClaireAndTheKeys twitter.com/tobycochran/st… 14 hours ago
- RT @jaybaer: A1(b) It's interesting that Facebook recently pulled back on their version of chatbots using Messenger. Not ready for primetim… 15 hours ago
- Tip: legislation protecting kid private data is pronounced COP-PA, like old-timey “I surrender, Coppa!” #DigitalKids (Not a cabana) #COPPA 15 hours ago