Archive for August, 2007

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Harris Interactive, a marketing firm that researches issues affecting today’s youth, recently released findings from a new survey examining when parents introduce their young children to the Internet.

Findings for children six or younger:

  • 41% of adults ages 18 and older introduced at least one child to the Internet at the age of six or younger
  • 53% of females ages 18 – 34 introduced at least one child to the Internet at the age of six or younger

Findings for children three or younger:

  • 20% of adults ages 18 and older introduced at least one child to the Internet at the age of three or younger
  • 25% of females ages 18 and older introduced at least one child to the Internet at the age of three or younger
  • 15% of males ages 18 and older introduced at least one child to the Internet at the age of three or younger
  • 28% of females ages 18 – 34 and older introduced at least one child to the Internet at the age of three or younger

This survey was conducted in June 2007. 2, 246 adults aged 18 and older were surveyed online. From that number, 549 adults responded that they had children under the age of 18 living in their household. It was from these 549 respondents that these survey results were compiled.

Whether you agree with this survey’s findings or not, you can’t ignore the fact that children are indeed being introduced to computers and the Internet at a very young age. The number of young computer users is growing. However, be aware that even content that claims to be specifically developed for any young audience may not be what’s right for your child. Here are a few tips for parents:

  • Be an informed media consumer for your child. Find reviews about the sites your child wishes to visit. Spend time checking out these sites on your own. Get familiar with the content you’re putting in front of your child.
  • Set some time limits for your child. Computer use in moderation for young users is the best approach.
  • Visiting sites that use internal links tend to be better than those that don’t. What does this mean? Sometimes children’s websites include links to other websites, usually through ads. When clicked, these ads can take your child away from the site you wish them to stay on. In a research report conducted in 2002, it was discovered that young children can’t tell the difference between a site’s content areas and an ad, so be mindful of sites that include advertisements.
  • Spend time with your child while they explore online. Many teachable moments will present themselves and it provides a much more rewarding experience for both parent and child together!

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 213 user reviews.

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

Yo Gabba Gabba photoThe long awaited debut of Yo Gabba Gabba on Nick Jr., the new preschool television show with a wonderfully fresh approach to learning, has finally arrived! An early pilot for the show first appeared online in mid-2006, making a viral splash, and caught the attention of a number of executives in the broadcast world. Nick Jr. made it official at the start of 2007 with an announcement that the show would start airing late this summer. A number of preview clips have been available on YouTube and OnDemand cable services. As of this week the show can be seen about mid-morning each weekday throughout the country!

Yo Gabba Gabba is like a Saturday Night Live variety show for preschoolers. Each episode is punctuated with interesting musical guest stars, clever animation “mini-shows” and fun and quirky shorts of retro video games and dancing kid clips. Dance and movement are the underlying theme to almost every aspect of the show. Many performers slated to appear on the show include: Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo fame and critically acclaimed music aeficianado of film and television, The Aquabats, The Aggrolites, Biz Markie, The Shins, Sugarland, The Salteens, Smoosh, Mya, Sean Kingston, Nikki Flores, Rahzel, Cornelius and Shiny Toy Guns. The show also promises other surprise appearances from guests like Tony Hawk, actor Hector Jimenez, Elijah Wood, Laila Ali, and others.

Super Martian Robot Girl photoThe first season of Yo Gabba Gabba will include 20 episodes. Much like any new show, it takes some time to hit your stride and find that natural beat. The first few shows are good; some parts are stronger than others in their appeal, but an improvement in show quality can be seen from episode to episode. The second show, themed “Summer”, is very entertaining. The performance by the band The Aquabats with their song “Pool Party” has made me an instant fan of the group. A segment called “Cool Tricks” where kids (and sometimes adults) show off a unique skill they have learned, and a re-occuring animation segment called “Super Martian Robot Girl” are also very entertaining. I thought this show was good, and then I saw the fourth episode called “Dance”. It was just plain rockin’ with great rap music, a “red-light, green-light” approach to dancing for youngsters, and striking video effects that made me feel like going out to a the dance club! I’ve seen a wonderful progression in the quality of music over this short span of shows and am eagerly awaiting more of the same with shows yet to air.

DJ Lance Rock and Lady Miss Kiev photoWhether intentional or not, you can see many other influences on the show. The main sets and some of the characters found in Yo Gabba Gabba have a Kure Kure Takora flavor, a popular Japanese program that aired in the early 70’s. While the Kure Kure Takora show was originally aired as a children’s show, it’s storylines and themes might not have been the best content for younger audiences. It does, however, have a significant adult following. The characters themselves share a creative quality from artists like Tim Biskup and Paul Frank. The main human character, DJ Lance Rock, appears to share a similar fashion sense from Lady Miss Kier of the band Deee Lite. (Maybe an excellent future guest for the show!)

So, as a Gen-X’er, I’m hooked. I’ve been waiting for this show ever since Pee-Wee’s Playhouse stopped producing new shows. But will young children like it? You bet! Strong rhythmic music and encouraging movement is an excellent way to grab the youngest of viewers. The visuals are fun and appealing. There are many parts of the show young children can relate to directly and others that will create an aspirational desire to try something new. It encourages children to feel good about moving and not to worry about “doing it the wrong way.” Make sure your living room floor is clear, because these future young hipsters will get up off the couch and start moving and grooving soon after the show begins. You just might find yourself dancing around to the show as well.

In my mind, children’s television shows can be grouped into two camps. There are shows that children and adults can watch, love, and learn from together. Then there are shows that children will watch and adults can’t stand. Yo Gabba Gabba is one for young and old alike with plenty to please both groups. The show is very entertaining in a fresh whimsical style wrapped in cool pop culture, animation, music and dance. Get ready to hear lots more from this clever, unique, and inspiring show!

Check out these other sites about the show:
Yo Bloga Bloga
Archive of the early Yo Gabba Gabba website
Yo Gabba Gabba LiveJournal
Photos of World Premiere of Yo Gabba Gabba, July 8, 2006

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 223 user reviews.

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

Hide & Seek Blue and Sprinkles photo I’ve been wondering when RFID would begin to take a hold in the toy market. RFID is a technology that takes advantage of small wireless computer chips that have the ability to talk to one another. One way of thinking about the technology is that if a shirt had an RFID tag in it, whenever you dropped off the shirt at a dry cleaner, the radio frequencies emitted by the tag would alert some other computer in the store; it would know instantly who you are and how you would like your shirt laundered without ever saying a word to anyone. RFID allows any two (or more) items embedded with the technology to know about each other, and know how far away they are from each other. RFID used within toy products has the wonderful ability to work with the way children naturally play, and also offers new and imaginative enhanced play opportunities. Imagine a toy house complete with furniture, different dolls of family members, pets and vehicles that all could be electronically aware of each other. As the dog approaches the boy doll, the boy could speak the dog’s name. As a car drives up to the house, its headlights could turn on. As the mommy doll enters the front door, it could speak “Kids, I’m home!”

Earlier this year I posted an article about the technology toy product called Hyper Dash by Wild Planet. This technology toy product was also reviewed in the New York Times this past month. Hyper Dash takes advantage of RFID to put a new twist on outdoor games like Hide-and-Seek. A new entrant to the “aware” toy category (though I’ve learned that it does not use RFID technology) is called “Hide & Seek Blue and Sprinkles” developed by Fisher-Price. The concept is that one child hides the smaller plush toy named Sprinkles while another child uses the larger Blue to to help find where Sprinkles is hidden. Both characters deliver audio clues as to how well the seeking child is doing during the Hide-and-Seek game. Though the product is not yet officially being sold at stores, it looks like Target will have an exclusive in the early weeks the toy is available. This toy is also popping up for sale on eBay.

Stay tuned for more noteworthy smart toys with and without RFID enabled technology making their way to store shelves!

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 185 user reviews.

Friday, August 10th, 2007

On August 7, 2007, Georgia Tech professor and video game designer, researcher, and critic, Dr. Ian Bogost appeared on The Colbert Report to discuss how video games can be used to influence and change social and political thinking. Bogost has a new book out called Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Video Games published by MIT Press. You can also visit Bogost’s popular website called Water Cooler Games where he discusses, reviews, and analyzes video games that have an agenda. Click this video link to see Bogost on The Colbert Report.

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 271 user reviews.

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

Webkinz trading cardsAfter comparing a variety of different social networking sites for kids in my article the other day, I received many emails in response. A number of the emails were from executives asking how they could make enough noise with any new social networking offering to attract users in an already crowded marketplace? Excellent question indeed!

I don’t quite have a specific answer to that question, but I do have an observation to share. How can you make a popular social networking product for kids even better? I have to hand it to the folks at Ganz, the developers of Webkinz stuffed animals and the online social network destination for kids. In addition to the smashing success they’ve achieved with kids online, breaking over 3.7 million unique visitors in April through the sale of plush dolls (4.7 million in June for Club Penguin, but without such an add on), they’ve added yet another element to help ensure their future success. Trading cards. Yes, simple as that. Simply brilliant.

Few companies have maintained huge successes with trading cards in the tween and younger demographic over time. Pokémon is a long time leader here, along with Magic and Yu-Gi-Oh. But none of these properties has a successful online component to their cards. At one time, Pokemon had a tie in with their cards to the Nintendo platforms their games could be played on, where you could attach a separate card reader to your gaming device, swipe your cards though and unlock new game features. Now Webkinz trading cards work in a similar way, just online.

If you’re a Webkinz fan you’ve probably known about these cards as early as this past May. It caught my eye today, and I later learned from the specialty store that sold them to me, as well as a few kids I shared them with that the cards have been available for less than two weeks.

I bought a sample at $3 a pack which included six cards. There are a few different card types, but the benefit to the online experience is through the numbered keys printed on some of the cards. When these keys are entered into the Webkinz website, additional features to the online experience are unlocked. Sounds great, yes? Well, initially a few testers pointed out that we need to buy many more packs in order to have enough keys entered to unlock additional features. If a Webkinz doll is $14, which will give you membership to the online site, you may spend as much as $20 or more on trading cards to unlock the items you’re interested in. And that’s just to get started.

So, let’s get back to the original question. How can someone succeed now in the online social networking space for kids? I know a few things for sure that are a must: Find a long-standing play pattern that will appeal to kids (like collecting for example). Tie it together with a compelling community need (like sharing information or bringing similar groups together). Make it an easy to use, compelling product. Sell it through simple messaging. And bring it to market as fast as you can. Time is ticking away quickly so no time to waste!

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 188 user reviews.