Archive for the 'Child Age/Grade/Term' Category

10 Years of Kids Virtual World Data

Tuesday, July 30th, 2019

10 years of cumulative online uniques to children's virtual worlds in the US

(Click image above to see larger, complete version of chart.)

In the early virtual world days, when Club Penguin and Webkinz were just beginning to be the biggest online destination for kids, I started collecting online data about those worlds. Bit by bit, month by month. Over a few years it became kind of a data archiving obsession, which also included the older NeoPets world, and in the years to come hundreds of other online destinations of interest to kids. Poptropica, WoozWorld, Jumpstart, Wizard101, Roblox, Fantage, Moshi Monsters, Minecraft, and Animal Jam to name some of the most popular virtual worlds. Over time I followed almost 600 virtual worlds that appealed to kids and occasionally some for adults. In those early days I used an online tool called Compete.com to collect my data. It was a rather inexpensive tool, and when I compared the data coming from this product to actual data shared with me by some of these virtual worlds, I found both sets of data to be surprisingly in line with each other.

Fast forward to today. A client recently asked for some historic data on successful virtual worlds for kids, in particular those destinations that are still an ongoing concern. Sadly many worlds despite their earlier success didn’t survive. (More on that in a moment.) So I brushed the dust of of my old data, added in some new data, and much to my surprise I found I had information that collectively told the story of the rise and fall of children’s virtual worlds. That is the rise and fall of many,… but not all.

If you click on the smaller first chart above you will see it will pop open a larger and more detailed chart. This larger chart compares the top 12 virtual world destinations for children over a 10 year plus period of time (2006 – 2016). It contains cumulative monthly unique traffic in the US. Unique user traffic piled on top of other virtual world traffic. You can see in the earlier years of this chart Neopets, Club Penguin, and Webkins traffic combined reached a high collectively at the end of 2007 which is about a third of all traffic you see when comparing it to the many more virtual worlds in the race by the year 2013. Virtual worlds for kids were not only growing in popularity, so too was access to the internet for children.

You will notice some lettered markers placed at the top of this chart (A, B, C, D & E). Each marker notes the growing popularity of Apple iPads over time, starting with its debut in 2010 (A). Once iPad popularity reach a tipping point in mid 2013 (D), with 55% of all 2 – 10 year olds having access to an iPad, things in the online virtual world space started to change. You will note the sizable drop in online traffic over the next two years. What happened to the success of these virtual worlds? Well, most virtual world destinations were built with an interactive authoring tool called Adobe Flash. Sadly, Flash wasn’t supported on iPads. This was intentional on Apple’s part. Whatever Apple’s reason for not allowing Flash to work on its iPads, it was a real processing hog, and back in the day it would usually be the reason your computer or laptop fan kicked on, which if you had a laptop, the fan turning on would start to drain your laptop’s battery.

Virtual worlds that were developed in Flash now had a problem. With kids migrating from desktop or laptop computer to iPads, most virtual world companies had a decision to make. That decision often involved deciding how their virtual worlds would work in another tool, and individually would these companies have the time, resources and money to migrate to another tool. Yes, there were other factors involved as the virtual world space matured, COPPA and privacy concerns for one, but the Flash development issue was a sizable problem for many and one that most couldn’t overcome. The few worlds that were able to cross this chasm were Minecraft, Roblox, Poptropica and Animal Jam. Part of their solution was to develop their virtual world products to work on the iPad, and often later Andriod tablets, while at the same time keeping an online web-based version of their products operational, even if it meant having two different technology solutions moving forward. One for web, and another for tablet.

10 years of cumulative online uniques to children's virtual worlds in the US

(Click image above to see larger, complete version of chart.)

This next chart, when clicked to enlarge, provides additional detail about the overlap in traffic from online uniques to app downloads, only in the US. A couple of things immediately to note. First, the app download traffic is a fraction of the online unique traffic. Online traffic for children’s virtual worlds in its heyday was collectively almost five times that of app downloads of the same product. Also, the Compete.com data ends in November 2016. Sadly Compete.com as a service shut down in December 2016. The online tool I’m using to track app downloads is Priori Data. This data does not provide the full picture of when these surviving virtual worlds originally launched their virtual worlds as an app, but the app data service App Annie does provide that information, and is included as a table on top of these charts.

When looking at the app download data it looks like Roblox is seriously beating out Minecraft. An important distinction to make about the two apps; Roblox can be downloaded for free, whereas Minecraft costs $6.99 to download. Minecraft users have to pay to use the app from day one. Roblox users can try before they buy, though users might enjoy the experience more with in-app purchases. This is also true for Animal Jam and Poptropica, where you can download a freemium version of the app, and convert to a paid monthly subscription after trying out the product or simply purchase in-app items.

If you have any insights to share about this data, or you have any questions, please send me an email. I look forward to hearing from you!

Additional references for the first chart:

Rideout, V. J. (2011). Zero to eight: Children’s media use in America (p. 19, 21). San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media. (click to view).

Rideout, V. J. (2013). Zero to eight: Children’s media use in America 2013 (p. 9, 20). San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media. (click to view).

Rideout, V. J. (2014). Learning at home: Families’ educational media use in America (p. 18, 19). A report of the Families and Media Project. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. (click to view).

Rideout, V. J. (2015). The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens (p. 22). San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media. (click to view).

Noteworthy Tech Toys from Toy Fair

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

Scott Traylor's 2019 Technology Toy finds from the International Toy Fair

Every February I write an article about the lastest technology toys announced at the International Toy Fair. Playful gifts that have buttons, batteries, and sometimes motors and screens. I first started attending Toy Fair in 2002, and have followed it almost religiously ever since. My interest is specifically electronic toys; sometimes educational, sometimes just playful.

It’s really hard to make a successful tech toy product. Since I fist started following the category (the NPD Group calls this toy supercategory “youth electronics”) I’ve seen really great advancements not only with components used, chip sets and price points, but more specifically play patterns that actually appeal to children. Not an easy thing to get right. Most major technology toy misses spend more time focusing on the wiz-bang of the electronics than the play appeal.

Each year I put together a presentation of what I found in the tech toy space. I share my document with clients and other toy reviewers, but this year I thought I’d simply make it available for anyone interested in taking a look. You can click the image above or click here to download a copy. Please feel free to share with others and send me an email to let me know what you think!

Toys with a baked-in tech twist top New York Toy Fair

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019

Hidden Side by LEGO

[The following is a feature article I wrote for the online magazine Kidscreen, February 20, 2019.]

With the close of New York’s International Toy Fair, toy fair season has ended. Toy companies spend months, even years, preparing to unveil their playful masterpieces in NYC. The toy industry is one that lives and dies by the new ideas it has to generate every few months to stay ahead of the game. It moves fast to stay ahead of trends, and if a company is very lucky, it defines those trends.

The category of technology toys has matured well over the last decade, and has taken a giant step forward over last year’s products. In the early days companies chasing shiny new tech often released toys that had forced play patterns, which resulted in poor play experience coupled with sizable financial losses. But things are changing. Tech toys are a high risk, high reward game – and here are some of the brightest tech toy announcements to come out of Toy Fair in the last week.

Pictionary Air by Mattel

Pictionary Air by Mattel

Mattel has a modern twist to the popular Pictionary game. Using a special light-up pen that pairs with the Pictionary Air mobile app, the drawer illustrates their clue in the air. The app captures the drawing in real time, and displays the masterpiece on a screen. Live drawings can be recorded and saved for playback. For larger groups, the image can be projected onto a TV screen through Apple TV or Chromecast. The new game is for kids eight and up, retailing for US$19.99, and will be available fall 2019. The app will be iOS and Android compatible.

Hidden Side by LEGO

Hidden Side by LEGO

LEGO Hidden Side is an augmented reality-enhanced play experience. Once a LEGO kit is built, kids explore a haunted alternative reality hidden within their construction. Each kit has AR mysteries and challenges to solve, and the play expands over the many kits. Ready for summer 2019, sets are appropriate for kids eight and up, and range in price from US$19.99 to US $129.99, depending on the LEGO kit purchased. They will work with iOS and Android devices.

Rockit Twist by LeapFrog

Rockit Twist by LeapFrog

LeapFrog’s Rockit Twist is the latest learning game platform with a clever input alternative. The various buttons on this handheld device feel a bit like a fidget box, which is a great input extension and appropriate enhancement from the traditional D-pad found on most gaming systems. Available fall 2019 for children four and up, the US$59.99 device comes with 12 preloaded games, with six additional game packs sold separately.

smART Pixelator by Flycatcher

smART Pixelator by Flycatcher

Flycatcher’s smART Pixelator device allows kids to make some creative, pixel-like artwork, in both 2D and 3D. The base of the product is a screen that displays a grid of colored lights. The user places beads on the screen to match the underlying color, filling the space with their creative work of art. The product includes 50 different images to build, but the beauty of smART Pixelator is that kids can upload their own photos to the device via the iOS or Android app and a Bluetooth connection. Additional beads, sequins, pegs and project packs can be purchased separately. Clocking in at US$59.99, smART Pixelator is appropriate for kids seven and up and will be available fall 2019.

Mech-5 by Elenco

Mech-5 by Elenco

The kids’ robotics space is a crowded one, and there are few screenless coding options. Even fewer solutions come in under US$40. The Mech-5 coding approach is unique. Users program the robot by snapping coding pegs into a moveable “coding wheel” at the center. Specific combinations instruct the robot to move forward, backward, turn, spin or pause. No computer or app required. At US$39.99, the bot is good kids ages five to 12, and will be available summer 2019.

Plugo by Shifu

Plugo by Shifu

Here’s an interesting twist on using a tablet’s onboard camera for learning games: Plugo comes with a base game board to hold your iOS or Android tablet on one end, and a variety of kit components to arrange on the other, all of which triggers real-time responses from your tablet’s screen. Challenges are displayed on your tablet’s screen, and the user needs to place specific game pieces correctly to advance the activity. For kids ages five to 11, there are five different kits to purchase (each focuses on a different set of learning skills). Base game and additional kits are US$45.00 each, and will be available spring 2019.

Light Racer Kit by Tech Will Save Us

Light Racer Kit by Tech Will Save Us

Light Racer (US$24.99) is a simple and clever, electronic component that once assembled can attach to your bike’s wheel. Wireless coil components and capacitors trigger LED lights to shine when bike wheels are spinning. Available now, and for kids eight and up, assembly instructions are provided via an iOS and Android app.

Juno My Baby Elephant by Spin Master

Juno My Baby Elephant by Spin Master

Spin Master’s experience creating animatronic dolls is a specialty in the toy industry, and applied to a baby elephant results in a super cute experience. Touch sensors on Juno bring out charming expressions, sounds and it has an animated trunk. The adorable US$99.99 elephant is good for children four and up and will be available fall 2019.

Scott Traylor is a consultant to many child-focused businesses and products (none of which are referenced in this article). He’s the founder of 360KID, where his company’s work has received many awards, including multiple Emmy nominations and one Emmy win. He’s also a former computer science instructor at Harvard, and currently lives in Silicon Valley, searching for the next big opportunity in the children’s industry. Scott can be reached at Scott (at) 360KID (dot) com.

Joanne Rogers on Mister Rogers’ legacy

Friday, June 8th, 2018

A photo of Joanne and Fred Rogers from the set of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

[The following is an updated version of a feature article I wrote for the online magazine Kidscreen, June 7, 2018.]

It’s hard to imagine just how many people have been touched by the work and words of Fred Rogers. For many of his oldest admirers Fred’s PBS show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood captured the attention of young viewers in the US starting in the late 1960s. Over the last decade Fred Roger’s production company continues to create new programs that captivate young children around the globe. While Fred is not here today, his universal message of a kind word and a caring neighbor resonates as strongly today in his shows as it did when he first began working in television.

Being a lifelong fan of the Neighborhood I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Fred’s company. Years after he had passed away the Fred Rogers Center invited me to participate in their biennial FredForward conference. Through these events I met many like minded children’s media producers, child development experts, television historians, and teachers, all touched by Fred’s vision. While attending my first FredForward, I also had the chance to meet Joanne Rogers, Fred’s wife of over 50 years.

Joanne is a sharp, spirited and thoughtful person, with many wonderful stories to tell. A leading child advocate herself, Joanne has worked on behalf of children and families for more than 50 years through her charitable efforts. She also serves as chair emeritus of Fred Rogers Productions, and in 2016 she was honored by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh with the Great Friend of Children Award.

Hearing about the upcoming release of Fred’s documentary film “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” I thought it would be a great time to reconnect with Joanne and ask her about the film. So I gave her a call. I spoke with Joanne about the genesis of the documentary, as well the story of their relationship, Fred’s early days in the TV world, and what’s changed in kids entertainment since Mister Rogers first graced the airwaves. Below are Joanne’s responses to my questions, which have been edited for clarity and length.

Scott Traylor: How did you and Fred first meet?

Joanne Rogers: I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida and music was my life. I began playing piano at the age of five, and by the time I was in high school I won a four-year scholarship to Rollins College in Orlando to study piano. I had a wonderful, wonderful time at Rollins.

Fred went to college at Dartmouth. But after he started there, he realized it wasn’t a good fit as he wanted to become a music major, and Dartmouth didn’t have a music department at the time. However, Dartmouth had hired a professor to start a music program—and that person came from a small college in Florida named Rollins. This professor suggested to Fred he transfer to Rollins.

Fred came for a visit to my college in my sophomore year. We met then, and he started at Rollins when I was in my junior year. While we were together at Rollins, we became very good friends. When I graduated in 1950, I started a master’s program at Florida State. Fred graduated in 1951 and was interested in getting involved with television, which was a new thing at the time.

ST: How did Fred get his start in television?

JR: After Fred graduated, he went to New York and started an apprenticeship with NBC. There, Fred learned the business of television. He learned to direct and produce. He was able to work on all the musical programs, like the NBC Opera Theatre and the NBC Symphony Orchestra. All of these shows were performed live. During this time he was assigned to a music studio that was just getting started in color television. The funny thing was that Fred was color blind, so he needed some help from the stage crew.

In the spring, as I was getting closer to finishing my master’s work, Fred wrote me a letter proposing marriage. I didn’t wait for my letter to go back to him, I called him. Fred then came down to attend my graduation ceremony and he presented me with an engagement ring. That was in May and by July we were married. After our honeymoon I moved to New York where Fred continued to learn the ropes in television for another year.

ST: What television work was Fred part of before Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood?

JR: Fred grew up in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and his father called to tell him about a new local television community getting started around the idea of educational television. It was located in nearby Pittsburgh and Fred came to take a look. It was during this visit he realized this was something he would like to be involved with, and something where he could use every talent he had.

So he was hired by the station and we moved to Pittsburgh, getting in at the very beginning. That was the end of 1953, and after just a few months, the station, WQED, went on the air. The station wanted to offer educational programming for all ages, and they also had plans to air children’s programming every day. Fred volunteered to take that challenge on. So did one of the station’s secretaries, Josie Carey. Together they started a program together called The Children’s Corner. [It was on the air from 1953 to 1961.]

ST: How did the idea to use puppets happen on Fred’s shows?

JR: In the early days of the show, there was a backup need to bring out puppets. Josie was the hostess of the show and Fred was the producer. Fred also played background music. The show itself would often play various kinds of film clips during the airing, and these films were made out of a material that was very brittle. Often these films would break during a live broadcast. When these films broke, they had to fill in the time, and that’s when the puppets were often brought out. It was from these moments that the puppets appearance started taking off.

The Children’s Corner grew to be very popular, but it was lighthearted entertainment, and very different from what would become Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred had yet to learn about child development at that time. That came after The Children’s Corner, when he was studying in seminary school, and he had taken a class in child development at the University of Pittsburgh as part of his seminary training.

ST: Do you have any insights you could share about the state of children’s television today?

JR: Technology moves so fast now that I’m at the age now where I consider myself a digital immigrant, though email and my iPhone are a big part of my life. But I get lost in a lot of it. I’m delighted with Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and I love Peg + Cat. But many shows are just fast. I get so undone with the speed, like a fast-talking news person.

I’m sure there are more Freds out there, but a lot of people say if Fred had to do it now, he wouldn’t get his show on the air. It’s just too slow. Fred was someone who could insist on time, and pace, and silence. He thought silence, and how to use silence, was the best thing yet. With a turtle, for instance—let’s look at a turtle on a show. Or to ask children, “How long does a minute take? Well, let’s just see!” That just would not go today.

I remember the time at the Emmy Awards where Fred asked the audience to think about someone important to them over the course of 10 seconds. He used to give a similar speech, where he would ask audience members to reflect over 20 or 30 seconds. But the Emmy people wouldn’t give him more than 10 seconds.

ST: How did the idea of the movie Won’t You Be My Neighbor? get its start?

JR: There’s a concept called “slender threads”— that is a good way to describe how the movie came to be. Slender threads connect so many things in one’s life. While these threads may go in every direction, they also connect back together.

As you may know, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma was a guest on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Yo-Yo Ma’s son, Nicholas, was a big fan of the show and would attend the filming whenever Yo-Yo Ma was on. During Yo-Yo’s second appearance, his son Nicholas played the piano. Many years later, a documentary was being filmed about Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble by Morgan Neville. By that time, Yo-Yo Ma’s son Nicholas was in film school, and appeared in this documentary. Nicholas suggested to Morgan the idea for a documentary about Mister Rogers. So one day I get a call from Yo-Yo, asking if I would talk to his son Nicholas, because he had a project he wanted to ask me about. That’s how the idea for the film started, and Nicholas is one of the producers for this film.

Morgan said to me, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was such a big part of my childhood. With this film, he is now coming into my adult life.” I think that’s such a wonderful way to think about this film. For me, it’s just the most incredible gift. It’s just the most warm, and loving, and wonderful tribute to Fred.

Understanding the AAP’s updated screen guidelines

Friday, October 28th, 2016

[The following is a feature article I wrote for the online magazine Kidscreen, October 21, 2016.]

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a long history of providing recommendations to parents on how best to raise healthy children. Nearly two decades ago, the AAP began outlining stipulations regarding appropriate media usage for kids. In earlier days, that meant mostly television. Today, as we are well aware, kids’ media consumption extends to mobile devices—and oftentimes begins at the tender age of six months.

So, it’s safe to say change is in the air. Last fall, the AAP revised its media guidelines to be more in sync with family life, effectively letting go of the once-held belief that kids under the age of two should completely abstain from screens. Which brings us to today.

Of the three policy statements released at the AAP National Conference in San Francisco this morning, the association’s latest recommendations for parents with young children include:

  • No media use at all for children under 18 months. The only exception to this recommendation is if families use Skype or FaceTime to stay connected with one another, as long as parental support is included as part of this screen time activity.

  • Parent co-viewing and shared media use is vitally important among 1.5- to two-year-olds. Research has still yet to demonstrate the benefits of media use for children under the age of two, but there appears to be learning benefits, as long as a parent is actively engaged in the co-viewing experience.

  • Limit media use to no more than one hour per day for children ages two to five. During this time, parents should be encouraging high-quality educational and pro-social media content, and should continue to participate in the media experience with their child as they grow to help them understand what he or she is seeing.

  • Make sure media use does not replace non-media activities like outdoor play, social time with friends and family, and reading together. Parents are urged to take time away from screened media to do other things with their child.

  • No media use one hour before bedtime. Studies show children sleep better when they are not engaged in media before bedtime.

Given the rapid advancement of digital media businesses and services, the AAP has been challenged to offer timely research-based guidance to parents and pediatricians. In looking through the list of 191 referenced articles and research reports mentioned across the three AAP policy statements, you see a lot of new research, with almost 30% of referenced research released since 2015. For a list of all referenced research, and links to download free and paid research, click here.

As a developer, I’m inclined to call out some missing and important parts of kids’ digital media usage: Are interactive screens any better or worse for young children than passive screens? Is passive television viewing worse for a child than a mobile learning game, or connecting with a family member on a tablet using Skype? The answers, as of today, continue to be elusive.

The reality is that screens are everywhere, not all screens are created equal, and most people use them heavily throughout their day.

One 2015 study (Kabali et al) referenced in the AAP documents showed most two year olds in the US use a mobile device on a daily basis, and most one year olds (92%) have used a mobile device. Collectively, 96% of all children ages zero to four have used mobile devices. This data is striking, but especially noteworthy when compared to a 2013 Common Sense Media report (Rideout et al). During the two years between when these studies were conducted, television screen time dropped and mobile screen time quadrupled for this age group. Would you call this a media tipping point? And what recommendations does the AAP have for media creators?

To that end:

  • The AAP asks developers to avoid making any apps for children under 18 months of age.

  • When creating new products, work with a developmental psychologist and an educator to help advise age-appropriate content and digital engagement.

  • Design media products for a dual audience, so parents and children can enjoy a shared media experience together.

  • Provide appropriate, responsive and authentic feedback to the child through your product.

  • Do not include any advertisements. Children of this age group can’t tell the difference between content meant for them or an ad.

  • Formally test your product for educational value before promoting educational claims.

  • Consider adding parent dashboards or preference areas where a parent can find helpful feedback on their child’s use of the product and/or customize the experience to monitor and limit overall time being used.

The amount of research and information reviewed by the AAP and synthesized across the three policy documents is impressive, and a helpful benchmark for parents, pediatricians and media creators alike. As this ever-evolving conversation continues in the months and years ahead, there will always be a great need for more research that looks at content as well as the latest distribution methods.

Scott Traylor is the founder of 360KID and a consultant to many children’s interactive businesses and products (none of which are referenced in this article). He’s also a former computer science teacher and currently lives in Silicon Valley, searching for the next big opportunity in the children’s industry. Scott can be reached at Scott@360KID.com.