Archive for the 'Age 04/Preschool' Category

Kid Testing and Facebook – What? Are You Crazy?!

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

How 360KID uses Facebook to find kid testers to improve their digital creations and apps.

This has been a busy year of development for my company. We’ve been creating multiple interactive products for kids. Some are learning apps, some are online games, some electronic toys. Some are for preschoolers, some for tweens. All of them have one thing in common. The completed products must successfully engage kids. In an effort to make sure we are making the best interactive products possible, we need to test our ideas with children. When I say “we” I mean the larger kids industry, not just my company. For those who develop any kind of product or media for kids (especially all those children’s app developers out there! I’m talking to you!) you MUST kid test your products. Get your software builds, your animations, your web games, your characters, your paper prototypes out there in front of real kids! Do not go to market without testing your assumptions, you may find you had it all wrong. Testing is an invaluable part of children’s media development and should be part of every product you make if you work in the kids biz.

There are a number of ways to recruit kids for testing. You can reach out to family and friends, kids in your neighborhood. However, sometimes you need to reach out beyond your known circle and find kids from another location; say kids that live in a city, or bilingual preschoolers, or eight to ten year olds that belong to Girl Scouts, or tweens that like to play baseball. What do you do then?

While you can reach out to specific youth groups, Boys and Girls Clubs, and other kid-focused organizations, you can also use Facebook. Now I know you’re saying “What?! Facebook? For recruiting kid testers? Are you crazy?!” As with all kid testing, you’re starting a conversation with a parent, and recruiting through Facebook means you are looking to have a conversation with a parent about kid testing.

Here’s a more detailed look at one kid testing ad campaign we placed on Facebook. We started by selecting a particular town we wished our testers to come from. The 10 mile radius around that town had 168,000 parents using Facebook. Selecting a thinner slice from that group, parents with children ages 4 to 12 resulted in 1,400 Facebook users. When you start a Facebook ad, you can get very specific about the kind of person you wish to reach. Do you want to reach just men 25 years of age or older? How about just women with a PhD? All of this is possible to define in your campaign. However, the more specific you get with your target demographic, the smaller your audience will become.

We posted an ad for kid testers for 45 days, with a maximum bid of $2.50 per click, not to exceed a cost of $50 a day. Our ad appeared over 712,000 times (impressions), reaching more than 8,200 Facebook users in our target age and location (demographic), resulting in a click-through rate (CTR) of 427. We heard from about 45 parents, leading to 22 parents bringing in 30 children, all for a total cost of $560, or about $1.30 per click.

Another way to look at our recruiting costs: $25 per parent or about $19 per child. This was just our advertising cost and did not include email communication time, phone calls, testing time, analysis of results, or the stipend we offered a parent for having their child come in to test with us.

Was it worth it? Yes, in the end Facebook definitely helped us find kids from a specific geo-targeted location to test with.

Was it perfect? Hardly. There were many frustrating parts to working with Facebook. First time advertisers will be annoyed that once you place an ad, it can take many days before your campaign is approved and goes live. While you’re waiting, all you can do is think about what you did wrong and why your ad is not producing. During this time you’ll probably change your ad copy and up the daily maximum bid thinking it will help. But hold tight, Facebook is just being Facebook. It takes time for an ad to kick in, and you will receive next to no communication from Facebook while you are pulling out your hair, wondering what’s going on.

Were there any surprises? You bet. While many parents found our ad on Facebook, there were some “uber parents” that helped spread the word around their neighborhood that we were looking for kid testers. About four parents that came in were in this category. They were great at helping reach many more parents, including non-Facebook users as well.

In the end we met many great parents with some wonderful kids. All of which helped us refine our product and made it better. We couldn’t be happier, and our finished product shines as a result of the feedback we incorporated back into development! Thank you parents and our 360KID testers!

Bottom line: It doesn’t matter how you find kids to test with, using Facebook or some other means, what matters is that you test! Doing so will only help make your product shine, stand out from the pack, and lead to more successful interactions through your product with kids. Now get out there and start testing!

Share this article...

Duck Duck Moose Gets a Golden Egg

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

[Note: this is an excerpt from the upcoming October 2012 issue of Children's Technology Review.].

Children's app developer Duck Duck Moose

When it comes to apps that actively engage young children, one of the companies with products on every list is Duck Duck Moose Design. This three person studio — funny name and all – was one of the first to the children’s app scene, with an app called Wheels on the Bus.

Duck Duck Moose is a three person start-up based in San Mateo, CA. It launched it’s first app in 2009; today there are 14 DDM titles, collectively accounting for about 2.4 million paid downloads (publisher numbers).

On September 26, 2012, Duck Duck Moose announced it will be changing and expanding it’s business, with a $7 million investment from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Sequoia Capital and Stanford University. This type of investment raises questions that every small publisher hopes to deal with. “What do we do with lots of money?” “Is it possible to grow in a smart way, and keep the focus on quality?” And more importantly, “is this type of investment, and the constraints that come with it, a blessing or a curse?”

Of course, only time will tell. But we can say one thing for sure — Duck Duck Moose Design is once again charting new ground, as one of the first small mom-and-pop app publishers to get a big investment. Many other small children’s app publishers will be watching from the sidelines with great interest to see how this cash infusion will affect their work.

Children's app developer Duck Duck Moose
(Duck Duck Moose Founders Nicci Grabiel, Caroline Hu Flexer, and Michael Flexer)

A full interview with DDM co-founder Caroline Hu Flexer will appear in the October issue of Children’s Technology Review. In anticipation of that issue’s release, here are a few questions from the full interview to come.

Scott Traylor: Tell me about the first app you developed.

Caroline Hu Flexer: As a hobby, we started designing the Wheels on the Bus app for our own child. My husband Michael, and our good friend Nicci Gabriel worked on developing the app part-time over a three month period. We all had other full-time jobs. We launched that app in 2009. Later that year we won a KAPi Award, our first children’s industry award, and that was the beginning. That’s when we realized that maybe this could become a business. Wheels on the Bus continues to sell three-and-a-half years after it’s launch, and it’s still in the top charts. It wasn’t until 2010 that Nicci and I started working full-time. Michael started full time in 2011. It was just the three of us up until early this year. Recently our good friend, Jesse Ambrose, a founding engineer at Siebel Systems with my husband Michael, joined our team full-time. The four of us basically created the first 11 titles. Today we’re a team of nine, including the three founders.

ST: How has your thinking changed about developing apps for kids since you started?

CHF: The core of it hasn’t changed. We’ve always put kids at the center of what we do, but we’re always learning different things with each app and with different ages we may be targeting. We’ve done a lot of different types of apps. We started with toddler apps, like The Wheels on the Bus, which had one or two things for a young child to focus on. We didn’t want our apps to be over-stimulating, to have too many things going on at the same time. From a developmental perspective, we wanted our apps for toddlers to have simple interactions, whereas as we develop for older children, our apps have been more open-ended and have evolved into more layered interactions. One example for older children is our Draw and Tell app, where children make their own drawings, record their own voices, and create their own story. It’s a very different approach to the interaction.

ST: While there are many more big companies with big brands going into the children’s app business, would you say big business has seen big success from those efforts?

CHF: There have been some successes. It’s still rare to find interesting new content. There are a lot of big children’s media companies that have good apps and include characters that really appeal to children, but I think it’s a very unique time where we can invent new experiences using new characters because it’s a new platform. We’re able to do something really creative, and I think that’s a pretty rare opportunity. There are not that many companies creating their own original story lines and characters. It’s much more fun to invent something new, and it’s a better business model for us too.

The first children's app from Duck Duck Moose called Wheels on the Bus
(The first children’s app from Duck Duck Moose called Wheels on the Bus)

Share this article...

Research Watch – Children and Screens

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

[The following is an article I wrote for the November 2011 issue of Children's Technology Review.]

This last month was a big one for new research unveiled about kids and media use, a least in terms of Google new alerts. Here’s a look beyond the headlines.

Event #1: The AAP Position Statement

Ari Brown, MD presents the updated AAP Policy Statement for media use and children ages zero to two years old

In mid-October the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) made a statement regarding media use for young children ages 0 to 2 years of age at the AAP National Conference held in Boston. Media research fans may remember the AAP released a position statement over a decade ago stating screened media use for children ages 0 to 2 should be avoided entirely because there is no proof that television can be of educational value to children at such an early age. Fast forward to last month and the policy statement is pretty much the same. TV at this early age is still not educational. But hasn’t the media delivery landscape evolved from passive to interactive? What about all of those iPhones, iPads, tablets and other mobile devices? Should young children avoid using these devices as well? The AAP was much more presentation savvy with their announcement this time around, however. They acknowledged in their press announcement that the realities of being a parent with a young child mean that sometimes a television is used to pacify a child so the parent can take a shower or cook dinner. The AAP acknowledges that screen use is almost at two hours a day for some the youngest media consumers. However, the AAP could not make any recommendations related to interactive media. While there is a mountain of research available related to linear video viewing, there just aren’t many studies available regarding interactive screen use, for any age group.

Event #2: Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America

Vicky Rideout presents the latest media use findings for children ages zero to eight years old

Exactly one week after that AAP press event Common Sense Media held its own media event in Washington DC: a survey of families regarding the use of media with children 0 to 8 years of age. This time, the survey considered interactive media useage. You may recall that Vicky Rideout used to work with the Kaiser Family Foundation, and was a lead researcher on a series of studies related to children, media use, and health. She coordinated three 5-year surveys of media use across a wide range of platforms, ages, ethnicities and socio-economic groups. When Vicky announced in March, 2010 that she would be moving on from Kaiser, the media research space collectively wondered “Would we ever see another five year media study again?” Thankfully we recently found out the answer was a resounding yes! Not only did this new report cover areas of concern by the AAP, but it also provided great insight into the iPad/iPhone/mobile and interactive screened media world for kids. One of the most shocking data points in this study was the percentage of televisions found in a child’s bedroom. 30% of all children age 0 to 1, 44% of all children ages 2 to 4, and 47% of children ages 5 to 8 have a television in their bedroom! The scariest part of this data is these numbers are just averages. When you tease out percentages for ethnic groups and low-income families these numbers rise, and by a lot!

Another surprising data point was the percentage of children that have used interactive devices like the iPad. That number is only 7%. A handful of people have asked me, “Is that right?” First, this number is an average across all ages and as you slice the data the percentages rise as a child ages and lower for younger children. Again, this percentage drops significantly with ethnic groups and low-income families. What we also learn from this number is that television is a primary source of educational content for non-white and lower income families. The question I ask an eager iPad development community “Are we creating apps in an attempt to provide really great learning opportunities for all children when the reality is only a small sliver of economically advantaged children actually benefit from our apps?” Another surprising number, among the poorest households 38% of respondents didn’t know what an “app” was. This paper describes a new trend referred to the “app gap.” Those of us working in the children’s software space have long theorized that kids are spending more time with interactive media, games, handhelds and iPads and less time watching television. This latest report says no, television is still very much the leading device, alive and well more than we ever could have imagined. But wait, that’s a research slice in time that has already passed! In conversations with Vicky she suggests that the world of screened media for kids, be it interactive or passive, is changing very fast. Reports she was part of that came out every five years are not able to accurately capture the incremental changes in the children’s technology space. Thankfully additional reports may be on the horizon in two, probably three more years says Vicky.

So what are the main take-aways? Television is still very prominent in the lives of children ages 0 to 8. Just three years ago researchers were not aware of the influence the app concept would have in the children’s media space. Apps didn’t exist. Change is happening, but not equally for all children. Television still remains the best way to reach young children with educational content, especially children in socio-economically disadvantaged homes. However, there is now no doubt that interactive media is changing the media landscape.

Referenced research links:

Share this article...

Children’s Virtual Worlds — Sliced and Diced

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

[The following is an article I wrote for the July 2011 issue of Children's Technology Review. If you’re interested in learning more about my recent virtual world research, you can purchase an expanded report by emailing me at scott (at) 360KID (dot) com with "Virtual World Research Report" in the Subject line. My next quarterly report will be completed on July 20, 2011]

The Top 20 Kid and Tween Virtual World and MMO destinations which include Wizard 101, Poptropica, Webkinz, Club Penguin, Fantage, Moshi Monsters, Minecraft, Monkey Quest, Jumpstart, NeoPets, Toon Town, Pixie Hollow, Roblox, PetPetPark, Build-a-bearville, Ourworld, Clone Wars Adventures, Pirates of the Caribbean, Happy Meal, FreeRealms

It’s been amazing to watch the virtual world (VW) space grow by leaps and bounds over such a short time. Using unique user traffic as a yardstick, the virtual world and massively multiplayer online (MMO) space increased more than 50% last year. Compare that with 15% for the prior year (in the US). The first thing to note is that traffic patterns seem to follow a seasonal rise and fall. Traffic increases from spring to early summer only to drop significantly when school starts in September. Then, as the holiday season approaches, it peaks before dropping off again in the new year.

WHAT’S HOT? The most popular destinations for both kids and adults are “casual gaming” destinations. For kids and tweens, that means Wizard 101, Poptropica, Club Penguin and Moshi Monsters (which was just valued at $200 million). While social and chat-based destinations like IMVU and Hi5 fall in second place for the young adult and older crowd, destinations that have a toy tie-in or real world connection, like Webkinz and Build-A-Bearville hold second place for kids and tweens. However, this VW/MMO type has been on a slow two-year decline, largely as a result of Webkinz loosing significant marketshare over that period, to newcomers like Wizard 101 and Poptropica. While Club Penguin has dropped in placement on the best top 10 list for kids, it has done a surprisingly good job of maintaining marketshare, loosing only a small percentage compared to Webkinz.

Two destinations have really taken off. Minecraft, a “better than LEGO Universe” online building (or “crafting”) world that appeals to both boys and girls is growing at an amazing rate globally. The funny thing about Minecraft is that it is still in public Beta! It’s not even a fully released product yet. (Note to execs, learn from this product’s creative expression thinking AND business model!) If you are not yet familiar with this low res, yesteryear looking world, tonight’s homework is to get familiar with it, NOW. Educators should note that teachers are beginning to create lesson plans around Minecraft’s in-world building activities. The second destination of note is Nickelodeon’s latest virtual world offering, Monkey Quest. This new 3D world is also growing quickly since its launch earlier this year and you can’t miss the advertising on Nickelodeon cable channels throughout the day. It’s a world that spent more than a couple of years in development and the polish shows now that it’s ready for prime time.

As we head into the summer months, the kids VW/MMO industry typically assumes that as the dog days of summer drag on, kids will become bored and start to gravitate to virtual world activities from the indoor comfort of an air conditioned room. If you watch any amount of children’s commercial television during the summer you can’t help notice the number of virtual world advertisements. However, while it is unclear if subscription rates actually rise during the summer months, unique traffic to kids VW/MMOs actually falls through July and August, especially in the casual gaming sector and in the toy and web connect space, an interesting trend that goes against popular belief.

What about education-based destinations? You might imagine these kind of sites have some appeal with younger audiences and kids, right? While the casual gaming space has captured almost 34% of all VW/MMO traffic, educational destinations hold less than 6% for all ages, and only 4.4% of all traffic for the top 20 kid and tween educational destinations. Out of this list, a majority share of traffic goes to Knowledge Adventure’s JumpStart and their new and fast growing world Math Blaster. Almost all other destinations show small numbers in comparison.

As I look back on the virtual world and MMO data I have collected over the past five years one thing is certain; expect to see many more virtual worlds launching in the months and years ahead. I remember a few years ago hearing one day there will be over 300 virtual worlds globally. I remember thinking “that’s impossible, we will never have that many.” Well, that day has recently come and gone. I continue to add another ten destinations to my list every month. Adding more new worlds to the existing list of players will create challenges for everyone in this field, pushing all players to continually improve, build out, and try to hold onto market share. Ultimately it will be the children and their parents that will benefit. Each new world that launches raises the bar for quality, engagement, innovation and ultimately, access. That’s the good for kids, but it presents an ongoing challenge for publishers who choose to play in the virtual space.

Share this article...

The Thin Line Between Education and Entertainment

Friday, May 13th, 2011

[The following is a piece I wrote for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center's 2011 Leadership Forum, Learning from Hollywood, a cross-industry event that will explore new ways of bridging the perceived gap between entertainment and education. The event will be held in Los Angeles at the USC School of Cinematic Arts on May 16 & 17. ]

If you were challenged to define what math is, what would you say? How about science? What makes the two different, or maybe even the same? I started exploring the idea of what makes up these educational disciplines as a result of hearing the term STEM more and more in the news. STEM is a short-handed way of referring to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but is this term simply a collection of separate items, or could there be something larger at play here because of the overlaps between these disciplines? Is there greater benefit to the whole than simply its parts and could this concept be applied to other similar examples outside of education as well?

While noodling with the idea of categories and boundaries, I remembered a discussion I had with Vinton Cerf from Google many months ago. Vint is frequently cited as “the father of the Internet” a title he will quickly point out involves the contributions of many of his fellow colleagues, and not just those of his own.

During our meeting we talked about how Google looks at the world of content. Vint shared with me the following:

“In the academic world it has become traditional to speak of disciplines, and that’s an organizational artifact; geology, history, English, physics, chemistry, medicine, and so on. Yet when we dive down deep we discover this is all a continuum. These things are not really broken up with such hard walls and barriers between them. Understanding that those disciplines are actually related to each other in a very intimate way is an important thing. I want to be careful about the idea of organizing information into categories. That can be helpful abstraction but it’s dangerous if you actually believe these things are segregated from each other.”

Upon reflecting on Vint’s words, I immediately thought of a quote by the great media thinker Marshall McLuhan, who famously said:

“Anyone who makes a distinction between entertainment and education doesn’t know the first thing about either.”

Connecting the dots between the two statements came over me like a tidal wave. Could we as media creators, educators, researchers, whatever the industry, be carrying with us artificial boundaries that prevent us from making real breakthroughs in our field? If we look for new ways to engage audiences through media creation wouldn’t it be in defining new boundaries that reshapes society’s thinking about these boundaries?

Simply being aware that we have the ability to redefine those boundaries may actually be the first step in creating something larger, something that is truly breakthrough. How would you define the boundaries between education and entertainment? Or should we instead define the overlaps, or maybe even define how we wish those boundaries to be drawn? The overlaps appear to change and grow with every advance in technology. Their sum is greater than the parts. To separate the two diminishes our ability as creators to discover new opportunities and reach audiences in ways never before dreamed possible.

Share this article...