A few weeks ago a friend of mine told me about an "incident" that happened with his kids and a well-known search engine. The "incident" was brought about by his kids innocently typing words into the search engine, they were young enough that he didn't think that they would use a search engine, but they did.
I found this out a few years ago; my daughter found the website dolphin.com and was asking questions about it. I asked her how she found it and she said that she typed it into the search engine. She was four.
Enter the parental responsibility mode. I am constantly on a quest to find safe ways for my children to enjoy the internet, but not find all of the crud that is out there. I've found resources that have let me feel more confident about their browsing, but nothing is a substitute for parental involvement.
Highly recommended children's web resources
Ask for Kids - http://www.askforkids.com/
This kid-friendly search engine rates very highly in my book. The interface is bright and simple. They even tell you where Jeeves may be vacationing. There are direct links to some fun games and lots of homework help. The results could use some beefing up, but I attribute that to the filtering process. The results won't be in-depth enough for older children who need more research sources. I've made this the default homepage and search page for the browser on the kid's computer.
Kidzui - www.kidzui.com
This great program takes over the browser (and the computer if you like) and filters all content based on parents and teachers who determine age appropriate content. Kidzui is a portal-style interface with content and links to other websites. For multiple children you can set up multiple accounts, using their picture. (The pictures are not displayed online, only on your computer).
The sites in the Kidzui portal are the typical suspects; PBSKids.org, Nick Jr., DisneyKids, etc. but all of the sites are displayed in a crazy interface that allows for additional exploration. The interface contains pictures and movie clips from cartoons, TV shows (The Wiggles), and many other sources. The search function is very good and returns great multimedia results. This is a very sticky portal for kids and keeps their full attention.
At the end of each week, I receive a full report of all of the websites that each child has visited, all of the images and movies that they watched and all of the search queries that they made. It gives me a little more comfort to know what they are doing, but like I said - it's no substitute for just sitting with them and watching for a while.
Kidzui is still in Beta, so a lot of parental controls are not available, such as time and website restrictions (I hate Bratz). But I like what they are doing and my kids love the options that are there. You also have the options to have Kidzui 'take over' the system so that the kids cannot minimize it and use another browser. The only way you can shut down the program is to use the master password. This is especially handy if you have an independent child that does not like to be told "no".
Review: Kid-friendly websites and search engines
Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a lot of innovation in this space. Many of the kids search engines I tested failed miserably. Not because they let too many results in, but because they provided too few results, or even none.
KidsWeb provides a search capability, and a preschooler section. However, a search for "dolphins" yielded no results. I clicked on Preschoolers to see the content there, but ran up against a typical problem. Kids sites that rely on reading for those still too young to read. How can a typical three-year old read the lists of links and know which to click on? After that, how can they read the navigation buttons? http://www.mcpl.lib.mo.us/KidsWeb/
Awesome Library provided a very nice resource for kids and the information was very extensive. The main thing I did not like was the prominently displayed 'Ads by Google'. This is more personal taste on my part, but ads like this should be kept out of the kid space.http://www.awesomelibrary.orgDibdabdoo.com
Dibdabdoo.com used to be a resource from DMOZ, but I did not see much carry-over from those roots. One of the first things I noticed is a plea to link to the site. (I am sure that my kids will understand that one.) The rest of the results seem to come from FactMonster.com, which I decidedly do not like - It's not that they have too much advertising, it's that the advertising is intrusive, distracting, and takes away from the information on the site. DibDabDoo used to be advertised as an ad-free environment. My, how times have changed.http://www.dibdabdoo.com/
This site got low marks simply from all of the pop-up and pop-unders advertising car insurance and travel. (Sigh) Another website where 60% of the screen space is advertising. I am not sure why a search engine for kids advertises for Office 2007 and the Wall Street Journal.
The interface is fun and light, and the navigation makes it easy for kids to find information. The search leaves a lot to be desired, as the first category of search results are from Yahoo kid's movies. For a child looking for information, movies aren't usually the best source of information. I am not sure why that is the default category at the top of the list. Yahoo Kid's Games is usually second, but the good information is usually below the screen and the child will have to scroll. I don't like the assumption that everything a child searches for revolves around movies and games. The results for the searches I performed for 'dolphins,' 'frogs,' and 'webkinz' were very disappointing and provided very little information that kept with the fun presentation.
Highlights for Children
A blast from the past for many of us, but the HighlightsKids.com website provides activities and search functions. While the search is limited to information on the Highlights website and past issues, the content of Highlights goes back for many years, so it is hard to find a subject that isn't addressed. The nice thing is that the Highlights Kids website used to be accessible by subscription only, which they changed and removed about a year ago. Now all of the content is available for anyone to enjoy.
I like the activities at HighlightsKids.com as they focus around more puzzles and learning than just simple Flash-based games. There is a real emphasis integrating on-line discovery and off-line play. Most of the content is printable in order for children to complete off-line.
SurfSafely.com seems to be more of a portal of a family rather than geared to children. Even more disappointing was that a search for 'dolphins' resulted in a jewelry sites, cake toppers, and statues in the top rankings. The emphasis is definitely on commercial sites in these results. Even funnier is that the Google ads on the pages are not targeted to the search, but rather to website filtering and search engine submission.
One refreshing search engine was Kids.Quintura.com. The background is quirky, yet attractive and I spent a while just admiring the artwork and whimsy. A search for 'dolphins' (have you guessed yet as to the primary search term of my kids?) yielded some very good results. I had issues with the color choice and term highlighting in the interface. I felt it was harder to read, but the text is larger than typical sites. I would have been happier if the highlighted term were simply another color, rather than the addition of the highlight color.
The results provided a variety of websites, all with very good information. Interestingly enough, the results come from Yahoo Kids, but Quintura provided higher quality results and presented them better than the Yahoo Kids website.
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If you know of any resources that should be noted, please leave the link in the comments. I would like to build an updated list of Kid Safe search engines and portals. Many of the lists I have found online are out of date in just a few short years.
September 21, 2007
Matt Bailey is the founder of SiteLogic, a web marketing consulting company. He leads seminars and teaches companies how to use their sites more effectively and to build a web business by applying common sense sales and marketing techniques. He is a specialist in interpreting web site statistics into practical usability.
Matt has been in the search marketing industry for ten years, and started leading classes in the late 1990's. One of his first opportunities was as a regular speaker for the Ohio Innkeeper's Association, teaching practical web site marketing techniques. Since that time he has worked with hundreds of companies, instructing them in web marketing principles.
Matt takes a very holistic view of website marketing, including accessibility, which has become a passion and a crusade. His goal with The Web Site Accessibility Blog is to teach companies that they can easy apply search marketing and accessibility techniques to their web sites.