Posted in gaming, kids, marketing, mobile, online advertising, online community, Safety/Privacy, trends, virtual worlds, web business

COPPA/FTC- you make it so difficult to help you out

So I have a reputation as somewhat of a COPPA compliance warrior – so much so that my co-workers have been known to groan when I mention registration or database needs.  It’s an odd thing to have attributed to you, especially with no legal experience SLASH a general frustration with legal risk aversion in general.  But when you have been working on kids websites and communities for coming up on 15 years, you kinda get a hang for the ins and outs of the laws that surround it (or at least you SHOULD).

That’s the thing.  COPPA is required. It’s not a choice.  You have to comply.  If you don’t, you get in trouble – like super expensive trouble – in dollars and negative PR.  So you just do it.  I always find it odd when people brag about it or add it as a tagline to their branding.  It’s akin to saying – “My name’s Harry and just so you know, I definitely DON’T punch random strangers in the face.” Duh, Harry, but thanks for letting me know.

But COPPA compliance has become alot like speeding on the highway.  Many people obey the speed limit, but many more edge a bit over the line.  When they see a cop, they pull back and pretend that 55 is totes what they were driving the whole time. But then they inch back up to 65 or 70 the second they are in the clear.  I’ve heard some people actually see a speeding ticket every now and then as a valid cost of driving – a tax they are willing to budget for.

Much the same, companies have started inching over the compliance line on COPPA.  I actually have been in meetings with kids brand execs (NOT my current ones 😉 ) that considered having a slush fund set aside in case their was a sanction levied against them.  But even Pollyanna-well-intentioned brands sometimes find themselves inching toward or even over the COPPA line.  You know why?  Because it’s SUPER hard to comply to in the internet/digital culture that we are in right now.

COPPA was put in place to protect kiddos from nefarious marketers who wanted to sell personal info. It was not for predators or decency or to teach personal accountability in identity protection.  But, with our culture of fear, those are the things that people think it’s in place for.

Is it good that a byproduct of this rather draconian law imposed on site operators so they don’t profit from the sale of kids info, ALSO helps prevent kids from distributing personal details about themselves in public forums?  Maybe – but I’m not sure that that remote and avoidable byproduct outweighs the other hurdles the law imposes.

You see, the whole thing is predicated on parents being super engaged in their children’s online lives.  Ask a parent about this and they will undoubtedly say:

“YES! Of course, I want to know what is going on with my child online AND to help them make good decisions accordingly!  I am an amazing parent!”

This is evidenced in tons of surveys.  But do those surveys follow up with the parent (and I mean REALLY follow up – not just ask the parent in another survey) with a

“Ok, parent, but do you REALLY? Are you ACTUALLY the super engaged parent you painted yourself to be?”

Chances are, if that followup actually happened, the answer  would be dodged with an excuse about lack of time or understanding, lament of the speed of tech advancements or a bold faced lie.

Truth is that, anecdotally (albeit with my use-cases in the thousands), parents don’t know about COPPA and their assumed required involvement.  So we can demand verified parental consent til the cows come home, but if the parents don’t understand that is something that is needed, all the FTC is protecting is a child’s ingenuity to lie about their age, while simultaneously making it harder for an an ethical site operators to pay their staff while providing good content for kids.

Unless these impositions on the site operators are coupled with a robust (and effective) campaign to explain to parents WHY and HOW they need to be involved, COPPA is simply discouraging smaller brands away from quality content from kids, encouraging children and parents to learn truth-dodging techniques in registrations and forcing the nefarious operators deeper into the shadows to avoid detection.  Only bigger brands can afford the legal counsel needed to check that they are in the right.  The ones who can’t afford will simply not offer the content, or worse, slap a “over 13” stamp on it and skirt their responsibility.

The internet is based on communication channels – especially in the age of social media that is now the norm.  By starting from the false axiom of parental involvement and prohibiting use of the now standard means of communication until this involvement is verified, you are setting up either a web of lies OR limiting our next generations ability to learn how to use these channels correctly.  Both are horrible choices.

And don’t even get me started on how most of the mobile rules don’t even have a path to compliance…

Instead, we should flip the paradigm:

  • For the operators – we make the compliance voluntary and, therefore, honestly brag worthy.  Make it like shopping on a secure site – you get the security so that your customers feel safe.  If you don’t have that seal or badge or OK from the FTC, parents/kids would think twice before using their site.
  • For parents – we give them back their parenting responsibilities.  If they think their child shouldn’t be giving out info online, the parents should be punishing the children for breaking their house rules, not blaming the sites for making it too easy for their child to give out info.  And we should be helping parents understand this and how to do this – not assuming they are already there.
  • For kids – we teach them media awareness, basic stranger/danger skills and critical thinking.  If they aren’t ready for it – their parents shouldn’t be letting them use those sites – whether they are 8, 12, 15 or 17 years old.

I am not naive, I know this isn’t going to happen this year or even next.  But I am optimistic as to this happening at some point.  Until then, I will remain the compliance warrior, marching and marching on.  But I have 10 million+ kids and parents on my compliant site – so you better believe I’m gonna start the first steps toward a more rational model now.

Posted in gaming, kids, marketing, mobile, online community, Safety/Privacy, trends, virtual worlds, web business

Digital Kids and 2013 Predictions

I am excited to be involved in this years Digital Kids Conference as an emcee for the first day’s talks.  It’s collocated with Toy Fair again in NYC, so we should have a nice crowd.  Tonda, Chris and crew are promoting on the regular social channels – Facebook, Twitter, etc.

There is also an affiliated Digital Kids Safety Summit as well – you know I’ll be THERE too.

In prep for the conference, I was interviewed about my predictions for our industry in 2013.  Here’s a snippet:

“The new COPPA articulations have changed the digital climate. COPPA requires a level of parental engagement and involvement that many families don’t realize. Parents don’t understand how much parental consent they have to give, and new online safety and privacy articulations are going play an important role in online parenting,”

You can see the whole interview here.

Hope to see you all there!

 

Posted in gaming, kids, mobile, online community, Safety/Privacy, trends, virtual worlds, web business

Kids Online Unconference ’09

I helped promote the second Kids Online unconference again and am so happy with the conversations that we all had.  I wanted to share the conversations we had.

We used the hashtag #kidsonline if you want to check out the tweets.

I have a collaborative google doc of notes. Please feel free to check it out and/or add to it.

I also tried my first streamed video (audio is poor for many of the talks, but if you listen hard, you can hear us).  It’s broken into 3 videos, each rather long.  And the video sometimes doesn’t match with the audio.  But I tried, right?

I know there were talks at the end about having another one of these next year.  If you are interested, let me know and I can let the rest of the organizers know.

ALSO… I want to start roaming cocktail parties where we can all get together and talk shop about the kids online industry.  We have a listserv that you should signup for if you are interested in knowing when the next one is (or starting one of your own)

Posted in gaming, kids, marketing, mobile, online community, Safety/Privacy, television, tween, virtual worlds

Kids Online unconference – May 31

Hi all –

First of many plugs about the Kids Online Unconference that is happening the day before the Ypulse Youth Mashup. The whole thing is 5/31/09-6/2/09, but come to what you can.

We need to start getting a headcount, so if you could let myself or any of the other coordinators know if you are planning on attending, that would be great!

To sign up for the listserv we have set up, go to this link http://lists.idcommons.net/lists/info/kidsonline and click the “Subscribe” link.

Thanks!

Posted in gaming, kids, marketing, mobile

SXSW09 notes

better late than never, eh?… 🙂

Iphone gaming session
– There are 20-30million iphones/itouchs in market
– games and entertainment 1 to 3, account for more than half
– pinch media has great iphone usage stats in US
– There are over 600 paid family apps
– 70% of mobile market (people using their phone for web use) is from iphone – not the same as market share
– make less than $1 profit margin per app
– hoping for push notifications soon

– core
– free apps – maximize traffic
– platform – multiply traffic (ads incorporated)
– paid apps – direct to premium apps (native & awesome)

– ngmico average durations on games
– 22.6 min rolando,
– topple 11.3 minuutes,
– mazefinger 6.3 minutes

– distribution
– 27,000 apps, hard to get featured
– chronological listing is the only implicit feature area
– refresh every 2-3 days
– ads not cost effective – great clickthru, but not great rev
– youtube videos and reviews
– send out press releases to every media outlets
– get them free copies of the game
– as much info as possible
– once app in top 100, it is self sustaining
– pangea hired reverb communication to handle the pr
– the more you do to encourage viral marketing
– invite and challenge features help

– price points
– started at $10

  • *****************

– Learning and Gaming core conversation was a tense and interesting session. Mind Candie’s peeps headed it up and had tons prepared, but the crowd was not having it. Within the first 10 minutes a griefer in the back raised the tension stating that trying to determine how gaming in schools could ever happen with the strict educational standards in schools. A designation of learning versus educational was made, saying that while they may mean very similar things, the connotations are looser with the term “learning”. Then another griefer took it to an extremely tense moment bashing teachers for being horrible and that all of them should be gotten rid of as they were just getting worse. This caused the teachers of the room to get all riled up and many of us wondered who would bring it back to a professional conversation level. Many great applications of integrating learning into games and gaming into classrooms were given, but the topic kept coming back to the lack of a bridge to connect the developers to the educators. One gentleman offered to build such an application and was received with much fanfare a the end. All in all a very interesting session and positive outcome to know that the topic is so emotionally charged.

  • ******************

Tech Moms
– Lively conversations in the room and all very passionate
– Talked about the paradox of Paid Endorsements
– lost authenicity if you pay, but risk of negative feedback if you dont
– ROI vs SOI – Sphere of Influence
– Have to figure out where the moms are
– Many moms prefer local forums over blogs
– tons of moms on twitter now
– see the saturation of mom forums/communities, etc and use twitter as a catalyst tool
– “give me the tools” to engage with your brand
– twitter hashtags of #playoutdoors, #momsxsw, #techmoms, #momswhotech
– Rachel Silverman – NYT moms/tech columnist

Posted in gaming, kids, marketing, mobile, online advertising, online community, television, virtual worlds

Psst…introducing Chuggington

Just wanted to let you all know about the project I have been working on.  Not much news, other than we launched our production blog at http://chuggington.com.

Chuggington

It’s a cool project.  I am getting to dive into areas of our industry I haven’t had a chance to before which is always exciting.  Subscribe to the Production Blog to stay updated.

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Posted in gaming, kids, marketing, mobile, MySpace, television, tween, web business

Researching digital distribution this week

Thinking about digital distribution this and wanted to brain dump and hopefully get feedback from you all.  I am trying to compartmentalize digital distribution so that I can explain my understanding of it to others in an easy way.  Any help would be appreciated.

I see the strategy being simultaneously very different and very similar for independents and corporate company endeavors online.

INDEPENDENTS:

If you are an independent person, with something to say you have a variety of options available to you.  Focusing online, you can post your thoughts on someone else’s site or blog, join a forum or community and voice your opinion or many other outlets for you express yourself.

If you want a bit more involvement, you can decide to manage it yourself in a variety of ways and formats.  You can start a blog and rant in written form, you can start a podcast and rant in verbal form or you can start a video cast and rant in physical form.

If you decide to go this route, you may want to increase your audience, so you can add your content to aggregators and feed lists so that more people can search for and find your content.  You can add tags to entries that are cross referenced on other sites.  You can offer other ways for your users to find your content, like feeds or social bookmark tools.  You can also syndicate your content and put it on multiple platforms and other sites, depending on the format. 

CORPORATE:

What if you are a producer of someone else’s content, like your company, and you find yourself in the similar situation above.  As an independent, it’s easier to determine how big and wide-spread you want your content to be, it’s your choice, that’s all you are thinking about. 

But with a company, you have tons of other issues to think about:

  • Which pieces of content are you going to offer to the world?
  • Do you have rights to put this content online?
  • Where are the borders of those rights? Formats? Clip length? Countries?
  • Should you offer downloads or streaming? DRM or not?
  • Are there overlaps with different channels? Mobile? Web? VOD?
  • Will you have a Handheld Gaming Device strategy?  Does it work on wifi and non-wifi enabled devices?

I have been watching these issues for years now.  The market is moving so fast in every way, that I never really get a chance to focus on these channels.  So I am reaching out.  Correct me if I am wrong in classifications or defintions and add if you can where I don’t have enough info.

Licensed video distribution channels:
– These are companies that you either pay to be on or they pay you, but there is a formal contract/deal/aggreement drawn between the producer of the content and the distribution site/channel. 
– They stream most of their content and normally do not allow for cross pollination of the content on their site. 
– Because of their association with the networks, these are also sometimes referred to as IPTV or Internet  protocol television.

Examples include
Joost
Hulu

Independent video distribution sites
– These are sites that allow anyone to post their own content after agreeing to a simple “click here” sort of terms of use. 
– They stream their content, but encourage cross pollination of the content on other sites by use of an embed code. 
– These are also sometimes referred to as IPTV or Internet  protocol television, although not as much as the examples above as television implies networks and programming.
– Some of these sites are using “Channels” to group similar content in an effort to help consumers used to the more congruent programming on television.

Examples include:
Youtube
CurrentTV
Myspace TV
Revver
Vimeo
Crackle
Vuze

Video on Demand (VOD)
– These are distribution methods that are usually tied to network content, where the network will offer selected programming in a cache that the consumer can watch at their convenience.
– This is a highly demographic driven distribution channel.  Preschoolers and older adults tend to use this at higher rates.  Tech thought leaders use DVR devices in lieu of VOD.

Examples include:
Comcast offer an area on their set top box where individual networks can offer VOD selections. 

Mobile Distribution
– This is where I need an infusion of who are the leaders now.  I studied the market in early 2006, but with how quickly things are happening, who knows who is the leader now (actually, one of you knows)
– I DO know, that format-wise, mobile content, at least non-interactive content like videos, needs to be within the under 3 minute mark.
– This will change as soon as the new high-tech phones (iPhone, Nokia N95, etc) start becoming more of a mass market reality, but the marketplace is by in large still flip phone based.  I do see more and more people getting the qwerty keyboard phones (ala Sidekick, helio, etc) for ease of texting.
– What is very big still is ringtones and all derivatives of ringtones.  Ringbacks are even spreading in popularity.
– Games seem to be holding steady as well.  I personally do not know anyone who games often on their cell, but I see them often enough where I am able to accept the statistics that talk about mobile gaming on the rise.
– But who are the leaders?  Are the mobile networks still paying for content or are the producers paying to be on the network?  Not sure where this stands currently.

Examples include:
– Help me, who is big now?  MobiTV? VCast?

Handheld Gaming/Internet Devices
– This is a relatively new area to look at for digital distribution (unless you are a game developer 🙂 ).  But more and more handheld devices have wifi enabled.
– Is anyone taking advantage of this medium besides the hardware/software companies that ?  Are there any independent distributors utilizing this medium?  I know the PSP plays mini disc movies – is there downloadable content as well?
– How is optimization for Internet handheld going?  Is the market big enough to justify the resource time from your staff?

Internet Capable Gaming Consoles
– Same sort of questions as above, is anyone taking advantage of this outlet, or is it locked down by the indiviudal game companies?

Correct me if and where I am wrong and add where it is needed.  Thanks!

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