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 marketing, online community, Safety/Privacy, virtual worlds, web business

Network makers responsibility

I think a great deal about my responsibility as a kids community producer in establishing and maintaining a healthy and safe culture in the communities I manage.  This has been the case since I began in 2000 and is a constant driving force in my career.

With the addition of Social Media to the landscape and the mass market adoption of the online world, I often feel the personal responsibility to act as a steward to this Digital Citizenship/Netizen culture with those I interact with online – be it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or whatever new site anyone is jumping into at the moment.

So danah boyd’s article on online networks and their role in our society was very exciting for me to stumble upon this week.  It’s a couple months old now, but the concepts are textbook caliber and really made me reflect on the more conceptual aspects of my day to day work.  I am proud that her final statement in the article is one that I remind myself of on a regular basis.

One thing’s clear: it’s high time we examined the values that are propagated through our tools. We all need to think critically about the information we create, consume and share. We all need to take responsibility for helping shape the world around us. – danah boyd

Definitely worth the read for anyone interested in the shift our collective societies are taking and the unique concerns that apply to the digital space, as well as the ones from the offline space that have followed us online.

Posted in kids, Safety/Privacy, web business

COPPA musings

The annual FOSI conference held in DC last week really helped to articulate for me some of the current ambiguity in the COPPA legislation, specifically with it’s intention and it’s enforcement.

Currently, the law is written in such a way that it clearly intends to protect childrens’ personally identifiable information (PII) from being used for nefarious purposes by the websites collecting it or their third party partners.  Some of the changes being proposed (public comments are due by the end of Nov) help to update and articulate this point and make the criteria points a bit more salient with todays tech climate (i.e adding geo-location, behavioral advertising, etc).

One point that is hotly debated is Email Plus.  Currently, sites can use this method (sending notification emails to a parent informing them of a child’s intent to share PII), but the FTC is trying to remove this.  The reason for this being that the sites should, by in large, not be soliciting PII from children in the first place and if they are, they should be complying with the more rigid parental verification models detailed in the law.  As Amy Pritchard from Metaverse Modsquad articulated to me, “Email plus is being eliminated as a way to collect PII and use it internally, as most sites had used it as a best practice parental notification method.  In order to allow sites to continue to do this, the proposed changes allow for sites to collect the parent email address for purposes of notifying the parent that the child has become a member of [or registered for] the site.”

The informal debates that I heard and participated in at the FOSI conference dealt mostly in the intent of the law.  Most of us agreed that the law should protect a child’s PII from being used for anything other than to make the game play better.  For the most part, the consensus is that, except for specific situations, like contests, DOB and gender are really the only 2 pieces of child PII a site needs to collect, and these are allowed currently under COPPA.

The finer point that I recognized in our sometimes spirited debates was between solicited PII and passively collected PII.   A site should not solicit PII from kids, such as in the registration process, as most of this information is not needed for normal game-play (unless, again, they get verifiable parental consent).   But what if kids give PII freely, such as in chat or on forums/boards?  What, if any, sanctions should be levied unto the site in these scenarios?  The informal consensus was that the site should at least employ means of screening and moderating such content so as to make sure that this PII is not easily given and read on the site – but that this should not be legislated as part of COPPA.

Anne Collier wrote about this recently ( – “The proposed [COPPA] changes respond to the advent of social media (social network sites, virtual worlds, online games, apps, etc.) in that sites can “allow children to participate in interactive communities without parental consent so long as the operators take reasonable measures to delete all or virtually all children’s personal information before it is made public,” and companies will also have to hold third parties such as app providers to the same privacy standards their services are held to.”

I do not think that the intention of the law should be about teaching and protecting kids to be safe with their PII.  While this is an ethical and moral imperative that companies that target this demographic should abide by, I fall pretty firmly on the side that this should not be federally mandated.  Many of us, myself included, believe that the free market, and hopefully vocal parent groups and watchdog organizations, should be more of the gauge as to whether this is being done on individual sites.  In theory, educating and protecting kids from sharing PII in chat is a great idea, but those of use who have to DO that work, realize how difficult and sometimes impossible it is to be 100% effective.  I do not see how the government could keep up with or track down how effectively sites are at keeping up with that.

This was the 5th Annual FOSI conference, and it was very good to see more representation from practitioners, rather than just lobbyists, marketers, safety advocates, researchers and bloggers.  Hopefully, those of us with real-world/front-line experience in implementing these sort of laws can gain influence in the conversations so laws can be amended or written practically the first time, rather than after the fact (or not at all).

Posted in Animal Jam, Club Penguin, Disney, gaming, kids, online community, Safety/Privacy, tween, virtual worlds, Webkinz

Virtual Worlds Mgmt 101

Izzy Neis and I worked on a primer of kids virtual worlds that we could share with people.  Kind of a what’s good about them, what difficult about them, what they are and are not. Enjoy.

And as I was uploading this one, I saw this fantastically designed on on Slideshare as well.  Guess which one of us has access to graphic designers 😛

Posted in marketing, online community, trends, virtual worlds, web business

The Social Network… meh

Just a short post to point out a conversation I have had with a bunch of friends about the movie, The Social Network.  After I watched it, I didn’t feel like I had watched a cinematic masterpiece.  I couldn’t see what everyone was freaking out about.  It was a fine couple hours, but really, what’s the big deal?

When I dug a bit deeper, I figured out that it was because I knew that story, really well.  Not just of Facebook, but of tons of late aughts start-ups and silicon valley gossip.  I read those stories in Valley Wag and Tech Crunch and all the other online rags as they happened.  I’ve eaten tacos with Twitter execs while discussing COPPA fines and defended multi-million dollar business plans to tech VCs.  I’ve felt the rush of hope with new bridge funding and the despair of multiple companies closing.  I’ve become jaded of this industry.  Almost bored with it’s dramas.

Maybe that’s why I have turned my focus to projects that have a little more “oompf” in the heart-department.  I want to be proud of my work on a societal level, not just career and/or bank account.  You would think children’s properties would be a fair choice, but oy!  don’t get me started on some of the Television Execs and Licensing people I’ve met. 😛

That’s not to say I don’t still pay attention a little.  I grew up a gal in America – I’ve been trained to absorb gossip, whether I like it or not.  At least I am getting better at the KIND of gossip I am absorbing (read: Please brain, less Kardashians!)

Posted in Club Penguin, Disney, gaming, kids, marketing, online advertising, online community, television, trends, tween, virtual worlds, web business, Webkinz

My talk at Pratt

Hi All,

I was asked to do a short talk at Pratt Institute, so I decided to share my slides.  Basically I wanted to have a short visual aid to a myriad of mainstream, large and successful properties and brands that did/do well interacting and connecting with their audience through online community and fan engagement .

Let me know if you would like more info or examples or if you have any questions.

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

Oldy but goody links

So I was clearing out my favorites on Twitter and thought I would aggregate some of the random old articles I had saved to look at later….. way later.  Why not put them here, right? 😉


Big Thinkers: Henry Jenkins on New Media and Implications for Learning and Teaching

Why playing in the virtual world has an awful lot to teach children

Is Video Game School Training a Generation of Professional Princess Rescuers?

The Changing Views of the Online Experience – from Fears to Possibilities

Raising Future People (aka kids)

Commentary on: Are you raising a Douchebag? Your indulgent parenting is spawning a generation of entitled hipster brats

A Healthy Day Starts in the Classroom with School Breakfast Programs

Online Safety

Twitter Safety: Keeping young people safe on Twitter

Social Media etc

15 Ways to Measure Return on Engagement (ROE) of Social Media

Game Design for Social Networks

Why Community Management is still misunderstood

What is Social CRM? An Introduction

2010: The Year of the Community Manager

35 social media KPIs to help measure engagement


Playtime can teach us all

Backyard Adaptations Of Video Game Classics

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

National Geographic Animal Jam – Open Beta!

Hey everyone!

The reason I haven’t posted in forever is because I am hard at work on our newly launched project (albeit in open beta) National Geographic Animal Jam!

The day is finally here to live wild with National Geographic Animal Jam™. Now you and your kids can be among the first to monkey around in this virtual world of discovery and fun. Combining the chance for kids to be the animal of their choice with access to National Geographic’s limitless libraries, National Geographic Animal Jam will open your child’s eyes to a world of adventure and exploration like no other virtual world out there. Your kids will soon realize that they’re having tons of fun in the coolest jungle around!

Two years in the making, National Geographic Animal Jam represents an ongoing creative collaboration between the great minds at National Geographic and the gaming gurus at Smart Bomb Interactive. The goal of this virtual world is to provide a fun, exciting, and safe environment for kids to play online, as well as inspire them to explore and protect the natural world outside their doors.

So come prowl around inside National Geographic Animal Jam. With lush tropical kingdoms, amazing adventures, and fascinating facts in store—plus the chance to live it up as your favorite animal—mommy and daddy bears (and their cubs alike) will find a wild world worth discovering!

National Geographic Animal Jam – Jump into the Jungle Today!

We are tweaking and polishing through the summer, and as such, it is completely free to play through the open beta! When we have our Grand Opening this fall, we will offer premium subscription content, but the game will always have free to play features.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

Posted in online community, trends

Managing your Non-Professional Community

A small hunchbacked woman is climbing the stairs of a subway with a huge roller cart full to the brim.  She is taking one step at a time, laboring to pull the cart up, then herself.  It looks as if this could take the rest of the day.  You are behind this woman.  Hopefully, you feel the pull to help her and ask if she needs assistance.  I saw this happen a couple of times this week, even by people who seemed to be in a huge hurry.

Opening doors, giving up the public transit seat to an older person or parent with small children, returning a dropped item to a stranger walking by – Chivalry probably needs to stretch a bit from often underused muscles, but it is certainly not dead.

But what concerns me more is our slow, but steady movement toward living autonomous lives on a macro level.  Sociologists have studied the movement from the “it takes a village” style of family raising to the “nuclear family” style over the past century.  Americans take pride in our ability to do things on our own and our families seem to be moving into that realm as well.  As we are able to move easier now, moving oneself or one’s family to the other side of the country for a job doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.  More and more, we have an unspoken drive to “Do it on our own.”  Individualistic pursuit of progress. Be the best you can be.  Army of one.  All about number 1.

But what we are losing is the power that the collective can do for us. Sure you can go far on your own, but if someone helps you out, you can go further. While we all don’t have to be Leigh Ann from The Blind Side, we can try to change our point of view to be more open to, in not default to, being more altruistic.

I don’t think ones network of advisors (or community) should be a crutch, though.  They should be a ladder when needed, a seat other times, and a shoulder to hug/cry/laugh other times.  Having a big family, I understand intrinsically how this works.  But for those of you who may have had more of those “aspiring to be nuclear” families or not had this sort of point of reference, here are some of my thoughts on how to inject a bit of community into your offline lives (I figure, I spend all the rest of my time talking about online/work stuff, why not see how my other side thinks) :

  • Shop/eat local/organic when you can.
    This is a hot topic lately, right?  And I am so guilty of chosing the cheaper choice.  But going to your local farmers market or grocer or market/boutique when you can afford the time and cash really does make a difference – in your health and in your community.  Plus, if you have kids (or just want to learn yourself) it’s a potential learning opportunity to learn about new foods, processes, products or services.
  • Volunteer.
    If you have never volunteered, go now and sign up for something.  Disney will even give you a free day at their parks this year. Find an activity that makes you feel happy and then share that with others – Painting old schools/park benches, visiting a nursing home, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, tutoring at a school, planting a garden in a public place – whatever.  Whatever you do, you will find it’s one of the most rewarding things you can do.

    And don’t give up.  If you really aren’t connecting with some activity you have signed up for, don’t get down on volunteering, look for another activity.

  • If you do move, make sure communication channels are established and maintained.
    My family moved across the country when I was little, but my mother made sure that we talked to all of our relatives regularly and went through great pains to have visits with them at least 2 times a year.  Because of that, we are still very close with each generation.  When I moved out and into college across the country, my mother made sure that all my younger siblings came to visit me each year, especially when I wasn’t able to make it back home myself.  I have connected all my family members with video cams now, so we can talk and see each other on video chats when we can.  I have friends in Italy who make Skype dates to chat with friends and siblings. I make sure I update my facebook so my extended family knows what I am doing when I am out of town.

    It’s all difficult, sometimes in the setup and always in the maintaining, but its worth it.  The more you talk with people, the more you are connected (even when it’s digitally), and our current technological communication channels make it easier than ever.  Social Media is not a trend, it’s a new opportunity to connect.  And this doesn’t necessarily have to mean just family.  Friends, coworkers and anyone else you feel close to is what I consider family – and therefore your community.

  • Get to know your neighbors.
    This one’s tough for me as I am an urbanite and have been off and on for most of my life.  I love the anonymity that cities afford.  But lately, in an effort to fight my hermit instinct (I swear, I am one) I have been making myself chat with my neighbors.  It’s a good habit as a friendly human, but there are practical reasons too – they can water your plants and check your mail when you are away or let you know if there have been any unsavory events that you might have missed.  Living in a vacuum is easier, but joining the community has more benefits.
  • It takes a village to raise a child.
    This is a big one for me, especially lately with the figurative baby boom that is happening in my friend and family circles.  Child raising is hard, especially at the beginning.  If noone has ever told you that, I am happy to be the first to tell you.  And with our individualistic culture growing, it’s harder to SAY it’s hard.  We have basically made a culture of parents who aren’t “allowed” to show they are stressed out or need help.  So if know someone with kids and you are able, help them out.  If you are no good with kids, offer company or host a dinner.  If you are ok with kids, offer to babysit or help run errands for them (kids are CONSTANTLY being needed to be picked up from somewhere). You are not only helping out your friend, you are showing the kids that people can and should help each other out

    And if a child is doing something wrong around you, as a member of the community, you should feel entitled and empowered to tell that child to stop it.  10 year olds swearing in public, trying to steal something from a shop or being mean to another child will get a “Hey!” (and usually a bit more) from me, especially if they are unsupervised.  I am not trying to question parenting styles, I am trying to do my small part at helping form our next generations.  Those kids are going to apply for jobs, be able to vote and fight for our country and even have kids of their own, in not so many years.  They should know that there are people looking out for them, for when they are in trouble, as well as when they are causing trouble.  I will keep on keeping on, but it’s more effective if we all do it together.

    My views are not going to coincide with everyone elses.  And that’s good – as then children get more chances to realize that while there are different viewpoints, we are all part of a whole and we are looking out for each other.  But remember, hearing someone judge your parenting is painful and hurtful.  And it’s also rude to judge other people’s kids and parenting, especially harshly. So think before you speak.  Hopefully you are doing that anyway, though.

Now it would be hypocritical to say that I am not a card carrying member of the bootstrapper philosophy myself,.  Oft times, you will hear me say “Head down and keep marching” or “Walk it off.”  Like I said, I am also a reluctant extrovert (I swear!).  I would much rather divert my eyes and grunt a greeting, than get to know my talky neighbors.  But I see the value in working towards a goal of community, so I work past my neuroses.  And someday I will make it to one of those pug meetups my neighbor always tells me about.  Not necessarily because I need to talk about pug habits for 2 hours on a Saturday morning, but because it’s the right thing to do.

Posted in kids, online community, Safety/Privacy, trends


SPEAKER/S: Carla Engelbrecht Fisher (Teachers College, Columbia University)

SLIDES from her blog

5-6 is when kids have more motor skills and can start to understand dispersion

Displacement effect – if they are playing games, they are not homework, hanging with others etc

Tight racer – multi-player game


Zone of Proximal Development – if I play with a partner, they will help bring me to their level, scaffolding

Hidden Park – iphone app


Super Mario Bros Wii is collaboratively like LBP

Middle Childhood – 5-8, 8-12

amanda project
clever hive

2 types of friendships
– aggregate – what the masses think
– dyadic – resciprocal

There is research saying that if a kid knows the kids they go to kindergarden withm, they will be more successful

Highlights answers EVERY letter that is sent ot them.

multi-player games have an effect of increasing offline social games

urban v rural comepteitive