Posted in Club Penguin, Disney, gaming, marketing, mobile, MySpace, Nick, online community, television, tween, web business, Webkinz

Interactive Entertainment is evolving

I was thinking about something a bit this week and thought that I would share it on my blog.  Apologies in advance if the ideas are still in the less than solid state.  Basically I have been thinking about the future – that the web, emerging technologies, cell phones, social networks are not really trends, as some people think of them as.  They ARE trends, in that when a new example of one comes around, it’s all anyone talks about for a while (can you say iPhone? Facebook? Club Penguin? Webkinz?).  But the fact that the larger population is even paying attention to these sorts of things, let alone the amount of attention those people are paying, in greater numbers is the phenomenal thing.

It’s this move, from trend to habit, that I have been thinking about lately.  No longer is it only the early adopters using new technology, websites and gadgets.  Now, in ever-increasing numbers, the rest of the population is starting to early adopt as well.  Trends are assimilating themselves into peoples daily lives.  I received multiple emails and messages today from friends that claimed the only way they remembered my birthday was via Facebook or MySpace alerts.

It’s because of this assimilation that we, as producers, need to move ahead in our thinking.  We have to have innovation of product and service on our minds at all times.  Me-too products and services are too old the second they come out.  We have to think about cool ways to take this new tech culture our societies are adopting and make new ways of learning, entertaining and existing. 

One example is mobile.  Mobile has come to mean cell phones.  But the new iPod Touch released yesterday has a wifi browser on it.  Still a small screen, but browser capabilities.  Many people are adopting this portable, surf anywhere mentality – but the devices and sites aren’t keeping up.  We need to think about how that switch will affect our content offerings and how we design.  Normal cell interfaces that access online are still around and will be for a while.  We have to design for that as well. 

But we also have to think about how the future users will use it.  Are the users using their phone browser for different activities than their normal browsers?  If they are watching video, is it certain kinds of videos?  Are there demographic differences in the kind of content consumed?  What are new ways that we can use this more portable means of accessing the Internet that will work for any phone interface that the user uses?  International cell users can give great insight here, as can pre-existing, albeit small US cell content networks. 

How can we move past simply identifying the next trends and start predicting habits?  How will we help future users to push the boundaries of how they are communicating?  What are you doing to this end?

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Can you say – travel?

Lord knows I will be able to this month and next. And I am not complaining, far from it. I have always wanted to travel, both professionally and personally. Whoa, am I getting my wish now.

So, I wanted to put my travel schedule up so that if any of you were in any of the towns when I am there we can grab a coffee or beer (or any other beverage you like). I love company and if it keeps me from watching the local news in my hotel room – even better!

London – 9/16-9/24
– Various meetings

NYC – 9/26-9/30
Tween Mashup, co-paneling with Erin Reilly

SF/Bay Area – 10/3-10/11
Online Community Summit in Sonoma
Virtual Worlds 2007 in San Jose

Shanghai – 10/31-11/5 (? actual dates)
– various meetings

If you are in any of those places (or within rental car driving distance) let me know! (joipodgorny at

And because I am a google apps fangirl lately, I made a google calendar with my “Joi is not in Chicago” schedule. I know, I know – but it’s handy for friends and family! 🙂

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Ready to Learn Cartoons launching Monday

Back in March 2006, I was able to go to the first meeting of the Ready to Learn Partnership. This is a government funded initative that has been going on for years, aimed at leveraging media to help kids learn. The very nice grant (millions of dolars) helped develop such preschool favorites as Sesame Street, Between the Lions and 2 new cartoons launching this Monday, 9/3 – Super Why! and Word World.

Super Why! is super cute. I love the animated characters who are voiced by kid actors. Just adorable. And the Three Pigs episode they have on their site is pretty good. I can totally see the early reading initatives being used. I found myself wanting to watch a 3-6 year old watch it to see how they reacted. Their site is pretty and ratehr developed for a new show. There is an interactive map, games and an super-hero/avatar maker. Here’s my Super Joi:

Word World looks much better in CGI than 2D, how I viewed it in early 2006. The characters seem likable and I have always loved the idea of the merchandise, where the characters are plush toys and their letters stuck togetehr to form the word. Having taken care of little ones over the years, my first thought was lost pieces, but I am sure they have thought of that in the past year and a half. Their site is still quite a limited marquee and not living on the pbs network site yet. I am sure that will change soon and I lool forward to seeing their offerings.

God, I love preschool tv and sites… 🙂

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YPulse Tween Mashup – 9/28/07 NYC, the leading independent blog for youth, teen and tween media and marketing professionals, today announced its lineup of speakers for the Ypulse Tween Mashup. The Mashup conference, produced by in partnership with Modern Media, will help media and marketing professionals understand how to reach tweens using technology in a multi-platform world.

Kyra E. Reppen, Senior Vice President & General Manager of Nickelodeon MTVN Kids and Family Group’s Neopets will provide the opening keynote focused on the original youth-oriented virtual world, while Renee Hobbs, Professor of Communication and Director, Media Education Lab, Temple University, will present the luncheon address focusing on, a media literacy project for girls. Additional confirmed speakers include:Our speaker lineup just keeps getting better and better – these are media and marketing professionals who are immersed in what tweens are doing digitally every day.

* Jim Bower, CEO Numedeon (Whyville)
* Bryon Cahill, Editor, READ Magazine, Weekly Reader Publishing
* Molly Chase, Executive Producer, Cartoon Network New Media
* David Card, Vice President and Senior Analyst, Jupiter Research
* Mark William Hansen, Director, LEGO Group
* Mattias Miksche, CEO, Stardoll
* Daniel Neal, CEO, kajeet
* Izzy Neis, Online Community Manager for Kids/Tweens/Teens, Star Farm Productions
* Joi Podgorny, Kids/Tween Internet Community Expert
* Erin Reilly, CEO, Platform Shoes Forum (
* Denise Restauri, CEO,
* Addie Swartz, CEO, B*tween Productions

This is the first b2b event to specifically focus on how 8-13 year olds
are using technology and what media, marketers and .orgs are doing to
reach them,” said Anastasia Goodstein, Ypulse founder, editor and
co-producer of the Ypulse Tween Mashup. “Our speaker lineup just keeps
getting better and better – these are media and marketing professionals
who are immersed in what tweens are doing digitally every day.”

In addition to the growing roster of esteemed speakers, the Ypulse
Tween Mashup will include a panel with tween boys and girls who will
share their top tech picks, likes, dislikes, and more.

Ypulse Tween Mashup to Feature a Keynote From Neopets and Speakers from kajeet, Cartoon Network, LEGO Group, Whyville and B*tween Productions

Great conference at which I will be speaking/facilitating. Definitely come if you are in te NYC area.  It is being done in conjunction with Digital Life NYC, so tons to see, hear, etc.

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Eavesdropping for a better world

So yesterday I was having one of my first business meetings since my (seemingly eternal) vacation and got to the restaurant a bit early.  While sitting on the bench waiting for the rest of my party to arrive, I couldn’t help but overhear the polite, benign conversation that the women next to me were having:

    “Well, my daughter is 16 and all she does is text message.  She doesn’t even call anyone anymore, she says she would rather send a text!”

    “I know what you mean.  And they talk in a different language too.”

    “They do!  And it’s not one I could ever learn.  The kids these days, they do everything with computers.  But it’s not better or worse than the old days though, just different.  A different kind of learning.”

    “I agree. But I think it’s definitely a more of an impersonal way of learning though”

    “You are right.  No imagination.  Everything is just fed to them.  They don’t really think for themselves.”

    “And libraries!  What about them?  Remember how WE used to have to do all of research at libraries, with the card catalogs and everything?  Now they just get all of their info from the internet, without having to work for it.”

    “And it’s probably not checked for accuracy as well!  I tell ya…”

If you set aside the fact that I was rather blatantly eavesdropping, there are some interesting points in this little snippet of conversation.

First – these women were at a nicer restaurant and therefore it is reasonable to assume were coming from at least a middle class socio-economic standing.  Their impressions are based on the teens within their peer groups, who will certainly be more connected than those in the greater population, especially when it comes to cell phones.  Also, most trend research of late tends toward teens preferring textual communication over verbal, be it through SMS, IM or social networks.  So their observations (albeit riddled with eye-rolling) were pretty on the mark with the current research in the marketplace.

Second – I completely agree with them that we are experiencing a sea change toward a totally new way of learning, and it’s happening very quickly.  One that is integrated with technology, almost seamlessly in some cases, and allows for whole new paradigms of education, outreach and potential.  It’s quite exciting on many levels.

Third – this is where I start to disagree with them.  They begin to take the mindset of “I’ll never be able to do that sort of thing.”  ‘Kids these days’ are not another species with capabilities outside of older generations’ possibilities.  They are definitely in a different context and are learning differently than generations past, but that doesn’t mean the older generations can’t learn the same concepts.  

Think of children/adults who know multiple languages.  They aren’t hard-wired any differently than their peers.  They just grow up with different surroundings than their non-multi-lingual friends, be it family, schooling, or environment, etc.  If you place someone in the right context and give them the proper tools, they can learn anything.  I really believe this.  It’s because of this belief that the older generations rally cry of phrase “I could never do that!” in regards to any having to do with technology, gets under my skin.

Forth – and this is a major point for me, that these new technology-heavy contexts in which our younger generations are learning, are not ones that foster imagination and that they are simply passive funnels of information feeding our children info without forcing critical analysis.

This is frustrating to me not because I live and work within this new technology context, but because there is a possible argument that ALL learning is potentially passive in this way.  There needs to be some method of forced critique – in the earlier years by a teacher or parent, and in later years, self induced.  Without being taught, then forced to practice critical analysis, you will only be able to absorb a small fraction of the information being being thrown at you.

Blaming the tools or environment of teaching as the sole reason for the severe lack of critical analysis in the younger generations is a lazy argument.  It’s the same argument that sociologists of education have been debating for years.  Can a child learn in a poorly funded school?  The answer is yes, if the faculty has the bandwidth, resources and dedication to make it happen.  The reason that kids aren’t learning critical analysis skills is not the internet’s fault, it’s usually the curriculum, faculty or family’s fault.

Using the example of the library from my eavesdropped conversation, if a child is not taught how to navigate a library and, consequently, how to interpret and critique the information they find there, the library as “haphazard” an environment for learning as the internet is.

And to say the internet and new technologies stifle imagination is just plain silly.  Fan fiction, art and other user generated content being produced at levels that would make Bollywood blush.  Active online member forums and communities where topics are debated at all hours of the day and night internationally.  Completely artificially designed virtual worlds where new identities are tried on like clothes. And isn’t imagination a key factor in the development of any new language, i.e. text/chat-speak?  These are just a few examples of completely new ways imagination is being utilized just as much as (if not more than) playing house or action figures ever did.  

Hopefully, in the near future, we can start bring the analysis, from street-corner to ivory-tower, of this new universe of technology and digital frontiers, into the positive and hopeful realm.  Let’s stop gazing in wonder/awe/apprehension/fear at what’s happening.  Dive in. Those of us in there already, the kids and the early adopters, are having a great time.

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Tons afoot in kids virtual world new

Virtual Worlds News: Habbo Partners with MTV’s AddictiveGames

Virtual Worlds News: Disney’s Toontown Switching to Ad-Based Model

Virtual Worlds News: Barbie Girls Growing with 50,000 Members per Day

I am watching all this kids virtual worlds stuff quite a bit lately and thought I would share my sources.

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Katie Couric costs $2.51

When the ratings for “The CBS Evening News” dipped to 5.9 million for the week ended May 25 – an all-time low, and a smaller audience than former anchors Dan Rather and Bob Schieffer ever saw – it meantCBS was paying $2.51 per viewer.By comparison, ABC’s Charlie Gibson-anchored “World News Tonight,” cost 89 cents per viewer (7.78 million tuned in), while NBC’s “Nightly News” with Brian Williams was a relative bargain at about 55 cents per head. Gibson reportedly pulls down about $7 million a year, and Williams is paid an estimated $4 million.

THE SURPRISE & FALL OF KATIE By DON KAPLAN – Business News | Financial | Business and Money

Such an interesting way to talk about value.  The numbers/stats hound in me is delighted.  The human in me is a bit taken aback.  Just one more way to think about ROI.

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Making kids exercise, because it’s what you do

Got a little couch potato?

Check out fun summer activities for kids.

This was the footer to my friends email to me written on a Yahoo email account.  Now, I love my gmail because it allows me to make all the words that are in my email and doesn’t put an often cheesily written ad at the bottom exclaiming the virtues of shopping online.  But I noticed this footer, clicked through and am now blogging about it.  Good job Yahoo for finally putting something on the footer that matters.

So, onto my diatribe… active kids…

I have seen alot of articles and commercials lately that equate a child playing computers or video games or watching tv as fat and lazy.  While this is true in some cases, it’s not the fault of the computers, games and tv, it the fault of the child and the parents.  Our media consumption is just that, something we consume.  We should train ourselves and our children to know when enough is enough and when there has been too much.

I am on my computer from relatively minutes after I wake up until mintes before I go to asleep at night, and most of the day in between.  But I have trained myself, like a good human, to also eat, bathe, exercise and converse with fellow citizens in some way in addition to my media consumption.  Since I have been working from home, this has been more highlighted.  When you leave the house for work or school, you inherently start moving.  Hopefully you continue that movement and try to capitalize on it by riding a bike, walking to your destination or even choosing to park further away to make you walk.  Maybe your job has walking involved, even if it’s climbing the stairs or walking to the printer.  I don’t have to do any of that at home, so I build it into my day, because I know moving and exercise is important. 

My point is, I don’t think kids are learning this in some households.  Just as you have to teach them the reasoning why eating potato chips and cake all day is a bad idea (and it is, if you don’t know that), you also can’t try to scare them from said potato chips and cake all together (because they are delicious and you should eat them sometimes). 

You have to teach them that moderation of their media is also something they need to watch for.  Playing video games for a couple hours will not make your child fat and lazy.  It will probably help your child in infinitely more ways.  But if you don’t explain the reasoning to them, and just punish them from the media, you haven’t done them justice.  They will rebel, as any respectable kid would, and end up playing the game more and STILL not know that there is a reason behind why gaming all the time is a bad idea.

I was a camp director at CyberCamps for a few years.  I taught intro game design, Flash, 3D animation, robotics and other computer skills to rooms of 25 8-15 year olds at a time.  The first day was always the most interesting for me, because their parents dropped them off with me and the kids wanted to bee-line right for the computers.  Oh, the fights I would have with the bold kids who tried to reason with me that their parents paid me to have them on computers, not playing tag.  The silly children didn’t understand that tag was just the format I used to introduce social skills to them.  By the end of the week, they were begging me to shave time off their game design modules so they could play one more game of kick ball or cards with their new friends.  Many of them who figured out my motives actually thanked me by the end of the week for making them realize that you can having computer AND non-computer activites was more fun and interesting, not the opposite.

So please stop demonizing media for lack of comprehensive parenting.  Computers, video games and TV are all cool and make our lives richer and interesting.  Don’t take them away or make them “bad.”  Make sure your kids ALSO have non-plugged-in things that are interesting and that they learn moderation in all things, and I think you will find they will become better people all around.

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Preschoolers + TV = Bad?

It is no understatement to say that young childrens’ brains are different to yours and mine. The synaptic plasticity that is necessary for a growing mind, one that needs to take in and assimilate a host of bewildering sensory information, is obviously going to differ from an established brain.

One of the major evolutionary tradeoffs of our species has been the lengthened period of infantilism necessary for greater intelligence. If your needs aren’t that great in the brain stakes, but it’s important to be able to fend for yourself soon after birth, then a smallish brain will do fine. Us higher primates have loftier goals, though, and since birth canals tend to be the limiting factor on brain size at birth, they keep developing for quite some time out of the womb. Young children are constantly processing new data from the world that they perceive, and the way that happens can have long-lasting effects on their later development.

The household environment in the world we find ourselves living in today is notably different to how it was even three decades ago when I was a toddler. The proliferation of televisions and DVD players has led to a massive increase in the amount of “virtual parenting,” or babysitting by TV. Children are plunked down in front of a screen and pacified with a steady stream of brightly-colored moving images that are not always processed in the same way as real-life visual stimuli. There is even a growing market in so-called educational DVDs for babies, which promise (in the absence of clinical data) to give childrens’ brains a jump start in life.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) originally issued guidelines on the how often young children ought to be watching TV, suggesting that children over the age of two watch no more than two hours a day and children under that age watch no TV at all. Until now, there has been a lack of good data on just how much TV US children really are exposed to. That’s changed following the publication of survey data in the journal Pediatrics, and the results are a little startling.

The data show that children these days are growing up in a televisual world. As many as 18 percent of children aged two and under have TVs in their rooms, despite the AAP’s guidelines, and around 40 percent of children between ages three and six have their own TVs. The most common explanations were that these TVs allowed the rest of the family to watch their own choices of programming, and that it was a good way to keep young children occupied.

Rates of use were also sky-high: 63 percent of children under two watched TV every day, again contrary to AAP recommendations. Daily TV use amongst children aged three to six was around 80 percent. The high number of hours in front of the tube come ate the expense of more traditional interactions, as parents spent less than an hour a day reading to children or playing outside with them, both activities that are much better for the development of young minds. Neither family income, ethnicity, nor parental education levels had any effect on TV usage amongst young children.

Chillingly, there is growing evidence that such high levels of TV watching in young children is associated with poor performance at school, poor fitness, and poor social skills. One has to wonder if the increasing numbers of psychological maladies being identified amongst our young might be in part due to parental abdication in favor of a cathode ray baby sitter?

TV use sky high amongst the under-sixes

The one thing I WANTED a stat on (in bold) has no stats, nor leads to more stats. Makes me wonder – does the author really know these people in the process of writing articles, or are they just guessing.

The MacArthur Foundation is pouring a bunch of money into researching Digital Media & Learning of late. And I just saw that they have a link to the Webcast on “Do Video Games hep Children Learn?” – but not sure if there is an archive or transcript. I know a few people who went to this talk and said it was quite good.

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Is “gender neutral” programming a good idea for kids?

I just had lunch with a good friend in the entertainment industry and this question came up. I have been thinking about it for years now, even before I professionally started thinking about kids and kid culture on a daily (if not hourly) basis and I have fallen on both sides of the issue.

Up until and during the time I was taking Women’s Studies classes in undergrad, I fell firmly on the side of children’s media becoming more gender neutral. I think this is because I was grasping onto my identity as, not a tomboy, but definitely a girl who liked “boy things” – computers, math and science, sarcasm – and hated “girl things” – pink and frilly, make-up, polite conversation. I saw the world as sets of extremes and I blamed the existence of stereotypes on the society of extremes and strictly dictated roles that I was raised within. (Of course, I didn’t think about how the very fact that I wasn’t a cookie cutter cut-out of one of those extremes proved that my upbringing was not dictated by said restrictions, but I digress).

Gender neutral children’s programming seemed like the perfect, big, first step to helping fix all the gender stereotype issues that existed. I figured if everyone started from the same neutral place, we could all come into our own identities on our own time and in our own ways.

After undergrad, I spent a couple years doing 3+ jobs at once, one of which was being a professional nanny with an agency. During this stint, I saw tons of families of means raising their children according to my dream of gender neutrality – primary colors instead of the pink/blue, blocks instead of dolls/trucks, and television shows that were balanced in gender representation or with whimsical creatures of indeterminate gender. I was ecstatic! Here there were, making it happen. I was so excited to see how these children of a new era turned out.

And I did see how those kids turned out – exactly the same as we all did. They were mostly subscribing to the same stereotypes that we all did as we were growing up, in pretty much the same ratios. Of course, the scientist in me knows that this was not a controlled experimental set-up and I initially looked for all the outside variables that were contributing to the kids falling into those traditional girl or boy play patterns.

I definitely found those random variables, but I soon realized that those “random variables” are exactly what make up a culture. Every little girl and boy will try out multiple identities as they grow up; some of them will be uber-girlie, some uber-boy and others neither. It’s just the way it is – no matter if they are watching GI Joe and Strawberry Shortcake or Teletubbies.

Which brings me to the point of this rant. PLEASE, entertainment industry professionals, continue to put gender-extreme programming on the TV. Don’t stop with the gender neutral, but don’t turn down a show because it’s too girlie. The mentality that “boys control the remote” is silly. For every boy who controls the remote, there is a gaggle of girls rehearsing a ballet routine to perform for their family at a holiday gathering or developing elaborate story archs for their collection of dolls and horses.

And if you MUST make it gender neutral, please make it good. If we have to watch it with our kids, why not put a little effort into making it actually watchable. Sure it may take a little longer to find someone who can make kids and adults laugh, but the program will have more staying power in the end – and it will be good – you do care about that, don’t you?

But most important of all – let them be kids and on their own terms. We were able to. It’s only fair.

… steps off her soapbox and turns back to her RSS feeds …