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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Safe Search Tools & Portals for Kids - The List Keeps Growing
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Over at Ars, Ben Kuchera has a review of Ask.com's redesign of its web portal for kids, AskKids.com. It's a great new addition to the growing list of safe seach tools and web portals geared toward younger surfers.

I'm also a big fan of KidZui, the new browser for kids that provides access to over 800,000 kid-friendly websites, videos, and pictures that have been pre-screened by over 200 trained teachers and parents. The company employs a rigorous 5-step "content selection process" to determine if it is acceptable for kids between 3-12 years of age. My kids, both under the age of 7, just love it, but I can't see many kids older than 10 enjoying it because it is mostly geared toward the youngest web surfers.

Last year, as part of my 10-part series coinciding with "Internet Safety Month," I wrote about the market for safe search tools and web portals for kids. I generally divide these sites and services into two groups:

(1) "Safe Search" Tools and Portals for Kids
(2) Child- and Teen-Oriented Websites

Below I will describe each group and list the many sites and services currently available. I encourage readers to offer additional suggestions for sites that belong on the list. (I keep a running list of these sites and services in my book, "Parental Controls and Online Child Protection: A Survey of Tools & Methods.")

(1) "Safe Search" Tools and Portals for Kids: These sites help direct children to sites and information that are educational and enriching. Most major search engine providers offer "safe search" tools that provide filtered search results.

For example, Google offers a SafeSearch feature that allows users to filter unwanted content. Users can customize their SafeSearch settings by clicking on the "Preferences" link to the right of the search box on the Google.com home page. Users can choose "moderate filtering," which "excludes most explicit images from Google Image Search results but doesn't filter ordinary web search results," or "strict filtering," which applies the SafeSearch filtering controls to all search engine results. Similarly, Yahoo! has a SafeSearch tool that can be found under the "Preferences" link on the "My Web" tab. Like Google, Yahoo! allows strict or moderate filtering. Microsoft's Live Search works largely the same way. Other search engine providers such as AltaVista, AskJeeves, HotBot, Lycos, and AllTheWeb, also provide filtering tools. Working in conjunction with other filters, these search engine tools are quite effective in blocking a significant amount of potentially objectionable content.

Google safe search
Yahoo safe search
Microsoft Safe Search

Other portals act essentially as massive walled gardens and offer white lists of acceptable sites and content that have been pre-screened to ensure that they are appropriate for very young web surfers. The only downside of using such services is that a lot of wonderful material available on the World Wide Web might be missed. But many parents will be willing to make that trade-off since they desire greater protection of their children from potentially objectionable content. Table 1 lists some of the most popular options out there today.

Table 1: Kid-Friendly Internet Search Engines and Portals

ALA's Great Web Sites for Kids (www.ala.org/greatsites)

AOL for Kids (U.S.) (http://kids.aol.com)

AOL for Kids (Canada) (http://canada.aol.com/aolforkids)

Ask Kids (www.askkids.com)

Awesome Library for Kids (www.awesomelibrary.org)

Diddabdoo (www.dibdabdoo.com)

Education World (www.education-world.com)

Fact Monster (www.factmonster.com)

FirstGov for Kids (www.kids.gov)

KidsClick (www.kidsclick.org)

Kid Zui (www.kidzui.com)

Noodle Net (www.noodlenet.com)

NetTrekker (www.nettrekker.com)

SearchEdu.com (www.searchedu.com)

Surfing the Net with Kids (www.surfnetkids.com)

Surf Safely.com (www.surfsafely.com)

TekMom's Search Tools for Students (www.tekmom.com/search)

ThinkQuest Library (www.thinkquest.org/library)

Yahoo! Kids (http://kids.yahoo.com)

(2) Child- and Teen-Oriented Websites: The child-friendly web portals discussed above generally direct children to informational and educational sites and resources. But there exist many other ways to tailor the web-surfing experience to a family's specific needs and values. The Internet is full of wonderful sites dedicated to kids and teens. Many have an educational focus, whereas others offer enjoyable games and activities for children. Table 2 highlights some of the best of these websites, but this list just scratches the surface. If parents wanted, they could configure their web browsers to access only sites such as these and then block access to all other webpages.

Table 2: Child- and Teen-Oriented Websites

Candy Stand (www.candystand.com)

Clever Island (www.cleverisland.com)

Club Penguin (www.clubpenguin.com)

Disney's Club Blast (http://disney.go.com/blast)

Disney's DGamer (http://disney.go.com/dxd2/index.html?channel=68447)

Disney's Playhouse (http://disney.go.com/playhouse/today/index.html)

Disney Toontown Online (http://play.toontown.com)

Habbo (www.habbo.com)

HBO Family Games (www.hbofamily.com/games)

Imbee (www.imbee.com)

Iland5 (www.iland5.com)

JuniorNet (www.juniornet.com)

Kaboose Family Network (www.kaboose.com)

Kaboose FunSchool (http://funschool.kaboose.com)

KidsClick (www.kidsclick.org)

KidsFirst (www.kidsfirst.org)


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