Reimagining Kids Birthday Gifts

Rudy DeFelice, CEO of KidWorth, bowled me over when he told me that the average kid earns about $25k worth of stuff before he grows up.  Most of it takes the form of a handful of calendar dates: birthdays, holidays, religious ceremonies.

But you know how birthdays typically work, don’t you? The entire class gets invited and each kid goes to the toy store to choose a present for the birthday kid – typically a plastic toy or game that will be used two or three times before it’s retired.

Mr. DeFelice, whose background is in corporate software, thinks he has a better way with KidWorth.  KidWorth is a free service that lets a parent open an account per child.  Friends, relatives, and anyone invited can contribute to their KidWorth account.

The child specifies a goal – maybe it’s something they want to own, like an iPad or a skateboard.  They specify the amount of money they need to reach that goal.  They could just as easily specify a charity, or even a goal of saving money.  Once the goal is specified, they share the goal with friends and family who are invited to contribute.  So, invite the whole birthday gang to make a donation instead of buying a gift.

The idea is similar to a bridal registry – just for kids. Of course, many old-fashioned parents and relatives don’t think much of the idea of setting up a registry to collect money. Though it makes perfect sense to pool funds and let the child save money to buy what they want, it goes against the grain of gift giving for many traditional parents.

The money gets stored in a no interest savings account – another reason many parents might find it less than a perfect solution. Why save money in a no interest account when they can learn about gaining interest from other simple bank accounts?

KidWorth, as it turns out, has done extensive outreach into the mommyblogger community.  Most of the reviews I read of the website were written by moms who were compensated for their work by KidWorth. And even those sponsored reviews pointed out the nuisance of having to set up a site for the kid’s gift.

KidWorth represents a nice way to teach kids fiscal responsibility, delayed gratification and goal setting, but it’s not the only way.  Visa has a website filled with practical games about saving, as does The Mint. Jumpstart also has a robust financial literacy program. KidWorth’s greatest missing link is the “gaming” component – many children enjoy learning and changing their behavior through games. If I were a parent of young kids I would think about involving the entire community or class at school, eliminating the singling-out of your child because you’ve gone into the birthday fund raising business.


Can Gamification Help Solve the Kids’ Privacy Problem?

Sigh.   We’ve seen this one before. The stage is set for the next bout between concerned parents and watchdog groups and web and mobile sites that cater to kids.  Because it’s so easy to glean information about kids habits, whereabouts and friends using the technologies in today’s smartphones, there’s a movement to look for ways to, an minimum make kids and their parents more aware of the issue and at maximum, pass legislation with penalties for taking kid’s information inappropriately.  This week the FTC issued a report that included a strong wag of finger to kid’s apps creators. The report asks them to do more to make the information they’re getting from young users more transparent.

One of the recommendations is a simplified explanation terms and conditions. This should work about as well as telling your kids that they’ll have to read the manual that comes with their new bicycles!

But, what if terms  and conditions could be integrated as part of the “play” experience of a site or an app.  What if you got points for completing the brief “what could happen/what information we’re sharing” game?  Points that you could later spend on the game itself.

I’m no game designer, but I know the power of games to lure and engross.  So, how about creating an intro game to sites for kids that give a quick overview of the nasties or lack thereof — you don’t play them… no prizes for you.

For a good overview of the latest FTC findings on kid’s privacy: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/16/f-t-c-issues-report-on-apps-and-data/

For the full report: http://ftc.gov/os/2012/02/120216mobile_apps_kids.pdf

, ,

Time to Re-Address Address Bloat

Have you looked at a colleague’s business cards lately? Once pristine, with a simple name and mailing address, today’s business cards feature a litany of links and social networking connections.  Some of them have forsaken the physical address, replacing it with a list of every social network in existence. Others, who can’t let go of the physical, have business cards that are approaching War and Peace-like length. For example:

Name – Address – Company – Title – Email – Personal Email – Phone – Cell Phone – Twitter – LinkedIN – Facebook – IM

And on it goes. It’s no longer a business card, it’s a biography. And who’s that important that they need to be contacted seven ways come Sunday?

But, besides being a sensory overload, the biggest bother about business cards that go on ad nauseum is that they’ve stymied most attempts to automate their entry into a contact database.

Here are a few of the options I’ve tested:

Electronic signatures using cut and paste: Slow and tedious. You mark the signature information in the email, copy to the clipboard and paste into a contact manager. Then you manually stick the correct information into the correct fields.  Accurate but painstakingly slow. EHow offers some good tutorials on variations of the cut and paste theme.

Business Card Scanners: I use an early version of Neat Receipts. The problem isn’t with the scanner; like with most card scanners, the scanned image of the business card is pretty good. The problem is parsing the information from the card into your contact manager. Most card scanning software understands a name/address and phone number, but from there the results disintegrate. You wind up fixing many entries manually.

Mobile Phone Apps: I use CamCard to take photos of business cards with my Andorid mobile phone. A free Lite version of the program gives you 10 scanned cards followed by 2 per week. You can upgrade to the full version for $11.99. Once you use your camera to snap a photo of the business card, the image goes into a special CamCard database. The database is pretty smart: you can decide to email, look them up on LinkedIn, IM, map the address, look up the contact on the web, or heaven forbid, actually give them a call. The downside? You can’t sync this with other databases easily.

Gwabbit App (and PC versions): With email signatures, I use Gwabbit. I’ve used it since the day it launched and it keeps getting better. Gwabbit works with Blackberry and Microsoft Outlook. It sits on the toolbar and with a single click it captures the signature information and organizes it into your Outlook address book. If it messes up an address – say it doesn’t recognize a Twitter or Facebook – you can go back to the signature, manually highlight it, and click. This usually remedies the problem. The company says it’s at work on a new version of the program that will be better at parsing weird addresses.

Gist: Gmail users tend to like Gist, an add-on that lets you bring your contacts from all of your social networks and email into one place. But that assumes your contacts have already found your way into these lists.

And to get your contacts out of your social networks and import than into your contact database is pretty simple. Just export your database into .CSV file and then import it into your contact database.

Hoping the next generation of contact managers gets smart about complex addresses and taking info from multiple places.

What Does an Augmented Reality Book Look Like?

Popar (www.popartoys.com) is in Pop plus “AR”) has an idea about how to fuse books with augmented reality digital experiences to create a deeper, richer, more multifaceted read.  The results are pretty spectacular and may do more to add new life to traditional printed books.

The idea is pretty simple. You buy a big ‘ole picture book (about $27) wherever books are
sold.  They’re hard-covered luscious looking books with topics like Bugs, Planets or Construction Machines.  The books all have special AR markers on their pages.

Each book comes with a DVD that installs the Popar software. The software takes control of your webcamera and brings the pages of your book
to life on screen.  You hold a page of your book up in front of your PC’s webcam and the marker gets automatically
recognized.  That’s when stuff on your display screen kicks into action.  In the Planet book the planets’ start circle, rockeships launch … in the Bug book
scorpions appear to carry their babies, butterflies flap their wings. Planets start swirling, bugs start crawling, and a narrator’s voice explains the
subject material.

But wait, there’s more. Each book comes with a marker (named Mark-E, of course) that reads the page aloud to you and sets things in motion when it’s held in front of the camera. And, in the back of each book there are cut outs that turn into AR digital toys that you can mix and match for even more action.   Finally, there are add-on packs of AR cards which are also markers.  Hold these cards in front of the webcam and even stranger things happen.

Few  little gotchas.  This is not an app – it’s a bigger installation.  You need a webcam and a PC. There’s a DVD to install the software. Little hands will grow weary of holding pages up to a webcam (detachable webcams might be a better alternative since could capture the pages
while they’re laying flat on a surface).  And getting used to the variations in what happens as your pair different cards with other cards or books with cards is
impressively mind boggling.  Plus parents have a hard enough time buying a book for the kids, there’s going to be a bit
of an augmented reality book learning curve.

That said the results are a fun read and an eye-candy full of 3D and printed delight.


Perpetual Gaming: At Toy Fair Your Games are Never Far From Your Side

Microsoft Kinect did an awesome job of making indoor play a physical sport. Nintendo rocked the world when it let kids take their favorite games with them. With video game sales down this holiday, the new object of the game is a seamless play, one that goes with you wherever you are in all sorts of manifestations.

Skylanders Gen II: When I saw Activision’s Skylanders, a year ago, it had all the makings of a crap shoot — a new technology that involved taking your solid state game piece with you combined with a complicated storyline.  Even Spyro, the main character, wasn’t part of the title. And yet, here we are, one year later and Skylanders, one year later and I’m eating a bit of crow. Skylanders is a runaway hit.

The sequel is here and it’s giant sized. There are eight new figures in a super-sized format
and 12 new creatures in the original format. These giants have giant powers, too.  New chapters of the Skylanders story, light radiating from the toys as they near their portal destinations, and a variety of handheld and mobile apps versions make this new Skylanders a larger franchise than ever.

Hasbro Meets Zynga There’s a certain sensibility that the folks who brought you Monopoly and Scrabble would look to the future by partnering with Zynga, the makers of popular virtual games like Farmville and Words with Friends. Hasbro is literally betting the “farmville”, that you’ll want your favs with you in a variety of medium. You should be seeing everything from board games to toys based on Farmville, Cityville and Words with Friends. Angry Birds from Rovio has enjoyed great success with a growing line of real world toys and I expect Hasbro/Zynga to do the same. (Ironically, these games tend to be played by young adults, and not kids, since they orginate on Facebook but as we’ve learned, few parents and tweens observe the +13 age requirement on Facebook.)

The Brobos Other new entertainment properties are starting out the gate across multi-platforms. Brobo a children’s entertainment property for prescholers involves a series of YouTube videos centered around flying Brobos (not to be confused with Bobos) that teach basic counting, reading and other skills. Product companions include lightup Brobo nightlights that turn on when you tap their hands to their hearts. Natuarlly each Brobo has their own personality from dirt loving dogs to pizza loving Trex.

Nukotoys is one of the more artistically arresting products I’ve seen is . It’s got all the elements of a winner mixing trading cards with an app based game. Set to ship this spring, the game Monsterology is based on the bestselling Ology book series, a set of illustrated fantasy books presented in a fictional encyclopedic format. Dragons, Sea Serpents and other stuff that kids dreams are made of are all cataloged in great detail. Nukotoys faithfully takes the book as its starting point, moves the play to the iPad and iPhone and creates a collectible card game with a turn-based strategy game. Built for kids ages 7+ the game comes with 100 cards in the set, 75 creatures plus 25 traps and magic elements. To play you tap your card against the surface of your iOS device and you immerse yourself in a world that has elements of Risk and Chess.  You can  invite other players to collect, train, trade, and play in a quest, ultimately becoming a “Master Monsterologist”. This one could transcend gender and age and become a classic play for a digital world. The company is also launching a game based on Animal Planet which lets younger kids use trading cards to unlock animal life on the African Serengeti.