With five million kids worldwide currently logging onto the Net, and with estimates of that number growing to roughly 20 million in two years, Web portals are increasingly being designed specifically for the younger set. Some are even targeting kids who are too young to read-like Alfy (www.alfy.com). Child safety is a top concern for this New York-based Web portal-so important, in fact, that it is introducing a brand new technology this month to facilitate electronic monitoring of the site.
The Alfy portal is constantly checked by cybrarians, says Robyn Kerner, VP of marketing. All of the external sites are scanned for safety, and once kids link to any of these sites, the Alfy banner runs prominently across the top of the page, making it easy to click back to the Alfy home page and reducing the chances of kids getting lost in cyberspace. But that’s not to say that a child couldn’t come across some inappropriate content by accident on his cybertravels. That’s where the new software comes in.
Alfy president Yaron Ben-Shaul says the software is state-of-the-art. ‘It’s lightweight, about 200k, that downloads quickly,’ he explains. It can be downloaded by parents from the Alfy site, or it will be embedded in the site itself. ‘After a kid goes to the site, he will be able to browse, but he won’t be able to leave,’ Ben-Shaul says.
Alfy is also using an innovative icon-based approach to reach younger kids. Launched in June, the Web portal is designed to appeal to kids who have barely stopped drooling, right on up to 10-year-olds, with a core audience of kids ages four to seven. ‘One of the things that makes Alfy unique is that it’s graphic-based,’ says Kerner. Pictures rather than words represent categories to surfers, who, Kerner says, are only three mouse clicks away from any of the 4,000 Alfy links.
The Alfy site is designed the way kids conceptualize, says Kerner, the result of testing with thousands of kids in focus groups prior to the launch. Plans for an ongoing focus group are in the works. ‘Kids don’t want to be told they aren’t old enough to do something,’ Kerner says. ‘With color codes, a preschooler will discover on his own what he likes and doesn’t like. For example, he’ll learn he likes the orange ones-it’s a good way to communicate difficulty levels to kids.’
Techniques like graphic-based communication came out of consultation with a team of international child experts, who formed an advisory board for the Web portal coinciding with the launch. There are also plans to set up a teacher outreach program that will include a customized home page function and lesson plans.
The Alfy character, designed to help kids navigate the site, may break into other mediums with possible TV and merchandising deals that had not been finalized at press time. Alfy is a privately held company deriving income from advertising, tenancy deals and sponsorships.