Monday, January 21, 2008

Kids and the Internet

Termed the “Net Generation” by psychologist Don Tapscott, children in the United States are “logging on” to the Internet at increasing rates. The Nielson Norman group has recently offered some insight into what they want online, and what hinders the Web’s usability for them.

Young children want clear options
Kids like buttons and other navigational aids to be intuitive and clear and without fancy words as labels. They also like links to be clearly labeled as links and not hidden in the same color and size as content.
Children, tweens and teens want readable text
Children encountered the most trouble when presented with textual content that was written above their reading difficulty level. Kids prefer 14 pt font to 12. Teens also expressed a dislike for long and difficult to read text on sites.
Children want stimulation
Adults often find animations and sounds distracting, but kids like them. A good example site that fulfills this desire is, which employs mouse-over animations and sounds.
Tweens and teens like it simple
They prefer pages they can scan quickly with limited text and obvious navigation aids. A good example that fulfills this desire is
Tweens and teens want interaction
They enjoy quizzes, surveys, games, discussion forums, and other media in which they can express themselves.
In Their Own Words
A 2004 survey of 160,000 students (38% grades K-6, 62% grades 6-12) dubbed “Speak-Up Day for Students,” conducted by the Department of Education, Commerce, and NetDay provides direct insight into what students want. What would they like in the future? In their words:
Every student would use a small, handheld wireless computer that is voice activated. The computer would offer high-speed access to a kid-friendly Internet, populated with websites that are safe, designed specifically for use by students, with no pop-up ads. Using this device, students would complete most of their in-school work and homework, as well as take online classes both at school and at home. Students would use the small computer to play mathematics-learning games and read interactive e-textbooks. In completing their schoolwork, students would work closely and routinely with an intelligent digital tutor, and tap a knowledge utility to obtain factual answers to questions they pose. In their history studies, students could participate in 3-D virtual reality-based historic reenactments.

Many students described the attributes of a kid-friendly Internet. This includes a safe Internet where there are no “bad” websites, viruses, pop-up ads, spyware, or hackers. A kid-friendly Internet was also described as one that was age-appropriate, including kid-friendly search engines and information on websites presented at a level that students can understand. Some students expressed interest in search engines that produce more fine-tuned responses to inquiries, as well as websites that did not contain factual errors.

Piffany Search Engine for Kids
Piffany is answering this call by developing a search engine for kids that allows the user to tune the difficulty level of Websites listed in our search results. We are also instituting new methods to ensure that only safe, kid-friendly sites are listed. The beta version is available at

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