I am pretty excited about the launch of Togetherville.com - the new online community for kids under 10. As any of you who are parents of young kids know the technologies of today have created a whole new set of challenges for those of us trying to raise children in a safe and healthy environment. While technology opens up a range of amazing opportunities for children it does pose daunting challenges around keeping kids safe online and exposing them to age appropriate content.
I am a strong believer in the benefits of social media, but have found that the privacy challenges of sites like Facebook provide an uncomfortable level of security for children. With Togetherville you can create in essence a private community of children and adults that know each other and can therefore interact with peace of mind. Congratulations to the founders Mandeep Singh Dhillon and Raj Singh Tut for a great idea. Ofcourse yet again my friend Reid Hoffman has managed to support another potential killer app !
As I looked at Togetherville I was led to explore what this new venture could teach us grownups as we explore the future of technology. My thoughts led to two insights that build on the approach followed by Togetherville.
First, I think online privacy violations are reaching unsuitable levels. My challenge is not with situations where you knowingly give up information if asked. My challenge is that more often than not privacy settings are opaque and difficult to understand and across sites there is no standard way to set a desired level of privacy.
I think a partial answer to this lies in setting up a “universal online privacy standard” – same setting choices, same levels, same implications on privacy across all websites. Is this likely to happen, probably not, but it should. Maybe even have a unique privacy setting attributed to you as a person that carries along with you as you surf the web and dynamically adjusts the settings of a website as you visit it.
Second, there is no effective way to manage age appropriate content exposure. Online filtering programs work to some degree and have gotten better over time, but are far from be 100% effective. I dont think you can or should control what people put online, but we need to find better ways to manage its exposure – this is especially true for video content (either user generated or professional).
So my solution to this challenge lies in open source and the movie rating system. We clearly dont want a central authority telling us what we can and cannot watch and we also dont want them to a central authority to rate online content as they do for films (eg. PG13, R etc.). However, I believe it would be interesting to explore an approach that provided “crowd sourced content rating”. So for example, each website or piece of video content could have a tag that a user could provide input on (eg. 20 people rate a video as PG13, 600 at R – which would then provide some guidance to users and a better filer mechanism). ultimately parents and kids make personal choices on what to watch, but at least such a system would provide a universal guide and benchmark to make informed decisions.
I believe by better addressing the issues related to online privacy and content the benefits of the internet can be more effectively consumed by both children and adults. The problems will never be solved to our complete satisfaction (as they are not in the real world either), but more tangible progress can and should be made.
As usual, I welcome your comments and insights.