Google is recruiting kids with custom versions of search and YouTube
In a recent interview Google’s Pavni Diwanji sat down to discuss Mountain View’s plans for the 12-and-under market. Details and firm timeframes are scarce, but Diwanji did let us in on the direction her team is headed. Safety is obviously a priority whenever young children are involved, but this project is so much more than an updated Net Nanny for 2015. It’s also focused on making the web easier to navigate, and encouraging participation — not merely consumption.
Later on in the interview, Diwanji brings up a specific incident with one of her own children. When her 8-year-old searched Google for “trains,” she was baffled by the numerous schedules that popped up in the results. While those schedules are incredibly useful for adults, they have absolutely no use for an 8-year-old looking for Thomas the Tank Engine. It’s a shrewd move for Google to reconsider the user experience for different age groups, and it’d be nice to see other major companies follow suit.
Projects like Doodle 4 Google and Maker Camp were briefly namechecked, but it remains unclear what tools and safeguards will be put into place to help young children express their creativity on sites like YouTube while remaining compliant with regulations like COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) in the United States. If Google really wants to cater to kids, there are going to have to be safe and easy ways for them to find and make video content. Kids already care passionately about making Minecraft videos, so if this initiative isn’t facilitating that kind of creativity, Google has already screwed up.
Besides usability, the other major hurdle for this project is customizability for parents. Individuals vary wildly on what content and behavior they find acceptable for children, and dealing with a twelve-year age range is definitely challenging. After all, something appropriate for a tween may not be right for a kindergartner. Google is facing some major challenges, but sowing the seeds of brand loyalty at an early age will likely pay dividends in just a few short years when smartphones and tablets enter the picture for these kids.
By Grant Brunner