All posts in “kids”

Powerful photos capture young girl marveling over Michelle Obama portrait

Now that the Barack and Michelle Obama’s official portraits have been unveiled, they hang in the  Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. for all to enjoy.

While many may have assumed there would be nothing more powerful than seeing the portraits themselves, it turns out seeing a child gaze up at the works of art is even more fulfilling.

On Thursday, Facebook user Ben Hines shared a stunning photograph he took of a young black girl staring up at Michelle Obama’s official portrait with her mouth open in awe.

“Donna Hines and I made a pilgrimage today and we were delighted to wait in line behind this fellow art lover and hopeful patriot,” he captioned the powerful image.

Since Hines first shared the image it’s gained thousands of likes on Facebook and is being widely shared on Twitter, capturing the hearts of people across the world.

Michelle Obama first unveiled the portrait, created by Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald in February. At the time, Michelle said, “I’m thinking about all the young people, particularly girls and girls of color who in years ahead will come to this place and they will look up and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American institute.”

Hines’ photo captures the former first lady’s thought so perfectly it’s remarkable.

Sherald shared another photograph of the young girl admiring her work on Instagram, explaining she was completely overcome with emotion at the sight.

“When I look at this picture I think back to my first field trip in elementary school to a museum. I had only seen paintings in encyclopedias up to that point in my life. There was a show up of work by painter @thebobartlett whose work still inspires me to this day,” Sherald wrote. 

“There was a painting of a black man standing in front of a house. I don’t remember a lot about my childhood, but I do have a few emotional memories etched into my mind forever and seeing that painting of a man that looked like he could be my father stopped me dead in my tracks,” she continued. “This was my first time seeing real paintings that weren’t in a book and also weren’t painted in another century. I didn’t realize that none of them had me in them until I saw that painting of Bo’s. I knew I wanted to be an artist already, but seeing that painting made me realize that I could. What dreams may come?”

Many echoed Sherald’s statements, sharing the photographs and marveling at how beautiful and powerful it was to witness a young black girl seeing this high level of representation.

BRB, grabbing some tissues.

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Edtech company Kidaptive raises $19.1 million for its adaptive learning platform

Edtech startup Kidaptive, an adaptive-learning company that begin its life with a suite of curriculum-focused iPad games for kids, announced today it has closed on $19.1 million in Series C funding, in a round led by Formation 8 and Korean education company Woongjin ThinkBig. The investment follows a deal with Woongjin that will see Kidaptive powering an English language learning system Woongjin Compass wants to build; as well as deal with its parent company, a large publisher with half a million paying subscribers, to personalize their tablet experience.

The deal is one of several in the works for Kidaptive, which now styles itself as more of a “big data for learning” company, rather than maker of educational kids’ games it was known for just a few years ago. Its early apps, which involved interactive storytelling, high-quality animation, and puzzles, had helped to create educational profiles for the young players while helping young children with reading comprehension and math skills, as well as improved cognitive, emotional and social functions.

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The technology powering this experience has since evolved into Kidaptive’s “Adaptive Learning Platform,” a cloud-based assessment and reporting platform that can create learner profiles with actionable insights for parents and teachers. Another important aspect to Kidaptive’s platform is that it adapts in real-time based on how well the learner is performing in order to personalize the learning experience further.

The platform can also incorporate educational activity that takes place offline to enhance those learner profiles. This is especially important at younger ages, where parental involvement – like follow-up conversations to trip to museums – could help reinforce what the child learned. In other contexts, like language learning, for example, the platform could suggest to parents supplemental materials based on the child’s performance, like additional workbooks or videos to watch.

Kidaptive had specifically targeted the Korean market a few years ago with the acquisition of Hodoo English, an MMORPG which teaches children English. The acquisition was for both the IP and the team, giving the company a foothold in Korea, and a way to expand into China.

In addition to the deal with Woongjin, Kidaptive also has projects in the works in India and China. These are still under NDA, but the deal in China, which launches at the end of this summer, involves a large brick-and-mortar retailer that sells its own educational technology products (physical goods), which it wants to enhance with parental feedback mechanisms from Kidaptive.

In India, several deals are in the works, which Kidaptive hopes to announce by Q3.

Meanwhile, Kidaptive is working with the U.S. government and PBS KIDS a part of a $100 million five-year federal grant to create a personalized learning ecosystem. Kidaptive will be providing the adaptivity and learner profile management—two central features of the grant, says Kidaptive CEO P.J. Gunsagar.

“Our ability to ask the right questions at the right time by understanding who the learner is and provide actionable insights is unique. Just like Facebook has created a social graph, and LinkedIn a professional graph, our goal is to create are learning graph,” he explains.

The company is live with one PBS KIDS app associated with digital series The Ruff Ruffman Show, but it will be rolling out in two or three more this year, and multiple apps over the next few years.

As Kidaptive becomes further integrated across this PBS KIDS ecosystem of apps, the learner profiles will take into consideration the data generated from across all the PBS KIDS app where it’s live.

However, Gunsagar stresses that parents are in control of how this data is used.

“You own the learner model, not us…this is the parents’ and the childs’ model, it stays with them to make sure we’re optimizing the experience for them the way they want,” he says. The parents will be able to control how this data is used by requesting insights or not, or by disallowing the data to be shared across apps, if they don’t want it to be.

Gunsagar says big data for learning is starting to take off, and he believes his company will achieve profitability within the next 12 months as a result of its deals. It expects to manage 10 million active learner profiles within the next four years.

With the funding, Kidaptive plans to increase its 50-person team by 20 percent in the U.S. and 20 percent in Korea. It will also hire 5 people in China and 3 in India. The product itself will be further developed as well, with the next focus on test score prediction – something that half a dozen test prep companies in India and China talking with Kidaptive are now interested in.

Featured Image: Aping Vision / STS/Getty Images

Kidtech startup SuperAwesome is now valued at $100+ million and profitable

Technology companies like Facebook and Google are scrambling to catch up to the fact that the kids have joined a web originally built for adults, and are using it the way adults do – by liking and commenting, sharing, clicking through on personalized recommendations, and viewing ads. But the technology underpinning apps and sites built for kids can’t operate the same way as it does for the grown-ups. That’s where the company SuperAwesome comes in.

SuperAwesome, just less than five years old, has been tapping into the growing need for kid-friendly technology, including kid-safe advertising, social engagement tools, authentication, and parental controls. Its clients include some of the biggest names in the children’s market, including Activision, Hasbro, Mattel, Cartoon Network, Spin Master, Nintendo, Bandai, WB, Shopkins maker Moose Toys, and hundreds of others – many of which it can’t name for legal reasons.

Now, the company is turning a profit.

SuperAwesome says it hit profitability for the first time in Q4 2017, and has reached a booked revenue run-rate of $28 million, after seeing 70 percent growth year-over-year.

This year, it expects to grow 100 percent, with a revenue run rate of $50 million.

Sources close to the company put its valuation at north of $100 million, as a result.

The company says the shift digital is driving its growth, as TV viewing is dropping at 10 to 20 percent per year, while kids digital budgets are growing at 25 percent year over year. At the same time, the kids brands and content owners are realizing that safety and privacy have to be a part of their web and mobile experiences.

SuperAwesome has flown under the radar a bit, and isn’t what you’d call a household name. That’s because its technology isn’t generally consumer-facing – it’s what powering the apps and websites that today’s kids are using, whether that’s a game like Mattel’s Barbie Fashion Closet or Monster HighHasbro’s My Little Pony Friendship Club, or a website from kids’ author Roald Dahl, to name a few.

Key to all these experiences is a technology platform that allows developers to build kid-safe apps and sites. That includes products like AwesomeAds, which ensures ads in the kids space aren’t tracking personal data and the ads are kid-appropriate; PopJam, a kid-safe social engagement platform that lets developers build experiences where kids can like, comment, share and remix online content; and Kids Web Services, tools that simplify building apps that require parental consent and oversight.

These sorts of tools are increasingly become critical to a web that’s waking up to the fact that the largest tech companies didn’t consider how many kids would be using their products. YouTube, for example, has been scrambling in recent months to combat the threats to kids on its video-sharing site, like inappropriate content targeted towards children, exploitive videos, haywire algorithms, dangerous memes, hate speech, and more.

Meanwhile, kids are lying about their ages – sometimes with parental permission – to join social platforms originally built for the 13-and-up crowd like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and

“It’s very easy to come out and beat up Facebook and Google for some of this stuff, but the reality is that there’s no ecosystem there for developers who are creating content or building services specifically for kids. That’s why we started SuperAwesome,” says SuperAwesome’s CEO Dylan Collins.

Before SuperAwesome, Collins founded gaming platform Jolt, acquired by GameStop, and game technology provider DemonWare, acquired by Activision.

Other SuperAwesome execs have similar successful track records in terms of company-building. Managing director Max Bleyleben was COO at digital marketing agency Beamly, acquired by Coty, and a partner in European VC fund Kennet Partner. COO Kate O’Louglin was previously SVP Media in ad tech company Tapad, acquired by Telenor. Chief Strategy Officer Paul Nunn was previously the Managing Direct in kids app maker Outfit7, acquired by China’s United Luck Group.

Today, the company’s 120-person staff also includes a full-time moderation team to review kids’ content before it goes public. A need to do more hands-on review, instead of leaving everything up to an algorithm, is something the larger companies have just woken up to, as well. For example, YouTube said it was expanding its moderation team in the wake of the site’s numerous controversies to north of 10,000 people.

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SuperAwesome is much smaller than that, but it has understood the need to double-check kids’ content with a more hands-on approach for some time.

“The content created on [SuperAwesome’s] platform goes through two layers of moderation. It goes through our machine learning moderation. Then it goes through our 24/7 team of human moderators as well,” explains Collins. “With the kids’ audience, it doesn’t work to completely automate all this – you have to have human involvement.”

There are now tens of millions of pieces of content flowing through SuperAwesome’s platform every couple of weeks, to give you an idea of scale.

This online social space is something that kids’ brands want to enter, but safely and in compliance with U.S. and international laws around child protection, like COPPA and Europe’s GDPR-K.

Though SuperAwesome’s focus a couple of years ago was more about helping advertisers and marketers, today, two-thirds of SuperAwesome ads clients have since adopted its social engagement tools from PopJam. (A demonstration of this technology is also live in SuperAwesome’s own kids app by the same name.)

Now, SuperAwesome is leveraging its experience in the kids’ space to help YouTubers come into compliance with Google’s stricter rules, too, so they can ensure brands they’re “kid-safe.” SuperAwesome recently rolled out a content certification standard for under-13 YouTube influencers and those over 13 who target a very young audience with their videos.

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This is something SuperAwesome’s brand customers requested, because they’re spending their ad dollars on YouTube – and sometimes finding their messages matched up with inappropriate content. The problem of toxic content on Facebook and Google could have a massive impact on the ad industry if it continues to go unchecked. For example, one of the world’s largest advertisers Unilever this month threatened to pull ads from Facebook and Google if they don’t address the problems with propaganda, hate speech and disturbing content aimed at children.

SuperAwesome’s new, voluntary certification for YouTubers takes into account the content the channel produces, their behavior on the screen, their recording practices, and much more.

“YouTube is not an under-13 platform, so their hands are kind of tied in terms of something like this,” says Collins. The company announced the certification earlier this month, and already has 35 YouTubers on board, representing 35 million subscribers and 8 to 9 billion monthly impressions. “There’s real momentum that’s happening with this,” he adds.

SuperAwesome believes it’s now poised to for rapid growth as more brands and businesses begin to address the needs of keeping kids safe online.

“Kidtech, as a category, has really just been invented in the past three or four years. No one thought they’d have to build specific technology for kids…this is problem that we’re starting to solve,” Collins says.

SuperAwesome has raised $28 million to date according to Crunchbase, including a $21 million Series B from Mayfair Equity Partners in mid-2017, which included Hoxton Ventures and Inspire Ventures. The company has no immediate plans to fundraise again.

Featured Image: Hero Images/Getty Images

Facebook’s child-friendly texting app Messenger Kids arrives on Android

Facebook’s controversial app Messenger Kids, which lets parents control who kids can talk to, is today rolling out to Android devices in the U.S. with its launch on Google Play. The app will also now include a variety of new features for Valentine’s Day, like themed makes, stickers and frames, so kids can send special Valentine messages to their friends and family.

Android is the last major platform the app needed to address, having initially debuted on iOS, followed by last month’s arrival on Amazon Fire tablets.

Today, many young children use mom or dad’s hand-me-down Android smartphone as their gaming device, or an Android tablet. Now, their parents, too, can choose to install Messenger Kids.

The question parents are asking themselves, however, is whether they should.

It’s not a simple question with an easy answer.

Not all parents or industry experts agree that Facebook’s kid-focused messaging app is a good idea. The thinking is that kids aren’t ready to be on devices or messaging family and friends, so they shouldn’t be doing this at all.

Unfortunately, they already are. This is what people don’t seem to understand.

It’s not as if parents are allowing kids to use devices instead of having them doing kid-like things, like running around outside, reading books, riding bikes, making art, or playing with friends. It’s just that devices have infiltrated kids’ lives, as they have ours. There are times that it’s fun for kids to send grandma a text, rather than pick up the phone – just as it is for parents.

The real problem is that there aren’t any existing solutions offering parents control over those conversations with the ability to scale, like a Facebook app offers.

Messenger Kids isn’t perfect by any means, but it’s a step up from predator playgrounds like Kik, for example. It still needs a better way for parents to monitor the ongoing conversations, so they can step in, if need be.

However, for those parents who have chosen to use the app, the feedback so far has been positive. The app currently has a 4-star rating on Apple’s App Store, and 3.5 stars on Amazon’s Appstore. (A number of the lower star ratings on Amazon’s Appstore were about the app not being available yet on Android devices.)

The new Android version of Messenger Kids will go live today on Google Play here.

Why I decided to install Messenger Kids

I’ve been struggling with whether or not to download Facebook’s new app aimed at children, Messenger Kids, onto my daughter’s iPad. This weekend, I took the plunge. I sat with her as she typed her first message and sent a selfie. I watched as she discovered GIFs. I wasn’t sure I had done the right thing.

No one wants to surrender their kids to online social networks, but children can be exposed to even more danger by going around their parents’ backs.

This point was drilled home for me a few days ago, when a friend discovered her daughter downloaded the messaging app IMVU without her parents’ knowledge. The child was almost immediately contacted by an adult man, whose conversations indicated he was a child predator in the early stages of grooming his victim. (The police were called and are now investigating.)

The child told her parents she installed the app to talk to school friends about a game they were playing. Her friends were on the app, and she wanted to be, too.

Another friend of mine recently installed Kik on her daughters’ Android phones because they wanted to message their friends, and their phones didn’t have cell service. She didn’t know that Kik was one of the worst of them all in terms of its adoption by child abusers, according to a 2017 investigation that dubbed it the “de facto app for grooming children online.” (I filled her in.)

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You see, the kids are already online. You can’t unplug them. That ship has sailed.

There are plenty of reasons to hate the idea of Messenger Kids, though. The messaging solution with built-in parental controls has arrived at a time when there’s mounting concern over how use of social media has detrimental impacts on people’s well-being, as well as concern over how technology companies have irresponsibly developed products aimed to addict their users without understanding the negative consequences of those actions.

Into this new understanding of technology’s downsides and dark nature comes Messenger Kids. That’s pretty bad timing.

Child health advocates have called for Facebook to shut down Messenger Kids. They make valid points. The app has even been compared to cigarette companies advertising their products to minors.

But as a parent myself, it’s been difficult to for me to dismiss Messenger Kids as an entirely evil product.

What’s worse, I think, are the other messaging apps that have for years turned a blind eye to the fact that they have user bases filled with children – not just minors under the age of 18, but actual children, under the age of 13.

A number of social apps are troublesome, too, because they have messaging components built-in. Snapchat and, for example, are heavily used by the under-13 crowd who have learned to lie about their ages in order to participate.

But Snapchat has been seeing slowing user growth, so its first priority will not be making sure all its users are of age. Because Wall Street strictly judges social networks on growth metrics, they’re often scared to purge fake accounts and underage users.

Unlike Facebook, most companies don’t have the luxury of making choices that could slow user growth, or time spent in-app, as Facebook just remarkably did.

I don’t want to demonize parents who have allowed their kids to use social apps at young ages. None of the questions around kids’ use of devices and social media are easy. There isn’t one set of definitive guidelines about what’s right or wrong.

Ask yourself: is it okay to let the kids use Snapchat, when all they really want to do is play with the funny face filters and send those pictures to a few friends? Is letting them goof around on a better alternative to YouTube given the latter’s far more public, and sizable audience of viewers (and ongoing issuesaroundchild exploitation?) Should you turn on iMessage for the kids, so they can text grandma and grandpa?

For some parents, the answer is a hard no. They lock down kids’ devices to include nothing but pre-approved games.

This is problematic, too, because those same kids will be soon old enough to be handed their own smartphones. They’ll have had no time to practice online communication in a more supervised environment. And simply banning apps doesn’t teach children how to critically evaluate them, either.

Arguably, we should have had better solutions for kids years ago.

Apple should have developed parental controls for iMessage as soon as they began marketing iPads as kids’ devices. The OS makers should have created “kids profiles” for iPads and Android devices that are as simple as creating a kids profile on Netflix. But they have not.

Facebook is the first to acknowledge that kids are already all over messaging apps and social media, and it created a solution to address the lack of parental oversight of kids’ existing behavior.

Messenger Kids, for all its faults, offers something in between full access to apps and none at all. It’s like a set of training wheels for the online world. A place where, in theory, parent and child work together to practice messaging. A place where parents have say-so over who the child can talk to, and who they cannot.

That being said, I do believe that Messenger Kids, for all its security benefits, will be used as a gateway drug to entice the next generation of Facebook users. And I do not like that my kid is being pulled into Facebook this young.

But ignoring the chance to teach her about social messaging doesn’t feel right either.

So with conflicted emotions, I installed Messenger Kids to my daughter’s tablet this weekend. I added friends and approved adults, like family members. The app is simple to use in the way that Facebook products are, thanks to the company’s years of understanding of user interface and user experience development.

I sat with my child as she typed out her first message on Messenger Kids and snapped a selfie to share in a chat. When she found the app’s GIF button, she then sent 10 in a row and we talked about how that could be annoying to the recipient. We talked about how to use GIFs appropriately. I also helped her understand when it was time to end a conversation to respect the recipient’s time.

We’ll probably have to repeat these lessons and others a million more times.

The app still requires parents do spot checks of their child’s device to ensure bullying is not taking place. (I’d like to see Facebook implement an alerts system based on keyword scanning and sentiment analysis for this.)

I realize that I could have had a similar messaging “practice session” on iMessage, but not everyone my daughter wants to talk with has an Apple device, and few kids her age (she’s 8) have smartphones with cell service, which limits her ability to practice over SMS text messaging.

Messenger Kids, presumably, could reach more of her friends and family.

Unfortunately, I doubt that many of her friends’ parents will install the app thanks to the current narrative that any amount of social media for children is a bad amount of social media; that kids shouldn’t be using social media – period; that kids don’t know how to behave online, so banning apps is the right solution, not just setting limits on screen time while prioritizing in-person play time. The narrative is that Facebook is gross and wrong for targeting kids, so obviously don’t support the company by installing this app.

I worry this is not the answer. I worry that the pundits are getting this wrong.

I worry also that I’m wrong. I don’t know.

I know Facebook seems untrustworthy. I know social media turned out not to be the force for good that people once thought. It can be beautiful and kind and horrible and ugly, just like the world itself. But I also know it won’t disappear overnight.

If you will give your kids a smartphone one day, shouldn’t you teach them how to use it, too? Shouldn’t that include messaging and social media? Shouldn’t you teach them while they’re still young enough to listen?

Facebook’s new app is one of the only messaging apps that exists to protect kids, and one of few that could scale.

Maybe Messenger Kids is the right product from the wrong company. But until Apple or Google step up, it’s what we’ve got.