As mentioned last Monday, I spent a few days at the INplay 2010 conference in Toronto, including representing GeekDad on a panel that spoke about the role of parent bloggers as gatekeepers. It was a great experience. I had the opportunity to meet many of the people behind the iPhone apps, games, books, TV shows and other products frequently reviewed on GeekDad and I learned a lot about what goes in to designing, building and marketing content aimed at kids.
Although I wasn’t able to attend all sessions (the conference happened to coincide with a particularly busy writing week), I did manage to take in quite a few. A majority of the attendees were involved in content creation targeted at kids. Authors, editors, iPhone developers, TV producers, academics, video game developers, fundraisers and media were represented, including some well known speakers including the Executive Producer and Co-creator of the hit TV show Yo Gabba Gabba. While many attendees were involved in the Canadian industry, a surprising (at least to me) number of the people I met with through the course of the two days had flown up from the US.
One of my favorite sessions, a presentation titled “Makeover Madness,” was focused on updating classic childhood books to appeal to the current generation of kids, particularly in the realm of being adapted to video entertainment. There was an emphasis on the role of parents as gatekeepers: if we are offended by the gutting of a classic that we remember fondly, we’re liable to keep our kids from watching. I got a sneak peak at The Cat in The Hat Knows A Lot About That, the new series based on the Cat in the Hat Learning Library series (first mentioned by Doug nearly a year ago). I was relieved to see the animation is traditional 2D and that great care was taken to preserve the look of the Dr. Seuss original. According to Joy Rosen of Portfolio Entertainment, the primary changes required to bring the Cat in the Hat to a new generation were to morph the brother and sister into next door neighbours (easing the introduction of a multi-cultural component), and to remove some of the element of danger from the Cat himself, since today’s children and parents are decidedly uncomfortable with the idea of kids hanging out with an unknown and slightly unbalanced stranger. As a parent, those changes make sense to me. The show has potential and is being released on PBS in the US this fall; for once, Canadians have the jump on new content as episodes should start showing up on Treehouse in the summer.
In terms of my own speaking role, I found myself on a panel with a trio of entrepreneurs who run well-known “mommy blog” sites (I suspect they may dislike that term, but that’s the demographic they reach out to and each uses “mom,” “mommy” or “mummy” in their site name, so I think it’s a fair reference). The audience was largely composed of people wanting to understand how to get their products mentioned or reviewed on our sites. As blogs reach an increasingly larger audience and are frequently tapped as a source of content by traditional media outlets, exposure on GeekDad or other blogs can mean reaching thousands of parents who make the buying decisions for even more kids; content creators are increasingly aware of our gatekeeper role. That’s where a web divide immediately became evident.
GeekDad contributors tend to write about what interests us, quirky subjects that catch our eye or about how we interact with our children. Getting a product mentioned on GeekDad is primarily a case of catching our interest -mind you, that can be challenging with the sheer volume of topics available on a daily basis and limited publication slots, but there’s nothing horribly arcane about it. The other bloggers were a much more aggressively commercial group. Their business model seemed generally based on acting as a de facto PR outlet or advertising partner -reviews were considered paid advertising. I can understand how that can work (they seem particularly adept at working with sponsors and leveraging social media to reach their target market for promoting a product), and they have obviously hit on a successful formula. However, going that route can potentially raise questions about unbiased reviews and also makes for an uneven playing field, leaving products that have a limited advertising budget by the wayside. So many of the things I read about on GeekDad are on the commercial fringe and I suspect I’d never hear about them, if not by word of mouth; expensive promotional campaigns are clearly out of their reach. I prefer our way of doing things and judging from the line-up of people I met with after the panel, many content providers are firmly onboard with our approach.
As with any conference, there was far too much information to compress into a single post. There are two things I’d like to leave with you, though. One started with the opening keynote speech by Alexander Manu, who gave a great presentation including the concept that the future of play is in gaming that parents can play with children. I think that sentiment is something that many of us at GeekDad share and for many of us, that future is actually now. It just keeps getting better. The second thing is that even though each of the people I met was ultimately selling or producing a product, I was truly impressed by the number who actually took their role as someone targeting kids as a market as a serious responsibility. There was a lot of research going on in the background to balance an educational component with gameplay and to prevent the content equivalent of selling sugar water to kids. I was pleasantly surprised by this. Look to see a few of the products I saw featured in future GeekDad reviews. If you get a chance to attend to 2011 conference, I suspect it will be in Toronto again, but keep an eye on the INplay web site for details.