Almost as soon as I’d finished my “Creating a Digital Art Gallery” post that ran earlier today, I wondered why there was no online community geared towards children which allowed them to easily post and share their endless supply of art and other creations with others — be they friends, family or the web at large.
I pondered about how it could work: a simple web interface to upload images, or maybe an app that uses the camera to do it all in one go. Keeping it simple would mean even younger kids would be able to do it all by themselves. Kids love to be rewarded, so it would have to have a way for viewers to “like” the photos. And most importantly, the parents would need to know what’s happening and monitor their children’s activity.
Then, diy.org popped up in my RSS feeds. Beaten to the punch once again!
We started building DIY a few months ago and now we’re sharing the first thing we’ve made. This is a company that we hope to spend decades crafting, but it’s important for us to do it out in the open, bit by bit, to encourage our community of kids and parents to share feedback with us continuously. From Zach’s experience making Vimeo, we understand that this sort of culture fosters collaboration and admiration between a company and its community, and ultimately leads to something that is loved.
Our ambition is for DIY to be the first app and online community in every kid’s life. It’s what we wish we had when we were young, and what we’ll give to our kids. Today we’re releasing a tool to let kids collect everything they make as they grow up.
The homepage of the site is one big illustration with oversized, kid-friendly Join and Sign In buttons, plus their tagline, “We’re a community of kids who make.” I only mention this because if you click the big image, the text fades out and you can drag the big illustration around and you can really see how big it is, thanks to some nifty HTML. Signing up is a super simple process, and they recommend that you do it together with your child. The first step is to pick an avatar from a choice of 12, incredibly detailed, illustrated animals — my daughter went for the Owl. Next is creating a nickname: they have a random generator, activated by a slot machine-like lever. In a rather surprising move, however, you can also actually enter whatever you like — they suggest not using a real name, but they don’t stop you from doing so, and there’s also no profanity filter in place, either. The third and final step is entering the parent’s email and setting a password, that’s all there is to it. The parent is then sent a confirmation and verification email, which enables them to access the dashboard to keep a check on the portfolio activity. It’s a refreshing change to see a site trust people to be nice and not force a lot of “Nanny State” rules on the sign up process.
Creating the portfolio is just as simple. You have a few minimal customization options: text and background colour, plus two choices of layout. Click the “Add Project” button and you’re presented with a window to upload a photo and give it a title. That’s it: no descriptions, no tags, and no categories; just picture and title. Again, it’s a refreshingly simple approach, cutting out the clutter often associated with sites like Flickr or Pinterest, and the little hint images encourage you to discuss what are good or bad things to upload. Click Save and you’re done. Now, anyone viewing the portfolio at diy.org/[YOUR-NICKNAME] can see all the projects. The “rewards” system has been implemented in another very simple way: When viewing a project you can add up to four ‘stickers’ to it – Awesome, Favourite, Beautiful or Genius– and the scores are tallied together. That’s pretty much all there is to it.
In the parents’ dashboard you can see when new projects are added or existing ones edited, and “Hide” any you think might be inappropriate. When you do this, you’re encouraged to leave your child a little note as to why you’ve hidden it and what they could change. When the child tries to view this project, they see the note and are encouraged to talk to you about it.
The iOS app again is streamlined and simple. The startup screen has the same illustration from the website (you can not only drag it around, but it’s also hooked into the accelerometer), with the Sign In and Join buttons. Slightly worrying here is that the password text is visible and even autocompletes — not sure if that’s another simplifying process or a bug! Once you’re in you can flick through your portfolio, see how many stickers each project has, and edit them if needed. Add a new project by tapping the plus button and you’re taken into the camera, with three simple filter effect options. Snap your project, give it a title, and it’s uploaded straight away.
My six-year-old managed all this with zero help from me. She was so excited about the whole idea of DIY that she rushed around gathering all of the models she had made recently and taking photos of them to add to her portfolio (even though I’d already photographed them for the Digital Art Gallery). After that, she got out the paper and scissors and pencils and blu-tac and glue again (I’d only just tidied them up after the last time) and built a new model especially for DIY. She now wants to share her portfolio with the whole world so she can try and get as many stickers as possible.
On the one hand, the whole idea and execution is very simple and perfectly suited to kids, but on the other I can’t help feeling that it’s very much a Public Beta at the moment. For one thing, the app and website can’t handle portrait-oriented images at all — they just get cropped to landscape. It also seems to be lacking many features that could make it really great — things that we take for granted on social sites these days like tags, comments, friends, knowing who likes our stuff, sharing functions, and so on. But these very features could ruin the simplicity of the whole thing. Klein and his team have clearly thought about all of this and have a very fine line to walk in the months ahead as they gather feedback from the userbase.
I will be following their progress with great interest, and I apologize in advance if my daughter’s enthusiasm crashes their servers!