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Savvy Little Searchers: Kids' Search Engines

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While sitting at the Cineplex last weekend watching the newly released comedy Knocked Up, I was struck by a line from one of the characters – a seven-year old trying to shock her aunt by saying, “I googled murder.”

This priceless moment drew my attention because it showed a young child using Google for a complex and graphic search, as opposed to all of those age-appropriate kids search engines available out there. The question arises: do kids really use kid-friendly engines, or do they tend to default to the large engines based on their parents’ behavior?

There are certainly a number of very well defined and appropriate children’s engines out there for use by the pre-tween or early-tween set. Based on an informal poll of kids ages 7-10 who happen to live in my neighborhood, it appears that once kids reach the age where they actually have homework to do that requires research, they are more likely to tap into the kids-oriented sites.

Yahoo Kids was mentioned along with Fact Monster as offering good information. They also are big users of reference sites such as Encyclopedia Britannica, library sites and the official US government sites for kids.

Now the question becomes, are kid-friendly search engines worth using, or are they better served by the major engines? We decided to review how the most well-known engines meet children’s needs, and created our overall rankings here. As a key input, we searched for Spiderman, George Washington, and Laura Ingalls Wilder to see whether there really are notable differences between specific kids' search engines and the mainstream engines.

Overall Rankings

The search engine sites are subjectively ranked on a 1-5 star scale, with 5 stars being the best. The categories ranked include: (1) visual appeal to a child; (2) relevance to a child, based on our chosen searches; (3) commercial vs. educational, with the educational slant creating a higher score; and (4) ease of navigation for 7-10 year olds.

Visual Appeal
to a Child
Relevance
to a Child
Commercial vs.
Educational
Ease of
Navigation
AOL for Kids**********
Cybersleuth Kids*******
Fact Monster********************
Kids Click***********
Lycos for Kids*******
Quintura Kids********************
Yahoo Kids***************
ZOO**************
About.com********
Ask.com***************
Google************
MSN***********
Yahoo**********

Kid-Friendly Sources: Test Notes

AOL for kids

AOL offered only one relevant site which focused on the Science of Superheroes. For Ms. Wilder, there were sites on the author’s home and museum as well as a tour of the town she had lived in during the 1880s. Over 400 sites appeared for George Washington including links to information on his wife, Martha. Also included craft ideas for Presidents' Day.

Cybersleuth Kids

Touts itself as an Internet guide for kids ages kindergarten through grade 12. Provided no results for Spiderman and few for Laura Ingalls Wilder. Led to web site focused on another favorite female heroine: Nancy Drew. George Washington pulled up info on the first president from academic kids.com and as well as info on another famous George: George Washington Carver.

Fact Monster

A good, comprehensive site offering a “history of the lunch box” when asked for Spidey-related info along with biographies of the character’s creator. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name brought up the basic information on her life along with links to “places where women made history.” Provided many links to famous Georges along with the one requested. Most of the results appeared to come from encyclopedia articles.

Kids Click

Kids Click is a web search for kids by librarians. It provided only one site for Spiderman aficionados – the Marvel official site. For Laura Ingalls Wilder, it offered links to the books along with a few other sites relating to her life. Came up with 13 sites related to GW including a Mount Rushmore home page, info on the Washington Monument and an online quiz.

Lycos for Kids

Definitely one of the more comprehensive searches with a variety of information offered on Laura Ingalls Wilder – everything from her bio to related information on family members. Pages of sites were available for Spiderman – everything from toys and games to coloring pages, wall graphics and related names. Offered many sites related to GW including articles offering political commentary.

Quintura Kids

Offers a slightly different take on a search compared with the other sites mentioned. It is more of a visual search engine with a kids-related cloud for easy navigation. That being said, it brought up one result for Spiderman, an educational site with some Spiderman content. Laura Ingalls Wilder resulted in 16 results with around half focused on other famous Laura’s, such as First Lady Laura Bush. George Washington brought up about 40 results on 9 pages culled from mainly educational or government web sites. (Each page has approximately 5 results making it easier for kids to read through the pages).

Yahoo Kids

Provided numerous links to the character, movie listings, coloring pages and even a site linking to the 1966 TV version of Spiderman. For the Little House on the Prairie author, the site provided links to her home page, information on the books and well as links to information on the TV series. Pulled up over 4,000 results on our first president. The first results mostly centered on US government sites related to the subject matter.

ZOO

Offered multiple sites related to Spiderman including the new movie’s official site. Also brought up many site matches for Ms. Wilder including a link to Amazon.com to purchase the books. Offered about 30 sites related to GW, including a site for George Washington University, links to Amazon.com to buy books on the father of our country as well as information on Mount Vernon.

Mainstream Sources: Test Notes

About

For Spiderman, the site offered hundreds of links to merchandise, famous Spidey quotes, games and coloring pages. Laura Ingalls Wilder yielded links to a LIW pageant held in her hometown of Walnut Grove, MN each July, along with submissions from the “Homeschoolers” writing club. George Washington brought up a plethora of links including coloring pages, alphabet activities and crossword puzzles.

Ask

Showed a picture of GW at the top of results page, which could be helpful to a child. Offered a variety of links relating to GW’s life. Again, showed a picture of Spiderman at top of results page which is a nice touch. Connected to many commercial sites related to the character. Offered many sites related to Laura Ingalls Wilder and had her picture at top of results page which is what most kids want to see when they are looking for information on a topic.

Google

Offered a full comprehensive selection of articles and biographical information on GW. Also, provided links to related historical figures such as Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. Info was pulled from government sites such as Whitehouse.gov and AmericasLibrary.gov. For Spiderman, offers everything from the official Spiderman site to related links to Spiderman coloring pages and games. For Laura Ingalls Wilder, Google provides links to info on her books, pictures of the author as a young adult, and complete biographical info.

MSN

The search for Spiderman brought up a results page with pictures of the sticky wonder along with a link to the Wikipedia definition. There were even some links to YouTube Spiderman content. Laura Ingalls Wilder also had pictures on her results page along with a Wikipedia link and information on Almonzo Wilder, her husband. With no lack of information on our first president, the search resulted in pictures on the first search page, links to a GW blog, Wikipedia, and a link to a movie called George Washington bearing no apparent relation to the man on our $1 bill.

Yahoo

Offered 24,000 results for Spiderman including a link to a theatrical trailer of Spiderman 3, and links to “unofficial” fan sites. Similar to Yahoo Kids, the search for Laura Ingalls Wilder brought up general biographical information along with a link dedicated to celebrating Women’s History Month. The results for George Washington were also in line with those found at Yahoo Kids ranging from the official White House site to a link to the Smithsonian specifically geared to kids.

Overall, the major engines delivered relevant results, but included many more commercial results, as one would expect. Other than Ask.com, they are not as visually appealing as some of the better kids search engines, such as Quintura Kids, Yahoo Kids, or Fact Monster, which also return quite relevant results, and are also easier to navigate than some of the majors.

Debby Richman is senior VP at Collarity, a community-based search technology company. She is also the social and behavioral marketing correspondent for the SEW Blog. Debby has over 20 years' experience in online services, spanning entrepreneurial and blue-chip organizations. Most recently, she led consumer products at LookSmart and launched their vertical search business. Debby also grew early-stage businesses as VP/GM, About Web Services (About.com) and as VP, Overstock.com.


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