Take Out That Rotten Zoo Smell

Zoo.com, the search engine for kids, suffers from two flaws: deviously-placed sponsored ads and search results that do not play into a kid-friendly atmosphere. Perhaps it would be better if we made a social kids network.

Zoo.com LogoSo much for those fun and games. Zoo.com, which was lauded as a safe online haven for kids, may not be completely what it seems. Child-friendly? Maybe, though it depends on your sources. Is it completely effective? Doubtful.

Effort has been made in the past to create a kid-friendly search engine, and we thought this one was it. We were excited and we cheered. But ResearchBuzz ran into several shortcomings and questioned the vitality of this system as a whole.

ResearchBuzz finds two issues, primarily that it’s still providing results for terms like “ritalin prescription” (spam, anyone?) and that it is being intentionally devious with its “sponsored” listings scattered throughout regular search results. This issue is a big concern on a search engine intended for children between the ages of 8 and 13, and I completely agree.

The success of this model will require a lot of feedback from individuals if it is to thrive. For one, filtering out over 50,000 phrases might not be enough. Only certain sites should be considered for the engine, because even with its shortcomings and admittance to the system’s imperfections, InfoSpace is almost saying that it endorses the sites that appear in the search engine results.

And I truthfully do not think they want that.

Instead of phrase filtering, we need to go a step further. How about Zoo 2.0? This would be a search engine-directory hybrid: kid-friendly sites would need to be submitted by a kid or parent, with minimal oversight from internal staff (internal QA costs would be cut with this model). We could further mold a successful kid-friendly search engine under the premise of social search: a page that is kid friendly should be flagged as kid-friendly. StumbleUpon asks you whether a newly submitted site to the system has adult content — I don’t see why this cannot be extended to the Zoo.

Web 2.0 is all about community involvement, and this is a new place where community involvement — parents and their children — could contribute to a successful web. Not only will this contribute to overall quality of the search engine, but we can be sure that it will address the spammy nature of the results at the present.

As for sponsored listings? I think ResearchBuzz put it nicely. They don’t need to be removed completely, but they definitely should be treated separately than the search results.

(And I think Zoo.com needs a graphic redesign too. As a kid at heart, I don’t think it’s colorful enough.)

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