Interview: Why is A New Social Networking Site for Kids in the UK Worth Watching in the US?

As the online privacy debate swirls in the United States, one interesting area to watch is how, when, or even if, privacy tracking technologies successful abroad will migrate to the States.

As the online privacy debate swirls in the United States, one interesting area to watch is how, when, or even if, privacy tracking technologies successful abroad will migrate to the States.

And one specific case study to follow is that of Jabble, a social networking site for kids set to launch in the United Kingdom in May that is just the latest UK-based startup to rely on the red-hot British software firm Crisp Thinking to deliver its privacy technology.

We spoke with Jabble’s CEO Becca Morgan, to learn more about how exactly Crisp’s privacy technology works, why she thinks it will make Jabble stand out in a crowded field and why, exactly, she decided to stake the site’s reputation, not to mention success, on a six-year-old software company run by a 26-year old tech wizard who left school at 16 to begin building a software platform that would change the game on cyberbullies.

Social Times:  Tell me more about the Jabble social network and why you created it.

BM: Jabble is a simplified, child-focused social network.  Jabble offers all the features of other social networks: make friends, send messages, instant chat and games, but is aimed at 5 – 11 year olds. Our intentions in providing the site are ethical and responsible, aiming to create a safer online world in which children can communicate with each other. In addition to the usual social networking tools, we offer users protective facilities to block inappropriate behavior and flag this to parents and moderators.

Social Times:  Jabble is touting its partnership with Crisp Thinking’s privacy technology as a feature that separates it from social media sites.  How does Crisp make Jabble stand out?

BM: Crisp technology blocks inappropriate words in real time. However, it goes further than traditional message filters as it also analyzes the “intent” of dialogue between users as well as the actual words they are using. So, typical ways of getting around these filters, such as, adding letters, spaces or number to words are not possible.

Also, Jabble, as with many sites for young children, uses a white list system.  When using white list chat, users are only able to type words, which appear in this “allowed words” list.  Crisp has developed “adaptive” white list technology. This allows for multiple derived forms of words and suggests words as users type, highlighting words or phrases that would lead to it being blocked. This ensures safety yet maintains engagement levels.

The Crisp Platform also builds anonymous dynamic profiles of users based on all the comments and actions taken by a user within Jabble over time.  The platform uses these profiles and its analysis engine to understand language concepts and detects the intended meanings behind user-submitted content. The engine rates users against threat vectors like sexual predation and bullying.

The system can also react in real time by automatically warning or banning people who violate a site’s terms of service, or referring them to human moderators.  This has not been installed for Jabble but may be in the future.

Social Times: How else does Jabble stand out in an already crowded field of ‘kid-friendly’ social networks?

BM: We involve parents in this experience, providing them with tools to monitor and influence their child’s activity: communication logs, friend requests, flagging and blocking. We felt that most other social networks don’t offer parents a safer, more responsible option to help protect their children from the risks of communicating online.

One main difference between Jabble and sites like ScuttlePad and GiantHello is that we have taken the decision to not feature photographs for avatars or allow uploads. As well as removing the obvious risks of inappropriate postings, this allows children to interact without worrying about appearance and looks.

Social Times:  How, and why, did you select Crisp over other platforms?

BM: Child safety is our primary concern and we wanted to ensure that we were sufficiently set up to create a safer online environment. After researching other options, we were impressed by Crisp’s high-profile client base and a demonstration of the technology’s features eased our concerns – in particular their profiling tools that respond to continual behavior. The deciding factor was attending a talk at the Children’s Media Conference on moderation and child safety delivered by Rebecca Newton. It was this combination of technological and ethical excellence that informed our decision to engage in Crisp’s services.

Social Times:  Why did you choose to target the specific age group of 5-11 year olds?

BM: We chose this age group as we felt that there wasn’t a safe, responsible social network for children of this age group. A lot of young children access sites like Facebook before they are allowed to and we wanted to provide an alternative aimed specifically at ages 5-11 in order to introduce children to social networks and to learn how to use them safely.

Jabble is primarily aimed at ages 5-11, however we don’t discourage children from using the site once they reach the end of this spectrum. We are realistic and aware that by this age, children may have ‘out-grown’ the site.

Social Times:  What are the parental controls on Jabble?

BM: A child user can only access social networking features following verification from their parent. In creating an account, Jabble offers parents their own administration area where they can view activity logs, agree to friend requests and change settings. We also allow parents to ‘flag’ inappropriate content and ‘block’ certain users. These actions are made visible to the parent of the offending party and to Jabble moderators.

Parents do not have control over pre-post moderation, but have the optional facility to allow or refuse friend requests sent to their child. Any flags or blocks assigned can only be removed by the parent of the child that made the action and Jabble.

Social Times:  Who is the team behind Jabble, and what was your motivation to launch the site?

BM: Our team consists of Benjamin Hall and Ashley Kennerley. Benjamin is a teacher and professional animator who brings the creative element to the site. Ashley is Jabble’s technical lead who has built the site from the ground up. Our intentions in providing the site are ethical and responsible, aiming to create a safer online world in which children can communicate with each other.

Social Times:  What are your plans for expanding the site, and how will growth be financed?

BM: Jabble is initially aimed at an English speaking, UK audience, but we hope to create versions worldwide in the future. There is currently no fee associated with the site. We intend to feature campaigns from carefully selected advertisers from time to time, employing an ethical, educational theme.