March 18, 1996
Yahooligans! -- a Yahoo! Just for Kids
By LAURIE J. FLYNNust as Government, free-speech advocates and the Internet community tangle in court this week over how best to limit children's access to adult-oriented material on the Internet, Yahoo!, the first and perhaps best-known Internet directory service, is set to launch a search service that points children only to sites designed for them.
While there are many Web home pages designed to point youngsters to educational and entertainment sites designed for them, Yahoo!'s new service, called Yahooligans!, differs in that it acts as a huge index to sites and other Internet resources on a specific topic.
As it debuts today, Yahooligans! includes links to 1,500 sites, all of which the company says have been screened and approved by Ingenious, an educational multimedia company that specializes in material for children 8 to 14 years old.
"Looking at the activity on Yahoo! and at our surveys we saw we had a large number of kids who were using our site," said Jeffrey A. Mallett, senior vice president of business operations at Yahoo! Inc., based in Sunnyvale, Calif.
Mallett said Yahoo!'s research indicated that there were 300,000 to 500,000 children in this age group using the Web regularly. With the number of youth-oriented Web sites increasing rapidly, Yahoo! decided it was time to give them a place of their own, he said.
Development of the new children's service comes just as the Internet community is struggling with the problem of how to block children's access to adult content.
The Government's solution -- the Communications Decency Act, which was part of the new telecommunications overhaul signed into law last month by President Clinton -- made it illegal for anyone to place "indecent" materials anywhere in cyberspace where they could be accessed by children.
However, that law was immediately challenged by a broad coalition of civil liberties organizations, software companies and on-line services, who argue that for various reasons, the law is an unconstitutional infringement of free expression. Hearings in the case open Thursday in Philadelphia.
Many of those who oppose the law argue that what is needed is better parental supervision, a Web ratings system and innovative ways to point youngsters to appropriate material.
Yahooligans! appears to be an attempt at a pointing system. The site has the familiar look and interface of the Yahoo! home page, but with eight categories relevant to children.
Mallett said that of the eight categories, he expected two to be the most popular, based on the traffic to those sites from the Yahoo! page:
Entertainment, which points to sites about television shows, movies and games, and
School Bell, a section containing links to reference materials, school home pages, and sites about specific subjects, like astronomy.
Like Yahoo!, Yahooligans! will be supported by advertising. Its main sponsor initially is disney.com, the Web site launched recently by the Disney Corporation, though Yahooligans! will soon contain other child-oriented advertising.
Yahooligans! does not restrict children from entering other areas of the Internet through their standard browser. Yahoo! hopes, however, that kids will come to depend on it as their primary portal to the Web.
Ray Soular, president of SafeSurf, a group that is pushing hard for an Web-site ratings system similar to what exists for movies, says that Yahoo! has taken the right approach.
"One of the best ways to keep kids out of trouble on the Internet is not to block access but to show them where to go," Soular said.
Even so, the site offers parents the ability to download Surf Watch, a popular parental control application for blocking access to adult-oriented sites. Surf Watch is available on a section for children and parents called Stay Street Smart, which gives tips on things like recognizing potentially dangerous come-ons in chat groups.
"Its great that finally the big companies like Yahoo! are realizing what the grassroots have known for years," Soular said, "-- that children have the most to gain from the Internet."
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Yahooligans! Yahoo!'s new site for children.
Kid's Wave. Sites for children recommended by SafeSurf. (Source of the SafeSurf logo, walking baby picture and the Fern Gully silhouette.)
Yahoo!, among the oldest and best-known of all Web search engines.
Copyright 1996 The New York Times Company