More and more 2- to 6-year-olds are watching videos on YouTube. And even the most cautious parents could find it hard to stop their little ones from discovering clips in which Tickle Me Elmo kills Barney.
That's where Totlol.com comes in. The month-old Web site leaves it up to parents to moderate which YouTube videos their kids can see. Parents can join Totlol's community to pick and review YouTube videos that would be appropriate for 6-month-olds to 6-year-olds. They can also browse among the site's more than 1,000 videos of disco penguins, singing hippos, and leaping elephants--or about 42 hours of parent-approved content.
Ron Ilan, founder of Totlol, said he started building the site in March after YouTube released a new, advanced application protocol interface (API), which the site is based around. His impetus was to create a safe site for his 2-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter.
"I had to do something with my son while I was in front of the computer. It's every parent's new age problem," said Ilan, a longtime Web developer based in Vancouver, B.C. "I imagined that YouTube had a lot of good stuff. But I couldn't comfortably find it. You don't know what you're searching for."
Totlol is among a bevy of new Web sites that cater to toddlers. For example, KidZui, which launched earlier this year, vets YouTube videos for kids among a community of teachers to ensure that they're age appropriate, among other features. KidZui, which offers a downloadable application, recently lifted its monthly subscription fee in an effort to attract more parents and kids.
In contrast, Totlol is available directly online and looks like a cartoon-themed YouTube. Once parents join, they can search for child-friendly YouTube videos through an API-powered search engine. A search for "goat" via Totlol would yield similar results to one on YouTube. But once the parent found a kid-friendly clip, they would submit it to the community at large for approval. The API takes description video data from YouTube, but the parent can also add notes on why the video is either interesting or relevant to kids. After that, the video goes up for screening and a "certain number" of parents must approve the clip before it airs on the site.
The system isn't foolproof, but the majority of material that surfaces on Totlol is child-appropriate, Ilan said. The main sticking point, however, is that parents can disagree about what kind of content their child should be exposed to. For example, Ilan said that his 1-year-old daughter loves a video in which Elmo and Grover sing a Numa Numa song. In that video, Grover tells Elmo to shut up--an act that ruffles the feathers of some parents.
That's why Ilan is working on new tools that will let parents block videos they don't want their kids to see or play only what they like from a "favorites list."
"It's the Internet--people can decide to watch it or not. It's all in the area of opinion and culture. That's why we need better and better tools," he said.
Ilan started the business with his own money, and without a clear business plan. He's not yet sure how he will make money from the venture, but he is sure how he will not turn a profit.
"No ads while kids are watching," he said. "I think there are opportunities beyond that. Worst-case scenario: I won't be able to move it forward."