Ask Wildby uses voice recognition to make Wikipedia accessible and safe for kids
May 2, 2012 by Terence LEE
They are still stuck with asking their parents about such questions as “Why is the earth round?” and “What are dinosaurs?”
And here’s the reason why: Much of the Internet isn’t designed with young kids in mind. Many websites and apps have interfaces that are too complex, require advanced language skills to navigate, and they overwhelm children with too much information.
This is where Ask Wildby comes in. It is a mobile encyclopedia app that is specifically designed for kids four to seven years old. Children can speak a word into the app, after which they will be brought to a page with a slideshow and a voice narration.
They can then browse related topics by pressing on the corresponding pictures. The data is obtained from Wikipedia. For now, kids can only input single words, but they’re working on the ability to include phrases.
The mobile app, which just launched in five languages (English, French, German, Spanish and Italian) and is now available on Android, is the brainchild of Thomas Tan and Huang Yanying, who are incubatees at the JFDI-Innov8 2012 Bootcamp.
According to the co-founders, designing an app for children is very different from creating apps for adults.
Besides needing to be colorful and lively, sound effects like applause and cheers are used as positive reinforcement for children. The app must also be simple and not cram too many features onto the screen at once. Otherwise, they’d risk confusing the kids.
Another challenge lies in using social media virality to spread the word about Ask Wildby. Since kids are not on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, Thomas and Yanying have to design a way to incorporate parents into the sharing process.
Whenever a child views an entry, they can also send the pictures to their parents — by getting another adult to key in their mum or dad’s email address. The parent will then receive a link that allows them to share the pictures on Facebook.
Having appropriate content is another design issue Wildby has to face, since parents fear that they children might access unsuitable and mature content. Wildby deals with this by redirecting words like “sex” to “clown” instead.
While the app is a great idea, it still has some polishing to do. It has some ways to go before realizing the heaps of potential it possesses.
For some strange reason, my version of the app seems to be missing the voice narration feature. There’s also the issue of relevancy: Simply reciting and grabbing pictures off Wikipedia isn’t a long-term solution.
If I say the word “fish”, I will be shown pictures of a cell, a picture of a fish brain labelled with the scientific names of the parts, and, funnily enough, a picture of a Catholic Saint.
But Thomas has told me that they are working on this aspect by securing partnerships and grabbing information from child-friendly content providers.
Finally, I am underwhelmed by the app’s social sharing feature.
If parents click on the link in the email sent by their children about their discovery of Elephants, they will then be invited to connect on Facebook. After doing so, Wildby then automatically shares the discovery on the parent’s Facebook Timeline, without giving the option for parents to type their own message.
There’s no option for parents to display a picture of an Elephant in their status update either.
All these hiccups aside, I do think the Wildby team is on to something. A common theme among startups in Asia these days is the use of mobile devices to bond busy parents with their kids, who may be separated by work commitments or geographical distance.
According to the Financial Times, the children’s app market is so new that there are few estimates of its size. A survey by Kids Industries conducted among 2,200 iPad-owning parents in the US and UK has found that parents download an average of 27.2 apps for their children in a year, spending about US$100 in total.
Nielsen has discovered that seven out of ten kids in households that own tablets use them on a regular basis for games and education, and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center has stated that children’s apps are a growing market, with nearly half of the top 100 selling education apps on iTunes targeting preschool or Primary School children. The number has since increased to 72 percent in 2011.
Children’s tablets are on the rise too. Examples include: Nabi, Playrific, Zoodles, and more.
It looks like education apps for kids will become mainstream in the near future, so I believe Wildby is entering the market at the right time. If they are able to iron out the kinks, they might have a hit on their hands.
More coverage of JFDI-Innov8 Bootcamp. The Bootcamp is a technology startup accelerator program in Singapore (part of the Global Accelerator Network) where participants build a prototype within 100 days. Demo Day is on 4th May, 2012.
Find out more about SGE’s research arm: SGE Insights, providing customized in-depth research reports to help you navigate the business of technology in Asia.
About The Author
Terence LEE - Editor
Terence writes mainly about technology trends and startups in Asia. He believes in crafting smart content: Not just a regurgitation of text, but well thought-out pieces that serve the reader using a combination of data, design, narratives, analysis, and visual impact. His articles have been published on Venturebeat, Yahoo!, Straits Times, Today, and The Online Citizen. He also co-founded NewNation.sg, a satirical news site covering Singapore affairs. Engage him on LinkedIn and Twitter.Read other posts by Terence LEE