This blog post continues the conversation with Mary Kay Hoal, founder of Yoursphere, which we began this week in part 1 of this series. In this post, we ask Mary Kay to share more about how kids are using Yoursphere to lead the way online.
OSS: It’s very clear from our conversation so far, that kids are the focus for you and Yoursphere. What you have done to help get the kids involved in the site?
Mary Kay: You know, we as parents are so privileged – because studies show that we’re raising the smartest generation of kids yet. Their brains work differently, because they are exposed to the Internet and a variety of media so early – they multi-task better, for example.
So, my vision for Yoursphere was to get the kids involved in leading us. The best ideas come from the kids. Yoursphere is all about empowering the kids through social media – letting them design their best online environment. So, it’s really by kids, for kids, as led by kids.
OSS: That’s an amazing vision, to empower kids to lead on the Internet. Can you give us some examples of what you mean? How do kids lead on Yoursphere?
Mary Kay: Kids actually help to design and create the content. We want kids to be themselves, and drive the content. We also enable kids to self-police and moderate the site, by educating them on good social media behavior. Some of the comments that we’ve received from kids, say it best:
“Yoursphere makes it cool to be a good kid!”
“It’s awesome! I can’t believe there is such a site that let’s you design stuff.”
We’ve also had great examples of how kids have picked up on the education. For example, one parent told me that her fourth-grader found out that a younger kid – a first-grader – had opened a Facebook account. That fourth-grader went to the younger kid, and told him that “it’s stupid” and “not cool” for young kids to have a Facebook profile because “Facebook is for adults.” That kind of story just makes me so proud!
OSS: I’m really intrigued by this concept of letting kids design their own Internet. Can you give some additional examples of exactly what you mean by this? What, exactly, does Yoursphere enable kids to design?
Mary Kay: Kids get to design their own sites within the Yoursphere environment, “spheres” in our terminology. They publish their own content. We had one child, for example, who loves owls and published a whole site on owls. Other kids visiting the site learned all about owls, their habitat, their eating habits – it was educational.
We enable kids to create interest groups. We have a young writer’s program, and an art program – whatever the kids decide that they want. We also offer paid editing positions for kids on certain subjects. For example, we have a 13yo fashion editor – a paid position – who writes on topics like “shopping your closet.”
Yoursphere also awards scholarships to kids. 3% of our revenue is allocated to scholarships. Kids can apply for these, and we award them for support of positive real-world experiences. We’ve awarded two so far, one for gym camp and another for an art camp. To apply, kids need to provide us with an essay describing their goals, along with references.
OSS: What are the demographics on your site? I would expect perhaps that younger kids would be more active, since older kids would more likely use Facebook and other adult sites after the age of 13. But, with the content and programs you’ve described, maybe your getting an older crowd as well?
Mary Kay: 70% of our kids are under the age of 13. 30% are 13yo and older, with 20% of those also having a Facebook profile. We have active use – every kid spends an average of 36 minutes per visit, goes 76 pages deep and publishes 25 pieces of content – so far!
OSS: I know that you’ve been recognized in the child safety industry. What awards have you won?
Mary Kay: I’ve been recognized by the “Institute for Responsible Online and Cell Phone Communication,” receiving their 2010 National Award for Excellence. Yoursphere.com received the prestigious Gartner 2010 Cool Vendor Global Award.
Also, because of my work at Yoursphere and YoursphereForParents, I was asked to participate in a documentary film about cyberbullying that will be out this spring called “Submit” and ABC has asked me to be part of a show airing in the late spring.
OSS: What’s next for Yoursphere?
Mary Kay: We’re excited by our success to date! We’re really inspired by our members – our kids are role models and educators. We intend to continue this mission and continue empowering kids. Also, we have some great new things happening in March – so stay tuned!