Coney Island of the Web
From time to time, prompted either by the desperate hope to turn my older son’s internet time into something other than shoot-’em-up games, or by some research project of my own that is leading me to spend a lot of time on the net, I find myself going to a lot of the "kids" sections of sites created by large companies or institutions. Very often what I find is some glitzy effort to grab the clicks and eyeballs of kids which, when you click a level or two deeper, turns out to be the same old games and activities. Or, I see the wreckage of a site like that. Those sites are like Coney Island was in the late years of the last century — rides that don’t work, signs telling of things to come that clearly mean "go away, we never got the funding, all we have is this label."
Maybe I am wrong — and please write in tell me of great nonfiction sites for kids. But I suspect that, for all of the promise of the internet, there is a key problem with websites, information, and kids. That is: we have learned a great deal about how people use the internet and how to capture their attention. So if an organization spends money on a site, it is guided by the rules it has learned to get clicks and click throughs. But then the institution typically does not want to spend a great deal on the content for the site — which, after all, they are essentially giving away. So the site is one great big billboard for some pretty tired material.
It does not take too long for visitors to figure this out, so they don’t linger on the site. And then in the next budget cycle when the institution is thinking about what to do with the site, they neglect it. Then it begins to decay into this tattered playland. I hope this is not the lament of the cranky book author, but I can’t help feeling that many kids websites do a much better job of announcing how cool they are then of actually having much to offer.
So here is an idea — there are more and more MFA programs that specialize in kids and YA literature — shouldn’t we have a program that graduates students trained in writng (and bringing in other multimedia strands) for websites aimed at kids? Shouldn’t we be developing and training people who are kids web writers just as we train picture book, and chapter book, and YA writers? Hey, I’d take that class.