Massachusetts-based startup TocoBox has launched an email application for kids. It is designed to be fun and at the same time ensure full parental control.
The younger generation is increasingly adept at using digital, Internet-connected devices. Children in the youngest classes at school now use the iPad as an educational tool and children nowadays want to be able to access the same services as adults. Virtual Piggy, for example, has developed a secure online payment solution for children. But just as young children are not usually authorized to make payments online, kids are not allowed to sign up directly for an email account either. Seeing the need, Boston-based startup TocoBox has launched Tocomail, an email service designed specifically for children. Founders Dennis Bolgov and Pavel Istomin have created an intuitive and easy-to-use interface with the aim of making Tocomail a popular platform to help children stay connected to family and friends. As well as providing a fun experience for the kids, it is designed to let parents maintain full control over their children’s emailing activities.
Service designed for kids that meets parental needs…
The service is available on the Internet or via an app for iPhone and iPad. Designed for young kids, the interface is highly visual, uses bright colors rather than being block text-based, and also includes fun tools such as a drawing board and a facility for creating your own personal avatar. Tocomail’s basic version, which enables parents to configure a list of ‘safe contacts’ with whom their children can routinely email, is currently free to use, but a premium version – with a more comprehensive set of parental controls – is available for $2.99 per month. This includes provision for a ‘quarantine’ area for emails and new contacts, a language (‘profanity’) filter and a supervised general list of contacts going beyond the ‘safe’ list in the free version. Moreover, parents can opt for quarantined emails to be routed to their own regular email account for ease-of-access, and they can then approve or reject a given message directly from the actual notification email, instead of having to connect to Tocomail.
…and suits the way children use email
During Tocomail’s beta testing period, the founders discovered that kids aged 6 to 9 mostly wrote very short emails, almost like text-messaging. Going forward, the founders are planning to further support this behavior with an optional messaging ‘bubbles’ view, where kids can see their emails more like instant messages with their contacts. Other social networking features such as status updates and a timeline will be introduced in later versions. In a future release, Tocomail will also introduce technology that will monitor the conversations to spot bullying patterns – something that could be extremely helpful to parents who do not want to have to supervise each and every message closely or do not know what exactly to watch out for. While most email services have a minimum age for account holders – for example Google’s Gmail prohibits access to children under thirteen – with Tocomail it is the parents who create email accounts for their children. However, TocoBox is not the only company looking to design email services especially for kids. Tocomail will be competing with others, such as Maily and Toymail, in this space.