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shidonni screenshotMost parents want their kids to build computer skills, even at young ages. But it’s a package deal; with computer you get internet, and there are too many sites out there to protect your kids from. Filters work, for awhile – before the kids get clever enough to bypass them, or their friends tell them how.

For parents who fret over their small kids getting exposed to the wrong kind of sites, the new Shidonni web site has a message: It is possible to help your kids get the full computer and internet experience in a safe, non-violent, comfortable and creative atmosphere; just send your kids to the Shidonni site and watch them enjoy themselves. And when Shidonni says “creative,” they mean it literally: At Shidonni, kids create and raise animals (or other creatures), “feed” and play games with them, and even send them to “play” with other Shidonni friends online!

Shidonni, the brainchild of Israeli entrepreneurs Nachshon Peled, the company’s CTO, and CEO Ido Mazursky – formerly the CEO of Toys ‘R Us Israel – “is the realization of a dream to bring out the creativity of kids, allowing them to enjoy an online world they can feel comfortable and safe in, with no violence,” says Mazursky. As a result, kids can thrive in an online environment, learning new technological and social skills, and feed their need to be creative.

Logging onto the Shidonni site, kids are invited to draw an animal, “creating” a new life that they are responsible for. And those creations take on a “life” of their own: Once completed, a creation can be seen gamboling across the screen, climbing hills and dales kids can create as backgrounds for an online world. Pets need to eat, so you can “create” food to feed them with – give them food and watch them swallow it. Once they’re fed, kids can play games – such as an online version of Chutes and Ladders – with their creatures. Kids can draw their creatures freehand, and there are tutorials to help those who don’t know how to draw well, Mazursky says. But once any creature is completed, it comes to animated “life,” participating in activities and interacting with its online environment.

Shidonni pets “live” on member account pages on the site, and kids can invite other members to chat with them on their member pages, play games with them – even bring their pets over for a “visit,” exchanging pets with their friends. The creatures, for their part, act more or less “independently,” with the system’s patented built-in animation algorithms (developed by Peled) giving seeming “life” to the creatures, with just a little guidance from their real-world friends. So besides helping develop kids’ creativity, the site acts as an on-line community for young people, enabling them to make friends with others their age from all over the world.

None of the adventures or games contain threats or violence, and anyone – even a four year old – will be able to master the on-line drawing program. Neither is there advertising or selling of any “gear,” as is common at kid-oriented sites.  Safety is a priority for Shidonni, Mazursky adds, and the site is monitored closely to ensure that the environment remains safe. “It’s a world with no shopping, no ego contests, no money, no violence” – in short, a world kids can feel safe in, allowing them to express their inner selves.

In fact, Shidonni is a world unto itself, Mazursky says – a world that parents themselves may have experienced when they were children, but has been out of reach for their children. “We’re recalling a time of greater innocence, a time when it was possible for kids to be creative and not have to worry about the problems they face at nearly every turn today.”

And although the site definitely promotes educational values (Shidonni has a child psychologist on staff, helping to develop and guide content), it’s more about entertainment – or rather, “edutainment, the space where learning and leisure intersect. Most kids are used to ‘copy and paste‘ type games,” Mazursky says, “but with Shidonni, they are playing with something new and different, giving their creative ‘right brains’ a workout. The community component of the site – allowing them to communicate with other kids – expands their horizons, showing them a world without borders.

“Kids get rewarded for helping their creatures grow and can get prizes and promotions. It gives them responsibility and they feel good when they succeed. They learned new skills, affirmed themselves, and learned life lessons – important educational goals – but more importantly, they had fun,” he adds.

Shidonni went live a few months ago, and traffic has been “far heavier than expected so far,” Mazursky says. Users need to install Microsoft‘s Silverlight to work with the animations – making Shidonni one of the first sites in the world, and the first in Israel, to make use of MS’ foray into online animation and video, a sphere dominated  by Adobe‘s Flash and Shockwave (links for installation are provided at the Shidonni site). The technology is easy to work with for programmers, and the Shidonni developers are working on ever more exciting and fun applications for the site, Mazursky says.

Registration at Shidonni is free, as is participation in the first several levels – but more advanced features require a subscription, a policy that will enable the site to offer great content without resorting to advertising, a policy much preferred by parents, who would rather pay a small fee than deal with the ads, Mazursky adds. Mazursky also doesn’t fear a downturn of use during these tough economic times – quite the contrary. “Instead of spending NIS 200 up front on a game their kids may or may not like, they can join Shidonni and pay as they go, by the month – canceling it when they no longer want it,” he says. “Especially during bad times, parents – and kids – need an outlet, and Shidonni provides a great outlet for their creativity,” he adds.

Mazursky thought about building something like Shidonni for awhile, as he sought a way to ensure his kids got computer and internet skills at a young age. “I’m a big believer in the internet for kids, because these are skills they are going to need to succeed. But like any parent, I was very wary of letting them surf freely. Now, with Shidonni, my kids have a place where they feel comfortable hanging out – and a place I can feel comfortable with, as well.”

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Category: gaming

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