Patch is republishing this feature today to honor the subjects of this story, who were named Huffington Post's Greatest Person of the Day.
When you first taught your children to ride a bicycle, did you launch them down the street without training wheels and a helmet?
Would you hand your car keys over to your new 16-year-old without any practice behind the wheel?
While it seems foolish at the least and downright dangerous at the worst to do such things, those who study children’s Internet usage trends, and particularly their participation on social media networks such as Facebook, say that often parents are letting their kids into the virtual driver’s seat with little to no preparation, sometimes with devastating results.
Everloop, a Danville-based company, originally founded by three local moms over a garage, has developed a secure social media platform for kids under 13 years old. It's a leading innovation for safe online networking for kids, gaining users daily and attracting top industry talent and investment in a tough economy.
The site's goal is to satisfy kids' growing desire to participate socially online but in a safe, secure and age-appropriate manner that addresses a parent’s concern that “kids be kids as long and as much as possible.”
Even if you are cautious about your child’s computer and Internet use, it can feel like a losing battle in the lightening fast digital age.
Everloop’s co-founder and chief executive officer, Hilary DeCesare, worked in the technology industry for more than 10 years. Yet, the Danville mother of three says she still often felt out of the loop like many other parents when it came to keeping up with the technology and trends her children intuitively understood.
“I felt like I was confused by the Internet and what I as a parent should be doing, and that was my background,” says DeCesare. “I thought, I can only imagine what parents who aren’t involved in technology at all are facing.”
DeCesare, recognized as one of the “Top Women in Tech to Watch” in 2010, speaks around the country, and has been a guest at the White House, talking about Internet safety and kids.
And to top-off her already-impressive accomplishments, on Friday she and her team were named Huffington Post's Greatest Person of the Day, a feature that puts the spotlight on regular folks around the country who do great things for their community.
She and her co-founders, Kim Bruce and Paige McCullough, share entrepreneurial backgrounds, personal friendship and seven "tweens" between them.
DeCesare met Bruce, who has a background in telecommunications, when their kids both attended in Danville. She has known McCullough, a serial entrepreneur with a background in sales and marketing, since her youth.
They weren't satisfied to wait until someone else addressed their concerns about troubling trends online for kids, so they decided to "put their heads together."
The partners first launched GirlAmbition in the mid 2000s as a way to use developing technologies that excited them in order to empower girls online and positively impact families.
Their initial concept didn’t start as big as what has since evolved, says DeCesare. It started to change and grow as she became involved with early efforts to increase awareness and combat cyber bullying, as well as personally better understood both the scope of the problem and how helpless parents felt to deal with it.
DeCesare says the challenge to think bigger didn’t deter her and her partners. Instead, it energized them.
They changed the name of the site to Everloop two years ago, at McCullough’s suggestion, when they began to add elements that included boys as well.
The Everloop site allows kids too young to join Facebook to gain experience in a monitored, yet non-intrusive environment, where they develop good judgment and appropriate boundaries before using the larger platforms.
Kids create profiles, and can customize them. They can join interest-driven “loops” or create their own. They can play games, and even play good-natured pranks, called “goobs,” on their friends’ profiles.
Through patent pending state-of-the-art privacy protection and monitoring technology, the environment is monitored 24/7 and kids are prevented from engaging in risky or inappropriate behavior, like posting their real names or addresses, or posting harassing or inappropriate messages.
The Everloop platform, introduced in 2010 and launched earlier this year, now has 100,000 users and is growing quickly.
The numbers are likely to accelerate in the wake of the company’s announcement this month of its EverText service, the first-ever real-time, secure, safe and age-appropriate SMS texting feature for kids available across all mobile phones and major carriers.
Everloop keeps refining its platform, paying close attention to what their users like and want. They also listen to experts and factor in parental concerns and needs.
Like Facebook, where a person can connect to all their varied interests, Everloop also has built their community to allow kids to find things they like to talk about “all under one safe umbrella.”
The company has also developed strategic content partnerships with well-known and respected brands, such as National Geographic Kids, Mattel, Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing and the Mad Science Kids Club.
Parents are key partners as well and the site’s parental control interface allows them to easily tailor the levels of engagement they feel their individual children are ready for.
DeCesare says that what sets Everloop apart from other websites geared toward kids is that they have “an attitude geared toward empowering kids with technology” rather than “dumbing down a child’s Internet experience.”
Everloop is interested in helping kids learn “what amazing things technology can do when used correctly,” she says.
“They’re smarter than we are,” says DeCesare.
You can learn more about Everloop by visiting their website.