Cyberbullying has been a problem since, well, people first started using the internet. With its effect on kids a particular concern, there is no shortage of tools on the market allowing parents to supervise their child’s online activity. From the monitoring and screening features built into computers or browsers themselves to internet security systems of the, ahem, olden days, many measures have traditionally focused on giving parents the ability to completely block access to sites they deem inappropriate.
Systems like OurPact have given parents that same control in the smartphone and tablet age, allowing them to control their child’s access to WiFi and how much time can be spent on a particular site or app. However, these solutions don’t actually solve problems generating from those apps, or stop them from occurring.
Perth app KodaChat aims to create a safe community in which kids can socialise online by, in the words of cofounder and CEO Luke O’Keefe, “replicating a parent’s physical role in their child’s development in the digital space.” Aimed at parents of children aged between five and 12, the app looks to help parents deal with the challenges of unsolicited or inappropriate contact and cyberbullying through in-app supervision tools.
O’Keefe said the idea for the app came from his experiences with his eldest son, who wanted to use a chat app to talk to his friends on his tablet. O’Keefe said he researched the app and realised that the environment his son would be entering into opened the door to challenges that he would be unprepared for.
“Challenges such as unsolicited contact, inappropriate content and cyber bullying. I also realised that, as a parent, I was restricted from guiding, protecting and preparing my son through his journey into social media. After saying no several times, I realised that with a 68 percent proliferation rate of smart devices and kids growing up in a digital world, no wasn’t the solution to the issue – finding a way to continue the natural process of parenting in the digital space was,” he said.
O’Keefe linked up with cofounders Jeff Oliver, now CFO, and Adrian Daluz, CTO, to create KodaChat. The app works by having parents create an account for both themselves and their child. Their child then uses the credentials created by their parent to sign in, add friends, and start chatting. The app has a feed full of requests for parents to approve or reject, whether they be friend requests or images or links to download.
The app has a premium subscription which allows parents to set profanity filters and set block out times that give their child access to the app during set hours, making sure they’re not on the app at school, for example. Parents can then monitor their child’s chats as often or as little as they like, while the app also allows them to connect and chat with other parents when their kids become friends.
Of course, given the concern over cyberbullying, KodaChat is just one of many apps on the market allowing parents to monitor their kids on social media; from Roo Kids to Marimba, there’s no shortage of apps out there.
Despite this, O’Keefe said there was nothing quite like KodaChat on the market when the startup began development. How KodaChat differs from the competition now, he said, is that it resembles the apps adults use instead.
“It is important to create a user experience that is not too dissimilar from what is currently in the market. Potential users have come to expect a certain user experience and kids are no different. They want a modern feel and not an overtly kiddy experience, as they see what their parents and older siblings use,” O’Keefe explained.
Rather than load up the app with feature after feature, O’Keefe said the startup worked slowly to figure out what exactly it is that both parents and kids want and how to give it to them while still ensuring KodaChat was both safe and social.
“Parents need a tool that makes supervision as easy as possible, but kids also need to enjoy the experience…we took time to develop an app that both kids and parents could use in their relationships and this will continue to be the case,” he said.
The focus on having kids enjoy the experience is key – rather than having them resent the fact that their parents are looking over their shoulder, KodaChat can teach them how to properly behave online, hopefully reducing the likelihood that they tolerate or perpetrate cyberbullying when they grow old enough to graduate from the app.
With the app having soft launched last year, the team is keeping on with the slow and steady approach as it looks forward to the next 12 months. O’Keefe said new features are in the pipeline, with these linked to new avenues for monetisation and potential partnerships as KodaChat looks to grow.
Image: Jeff Oliver and Luke O’Keefe. Source: Supplied.