Wonderville, an education-focused technology startup built by eToys vets from the dotcom era, is today making its public debut. You might, at first glance, think of the company as something like a “Khan Academy” for the younger crowd, given that its goal is to augment a child’s education (K-8) with additional materials and teachings. But the similarities end there. Where Khan Academy focuses on delivering video tutorials to students, Wonderville sources third-party content from a number of places all over the web. This includes not only YouTube, but also Amazon and iTunes, among other things.
The company was founded in January 2011, and includes dotcom pioneers and advisors from eToys, eBay, Discovery, Disney, Scholastic, Sesame Street, and Child Magazine. All three Wonderville co-founders, Mark Eastwood, David Lenz, and Lawrence Leach, worked together at eToys back in the day.
“We’re going to have 80%-90% coverage of what’s happening in the classroom already,” says Eastwood, detailing Wonderville’s ambitions. “In addition to that, if you look at the core curriculum standards, one of the things we pride ourselves on is that, in the U.S., more and more focus is going towards reading, writing, math, and a little bit of science, and a lot of our stuff is really designed to augment the arts, civics, and geography,” he adds.
From iTunes, Wonderville pulls in mobile apps, ebooks and TV shows, and it uses these alongside the other sources, to build what it calls “smart galleries.” Each gallery contains a collection of digital content based on what kids are actually learning about in school. For example, a gallery might contain apps, videos, quizzes, and “fun facts,” related to Abraham Lincoln or Amelia Earhart, for example.
But not all the content is dry and stuffy. There are also collections about things which kids are just curious about, like Bigfoot, Evel Knievel, or puppies, for example. And the content is carefully vetted by those on the team with backgrounds in education before inclusion, of course.
Currently, Wonderville has sourced 3,000 items from iTunes and 4,000 videos from YouTube for its smart galleries. It will also soon launch an ebook platform with content from 500 independent authors. Initially, everything on Wonderville be free. However, after ebooks arrive later this fall, the plan is to beginning charging for access to those titles. Pricing is expected around $5.99/month per child or $9.99/month for a family.
On Wonderville, parents will set up accounts for their children, and each of these are personalized around the child’s age and interests. As the kids begin to customize the system by decorating their virtual “room,” their interests, as derived by their selections, will be later used to inform Wonderville about what kind of content will appeal to the child in future products. For example, a girl who chooses to decorate her “room” with soccer balls, won’t be shown the same ebook titles as a girl who chooses unicorns.
Further down the line, the company is planning to release a music subscription service as well (WKID radio), which will not just feature “kids music,” but will offer a wide selection of songs, while also teaching the child about what they’re hearing through things like artists bios and descriptions.
Wonderville is currently bootstrapped through private investments from the founders, friends and family, and others. Currently an HTML5-only offering, the startup is now thinking about raising in order to begin development of native applications.