Tocomail, a new iPhone and iPad application launching today, aims to be kids’ first email service. The app was designed not only with children in mind, but also in collaboration with kids who provided input as Tocomail’s early adopters. But more importantly, Tocomail offers parental controls that allow mom and/or dad to designate who the child is able to email using Tocomail, and who they can accept email from in return.
The company was founded last year by Dennis Bolgov and Pavel Istomin, long time friends and former classmates at the Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute. Bolgov came to the U.S. back in 1998, and ended up working for a company called Lobby7, acquired by Nuanace Communications in 2003. He later went on to work on Nuance’s speech-enabled mobile interfaces – technology that has since made its way to other mobile applications and services, including Apple’s SIRI.
The two founders also previously built another company, Warelex, back in 2002, which was acquired in 2008 by German company Shape Services GmbH (makers of instant messaging app IM+.) They stayed on there for over 5 years until building TocoBox.
Says Bolgov, he came up with the idea for a kids’ email application when his son Michael, then 7 years old, asked for his own email account.
“I agreed that everyone today needs an email account, but I wanted a safe email service for Michael which also had a good mobile app and was intuitive and fun to use,” Bolgov tells us. “But after a lot of research, I realized that there was nothing out there that satisfied all of these requirements, so Pavel and I decided to create Tocomail.”
The app itself is easy to use. Parents sign up and create the account for their child or children, in a process that takes about five minutes to complete. At this time, they also configure a list of “safe contacts” who their kids are allowed to email with – people like grandma or grandpa, for example, plus other family members or close family friends.
Once set up, kids can both send and receive emails on Tocomail using iOS, Android (soon) or the web. Since the idea is to offer a service that’s not just safe for kids, but one that’s appealing as well, Tocomail includes fun tools like a drawing board, custom avatar creation, a picture timeline and more. The app is also colorful in its design, which makes it feel more like something meant for kids, rather than a boring, professional email client.
In addition to offering parental supervision over who a child can communicate with, Tocomail also offers features that allow parents to keep an eye on the content of the email messages, too. There’s a profanity filter, for example, and a quarantine box where questionable messages will be relocated.
Tocomail is currently free to use, but a more comprehensive set of parental controls are available for $2.99/month or $29.99/year. This includes a supervised general list of contacts, beyond the “Safe” list in the free version. Emails from these contacts go into Quarantine until a parent reviews them. Kids can also email out, but again, parents are able to review, then approve those messages. Quarantined emails can also be routed to a parent’s regular email account for ease-of-access, and they can approve or reject the message from the notification email itself, explains Bolgov.
In a future release, Tocomail will introduce technology that will watch for bullying patterns – something that could be helpful to parents who don’t as closely supervise each and every message or don’t know what exactly to watch for.
During Tocomail’s beta testing period, the company found that kids aged 6 to 9 mostly wrote very short emails, almost like 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 like status updates and a timeline will also be introduced in later versions.
Boston-based Tocomail is backed by $500,000 in seed funding from angels and other private investors. The service competes with others in the space, like Maily or Toymail.