Yahoo Kids died a quiet death two years ago, but to BJ Heinley (who worked on the product from 1996 to 2000) the shutdown was a “travesty,” depriving kids and parents of a valuable place to find fun, safe content.
He’s aiming to fill that hole with a new search engine called Thinga.
Heinley’s been building Thinga for the past year under the umbrella of The Bear James Company, his startup for “child and family-oriented projects.” It’s not the first kid-focused search engine out there (others include GoGooligans and KidRex), but the idea is to create a site that appeals to contemporary kids.
Heinley described Thinga as “a walled garden.” Like any search engine, kids can type in the terms that they’re interested in, but all the Thinga results come from the company’s content library, without ads, either hand-selected by Heinley’s team or pulled from whitelisted, kid-friendly sites. It’s not a complete walled garden though — the internal results are followed by search results from DuckDuckGo. (Update: Some users spotted some inappropriate results sneaking in this way, but Heinley said that was because a database of blacklisted words hadn’t been properly sync’d. The issue should be resolved now.)
Or users can just browse the latest Thinga content without searching at all — the homepage offers selections divided into areas like Video, Cool and Animals. And it’s all COPPA-compliant.
Broadly speaking, Heinley said that Thinga is designed for kids in elementary school. Parents can also adjust the controls on their own. The site works on mobile, too, and there are also plans to build a native app.
As for making money, Thinga is focused on a freemium model — the site is free, but Heinley will be launching a related, subscription kids’ magazine called Boom. The site’s also selling T-shirts, posters and more through the Thinga store.
And even though there are concerns around advertising to kids, that doesn’t mean outside brands will be shut out entirely. Heinley said he’s exploring options like a private ad network, and Thinga has already collaborated with the Cirque du Soleil show Kooza on a promotion combining a kid reporter interview and ticket giveaway. (Kid reporters are the best.)