We may all have different opinions on whether kids should be on social media (or not), but the fact of the matter is that two-thirds of children aged 7-9 in Singapore use smartphones and are active on social media on a daily basis. According to a 2021 survey by online market research firm Milieu Insight, more than 40 percent of them have their own Facebook account, while a quarter are on Instagram.
The question remains how to create a safe environment for children to interact through social media, which poses a variety of risks, including exposure to inappropriate content and malicious strangers.
That’s why Singapore-based startup myFirst launched myFirst Circle, calling it the first social community app for kids. Announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2023 on January 6, the platform includes features that provide children with a safe environment in which to experience the benefits of social connectivity.
The app allows kids to create posts and share photos with their circle of friends without parents having to approve each post. At the same time, parents can monitor their child’s activities and change them immediately if they deem it inappropriate, balancing security with the freedom to socialize with friends.
“We started myFirst Circle because there is currently no platform that allows children to have authentic social engagements in a safe and controlled environment. Children can keep in touch with real friends even after they have gone to other schools and keep their childhood friendships alive. With myFirst Circle, we want to let kids explore the world of social media while making sure we’re with them on their journey,” said G-Jay Yong, founder and CEO of myFirst, in a press release.
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The myFirst Circle app is now available for Apple and Android devices and is also accessible via the myFirst Fone device.
To use the platform, children under the age of 13 need an account from their parents. Parents are also required to whitelist and approve the friend requests received from their children before they are added to the children’s social circle. Once the friend request is accepted, parents can divide the connections into four categories: family, besties, friends, and acquaintances. These groups form an expanding circle that defines the types of posts a person can see.
Each child is also assigned to a nuclear family, also known as the family bubble in the myFirst Circle app. This bubble typically consists of parents and their immediate children.
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Research has also shown that lower social media affirmation, as reflected in the number of likes, can negatively impact users’ self-esteem, especially among teenagers.
In addition to providing security by restricting who can access their posts, myFirst also seeks to prevent this by replacing the “Like” system with a “ShoutOut”. So instead of getting a simple like on posts, users are encouraged to send 16-character text messages, eight-second voice text, or emoji reactions to create a more meaningful connection.
Building for the kids
In an email interview with e27, myFirst describes the process they had to go through to develop the products. First, it starts with identifying the underlying problem based on the team member’s personal experience as a parent of young children.
“We all live in a digital social world, but all social platforms are designed for teenagers and adults. So what about younger ones? Our children? Unfortunately, they are exposed to a lot of inappropriate content and dangers on normal social platforms.
So, as a team of parents, we are working on the digital social world that we want our little ones to grow up in,” they explain.
“Given the common concern that regular social media isn’t safe or appropriate for kids, we sat down and discussed with kids and parents what features they need to stay connected. We’ve made 25 versions of the app, and it’s always a continuous process of iteration and improvement. We’ve kept redesigning it to meet all of their needs, as well as features that both kids and parents want to have.”
The company sees the need to reconcile the needs and desires of its two customer groups, namely children and parents. Parents want to keep an eye on their children and ensure their safety and well-being; Children want to have fun.
“We can’t please either side 100 percent because if we do, the other side won’t use it. We can satisfy both sides 70 to 80 percent, that’s enough as a balance. Children can continue to enjoy themselves and parents can continue to keep an eye on their children. The app is cloud-based, so myFirst Circle works for every user on multiple devices. This means that a child can use myFirst Circle on their myFirst Fone (child’s handheld smartphone) or their iOS or Android smartphone or tablet,” the company continues.
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According to the company, users of the myFirst ecosystem are mostly between three and twelve years old, and the myFirst Circle app is between five and twelve years old. When a child becomes a user of the platform, an average of three other people are also onboarded as users – as parents or other family members still need to help set it up.
“When building a network, the usual challenge is the cold start problem. Our kids’ tech ecosystem overcomes this problem because the atomic network, which persists as other atomic networks form, is the nuclear family for immediate communication needs (mom, dad, siblings, and grandparents of the child) of messaging, voice, video calling, and geolocation . Practical use from the need to stay connected,” it explains.
“Eventually these atomic networks will overlap. Kids with the smartwatch will pair up with other kids, and the more kids that pair up, the more those families will. It could also be the adults connecting their family network to other adults and their respective family network, allowing cousins or family friends and any children to stay connected. This will form larger and larger networks and eventually expand into a large socially connected web. The use case and problems our kids tech ecosystem and myFirst Circle solve are very clear to parents, so our focus is on educating that this ecosystem and solution exists.”
myFirst was founded by Yong in 2017 and has been busy launching its products for the last few months. At CES 2023, the company introduced its latest wearable smartphones for kids, the world’s first childproof earbuds (myFirst Carebuds) and myFirst Circle.
“Our big goal for 2023 is to grow the myFirst Circle community in Singapore and allow children in other markets where myFirst has a presence, such as the US and the rest of Asia, to experience all the benefits that come from this to stay connected without ads. no strangers, just real connections,” the company emphasizes.
“There is an underserved global market that simply doesn’t have a good solution today. We want to help shape the digital world in which our offspring will grow up.”
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Photo credit: myFirst
The post How myFirst aims to provide children with a safer social media experience first appeared on e27.