The Web is fast replacing the TV as the favorite pastime for kids. But the Internet can expose children to much that's inappropriate and even dangerous, so new services are sprouting up that offer a safer online playground. Most charge by the month or year, and all offer free trials so parents—and their kids—can get a good taste before buying.
KidZui ($10 monthly, $100 annually): The downloaded browser offers a safe playpen for your kids, with a team of parents and educators who scan sites, photos, and videos that seem safe for children. The list changes depending on a child's age, with a rich variety that editors have also organized into more than 8,000 categories—such as dinosaurs, space, and sports. Kids rate the content and can share favorites with friends who use the service, but there is no E-mail or instant messaging. Parents can add pages not yet included, or children can ask the KidZui editors to add them.
NoodleNet ($5 monthly, $40 annually): Not as polished or as extensive as KidZui, but an effective safety net for children surfing the Net. The site includes preselected sites, as well as access to child-safe search engines, such as Yahoo!Kids and Askkids. Even then, the downloaded browser restricts access to pages or subpages vetted by its team of professional editors. As with KidZui, parents can bar their kids from quitting to get to the PC itself. The browser disables many system keystrokes, such as rebooting with Ctrl-Alt-Del. That not only protects children from the PC but the PC from children.
Shrek Browser ($7 one-time fee, plus $5 monthly or $50 annually for premium service): DreamWorks' iconic ogre serves as a guide to the browser, which offers access to a limited selection of kid-safe sites. The browser's "movies" tab amounts to little but promos for DreamWorks' animated flicks. The browser offers other useful functions, such as disabling other Internet software. But the service repeatedly pushes its premium "TUKI Club" that adds a bank account for fake bucks earned playing educational games. Kids can spend the moola at auctions for books, art kits, and, well, games for video consoles.
kidthing (free to download, $1 to $8 for books and activities): Not a browser for the traditional Web, but attractive, customized media software for buying, playing, and customizing content from the kidthing store. The selection so far is limited, but kidthing has deals with a number of publishers, including Dr. Seuss Enterprises, whose Horton Hears a Who is available for downloading. Others are coming from Penguin Young Readers, which publishes The Little Engine That Could and Corduroy. The media can be enjoyed off line, while the service also promises online sharing and socializing functions.