Going to Battle with E-Slime

By Jay Bailey
Director of Product Management,
Gurunet Corporation

Even if you did live in a cave, you’d have heard by now how scary the internet is for kids.

At last count, there were approximately 37 trillion articles on the web frantically warning you about the dangers lurking out there in cyberspace. You’ve seen the image: Sweaty-palmed, beady-eyed guys named Ralph, malevolent purveyors of e-slime, working day and night to steal your children’s money, time, and their fragile innocence. It’s almost enough to make you snip the wires, isn’t it? (Though before our eyes, wireless connections make that impossible too. Sorry.)

I’m not going to try to diminish the validity of these warnings. But let’s agree that it’s a problem that we need to put in perspective.  E-slime is the heavy price of progress – the side effect of a revolution in the sharing of broad knowledge, with benefits we couldn’t have imagined when we were kids. Our children mock our tales of long walks to the library to get heavy books down off of shelves that were too high for us to reach. We shoved coins into the slots, photocopying page after page. We highlighted and summarized and eventually found the information that we needed to write or type that report about King Tut (double spaced on lined paper). But there was an upside; the books were reliable and trustworthy. (And we had our own communication tools, too. I knew with a fair amount of certainty that up in my tree-house, I was not going to get a nasty pop-up ad on the string that connected my tin can to my cousin Jeff’s. Nobody ever managed to Spam me, either).

The Internet is a classic example of accepting the un-good along with the good. Cars save time but belch smog; tossed batteries, plastic bags and solvents pollute groundwater; and a delicious, four-course family dinner leaves you with a sink full of pots, pans and dishes. So let’s take a deep breath, mourn this tainted blessing of modernity, and deal with it.

The question is, of course, just what we’re going to do. I’ve got a couple of infallible approaches, but canceling your internet connection in search of the worry-free security of 1982 has certain disadvantages. So does sending the kids to finish elementary school in Minsk. Let’s look at some other options you can use to manage the problem.

Web browser “nannies” are useful, and absolutely worth installing. They are, however, never absolutely effective; ol’ Ralph is working hard every day, sweating away at the palms, to get around them. And he succeeds way too often by creating content they aren’t trained to look for.

  • Keeping the family computer in a shared, public room instead of your child’s bedroom is an excellent idea – when you’re home. Even when you are, it’s no fun to play “screen-cop”.

  • Pop-up killers and ad-ware removers are pretty much standard, taking care of one method used to present inappropriate content. There are plenty of free products out there, all worth experimenting with.

So with all these level of protection in place, are you ready to send your children pedaling along the shoulder of the information superhighway with their training wheels on? Not quite.

A more pro-active, hands-on approach is simply to guide your children to sources of information that they need and that you trust. Here’s my very favorite solution: Create a special folder in your browser’s bookmarks menu – just for them and packed with great links – to instantly form a safe, useful environment. Periodically find new sites to add, and visit them together. Whether it’s a child-friendly game site, informational portal, or a kids-oriented news site, it’s in your power to introduce them to Polite Polly, rather than having them discover Nasty Nadine.

On-line dictionaries and encyclopedias should, of course, be a core component of such a selection. This will assure that a report on tree frogs will be based on reliable, respected resources, rather than the “help” of a search engine linking to the opinions of Doug the Dissector, who maintains his “colorful website” from his parents’ basement.  The tree frogs don’t like Doug very much and neither will your kids.

Here is the approach that GuruNet has taken, one eagerly adopted by teachers and parents across the country. We’re proud of the progress we’ve made for children whose on-line fact-finding time is now so much more valuable – and safe.

Whether they need to do extensive research for a school project or they’re just stuck on a word or phrase on their screen, GuruNet empowers  children with 1-Click software (for PC or Mac) allowing them to click on the word or phrase and get a quick and reliable definition or explanation. 

GuruNet has incorporated over 170 content sources on everything from Literature to Health, Tech Terms to History, Biographies to Sign Language. We’ve compiled clear, useful snapshot-based answers on over 700,000 topics that don’t require your child to chase links all over the web. The Guru’s steady hand guides students from topic to topic, helping provide answers, as they need them, safely.

To see this working for yourself, try it for free at here.  In the meantime, here’s a quick example:

Your 10-year-old is reading an article with the following sentence: “In their salad days, these young college athletes made plenty of trouble for the sports reporters.”  Salad days? You can bet that he’s not going to pull the dictionary down from the shelf to clarify meaning of that phrase – would you? He’ll simply assume that there were flying tomatoes or perhaps too much Thousand Island involved. With GuruNet, he clicks right there on the word, and gets instant facts about phrases, names, places, acronyms, and many more types of queries.  The best part is that once he finds out that this phrase is referring to a time of youth, originally drawn from a quote from Shakespeare, he simply clicks back on the article he was reading and GuruNet site quietly in the background until needed again. 

Like many technology problems, the ubiquitousness of e-slime can be fought with a host of solutions. While most involve installing or configuring various barriers, GuruNet takes another approach; we offer you an effective footpath to knowledge. Like a good National Park, our paths that are clean, watched, well marked, and most importantly – they lead you to the answer, not to Ralph or Doug who lurk in the underbrush.