Monday, 26 September 2011

Keep it Simple Stupid!

There's an acronym used in our industry called KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid!). Importantly for the customer, KISS is there to remind us that ultimately a busy human being will be using the product we are creating. This is the ethos at the very heart of the SafeSearchLock project...

There are so many parental control products out there aimed at parents, but all too often they can be overly involved, time demanding and even bafflingly complicated. Just installing or setting up some of them can be a real chore if you're not an expert.

Instead of this we wanted to create a product that was incredibly straightforward and truly effortless; something that could be easily installed and then essentially forgotten about! (whilst it quietly goes about its job in the background). This is exactly how SafeSearchLock works, here's why...

1. Anyone can install SafeSearchLock because our single installation file works with XP, Vista, Windows 7 and 64 bit versions. So no need to find the right installation to suit your computer.

2. Once installed SafeSearchLock just does what it says! Other than choosing a personal password and deciding whether you want it to start automatically, there’s no setting up! Job done!

3. There are no complicated controls, just a small friendly user interface with a couple of simple straightforward options.

4. No need to worry about web browser compatibility, like so many other products. SafeSearchLock works with all top modern web browsers (not just one of two). It will even work with several different web browsers running on one computer. Simple!

5. No need to worry about protecting multiple Windows user accounts. Just tick the "Start with Windows" option and SafeSearchLock will protect every user on your computer.

6. No need to worry about downloading updates to keep it working if a compatible service provider suddenly changes things their end (e.g. Google, YouTube, Bing etc). SafeSearchLock quietly takes care of this for you, as and when needed without bothering anyone.

Put simply, we've done all the hard work so you don’t have to!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Teaching Kids About Web Searching

Personally I think keeping children safe when they go online has a lot to do with trust. Your children need to know that there are bad things on the Internet - things they don't want to see. Hiding this fact from them by relying totally on filtering wont always work. No filters are 100% effective and not all computers they may use have the same levels of protection. SafeSearchLock is an essential first step but sadly not all computers have it (yet). If children do accidentally come across anything they think is inappropriate they need to know they can tell you about it without fear of being yelled at or made to feel like it was their fault. It isn't just a case of you trusting them online, but they need to trust YOU and be able to discuss what they do and see on the Web.

Parental guidance on the Web is essential, especially with younger children. We all know there are some basic rules to adhere to, such as keeping computers in public areas and NOT in children's bedrooms. Remember, some modern games consoles have Web browsers inside too (e.g. Wii, PS3, DSi) so if you let them have online access for gaming they may well be able to browse and search the Web too. You should be able to see what your children are doing online. Sitting the computer in the corner of your living room is no good if you never look at the screen. Kids need to know that you can not only see what they are doing but that you are available to ask for help or advice if they need it. If they aren't confident in being able to use the Web safely then sit with them while they use it. Make it a fun group activity. Similarly, overconfidence where they think they know everything there is to know about the Web can be even more dangerous.

Education on good Web searching is vital for children and adults. If your children know more about the Web than you do then you are always going to have an uphill battle ensuring they are using it properly. Take time to practice, ask other parents or friends for advice, or better still see if there is a local course you can attend to polish up your skills. There is an art to coming up with good search terms to find what you are looking for. Start with very focused search terms or phrases and then broaden your terms if you don't get the results you want. For example, it is no good searching for 'car' if you want to find out about the rear break disks on a 2004 Honda Civic. Try searching for 'rear brake disks 2004 honda civic' first. Then if you don't find what you want, broaden your terms to 'brake disks honda civic'. Everybody learns better by 'doing'. Sit with your children and guide them in the best ways to do searches for the best results. A great activity is to set them fun tasks to find out about things they are interested in. For example, find out who invented Lego, or who wrote 'Little Red Riding Hood'. You might be surprised and learn something yourself.

Ask your children what they have been doing. Even if you have been watching what they do, ask them about what they have found out or learnt. Take an interest in it and perhaps get them to show you how they found these things out for themselves. Kids thrive on praise and want to make you proud by showing you what they can do. A classic three stage teaching technique works great and makes them remember things better -  
  1. tell them what they are going to do,
  2. get them to do it,
  3. tell them what they have done.
Or alternatively turn them into the teacher -
  1. get them to tell you what they are going to do,
  2. get them to do it,
  3. get them to tell you what they have done.
Using the Web doesn't need to be thought of as a lone activity - join in!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

You Get What You Pay For?

Even now I hear people use the phrase, "You get what you pay for". In a lot of markets this holds a lot of truth, but in the realms of software it often does not. Just take a look at free software like Linux and Open Office, and mobile apps and games which only cost a few quid. Okay, there are hidden costs in learning to use software which doesn't come with a printed manual but then a growing number of commercial packages don't either (when was the last time you saw a PC with Windows preinstalled that came with a Windows manual?!). Support is usually very limited from free or cheap software suppliers due to them trying to keep costs down, but often there is good community support, i.e. users helping each other online.

SafeSearchLock took a long time to develop and test, so why did we decide to charge only £2? Ideally we would love to have given it away for free. We feel that it is an important tool for all parents with children who want to use the Internet. Actually, we think it is a VITAL tool for anyone responsible for children using the Web at home, school, in the library etc. Sadly we cannot live on good Karma alone. Many, many man (and woman) hours have been put into its development and actually quite a bit of hard cash too. Website hosting costs money, so does authentication certificates, marketing and customer support. We could have charged £25 for SafeSearchLock and I am sure it would have sold well (especially to those who still think 'you get what you pay for'). We could have charged a monthly or annual subscription fee and again, I am sure it would have sold well. But we wanted to make it accessible and affordable to everyone. Microtransactions and taking small payments for software has proven really successful for systems like Apple's App Store and Google's Android Marketplace. We believe that by charging such a small fee we can cover costs and develop more child safety software, but still allow everyone to benefit from our product. It's cheap enough to sway those sitting on the fence and after all, £2 is less than 1 pint of beer nowadays and surely children's safety is worth more than that?!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Alternatives to SafeSearchLock

As with any new product idea it is always best to look at what alternatives already exist in the market. SafeSearchLock doesn't really have any, after all - it would be a waste of time developing something which already exists! There are several types of product which are related to what SafeSearchLock does, but I will try and explain how we differ.
  1. Web Filtering Software. These are the kinds of packages which block Websites. They either rely on (a)downloading huge blacklists of bad sites, (b)putting all of the sites you browse through a third party server to check (and log and analyse) or (c)make the user create a 'whitelist' of good sites that can be accessed while blacklisting everything else. Depending upon the method used these can slow down Web browsing or require lots of setting up and frequent administration. They don't usually block sites at the search stage but rather after the user has clicked to access them. We saw this as a flaw, especially when it comes to image and video searching where unsavoury images or descriptions can be seen in search engines even before visiting a bad site. In addition, why should we (or you the user) have to update and administer a potentially huge list of sites when companies like Google and Bing with their massive resources have already done this for us? SafeSearchLock stops sites at the search stage so in most cases the user doesn't even become aware that the sites exist. SafeSearchLock has the technology inside to block sites using blacklists but we chose to keep it small, fast and specialised in one job, i.e. to make searching safe.
  2. Special Child Friendly Search Engines. The vast majority of these seem to be simply a front end to Google. They set the safesearch mode to strict and don't give the user the option of turning it off. Simple. Sadly this relies on the user never visiting any other search engine or going directly to Google. That is just not going to happen, especially when kids become aware of other search engines at school, from TV or from friends. SafeSearchLock works with all the leading search engines and other sites children like to visit.
  3. Special Child Safe Browsers. These can limit the search engines (or sites) available to the user. Unfortunately these rely on the user not switching to an alternative browser. For a start, almost every Windows OS comes with Internet Explorer preinstalled so that isn't going to be hard for kids to find and use. It is also not hard to find and download alternative browsers such as Firefox, Chrome or Safari. You may already have these installed on your computer. Another problem comes when children get a little older and should really be learning how to use the same software they use at school, at the library, at friends houses etc. and will go on to use at college or in the workplace. If they aren't familiar with using a proper full Web browser because the one they are forced to use at home works differently, they are instantly at a disadvantage. SafeSearchLock works with all the leading browsers so you don't have to make your children use something different to you.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Stealth Monitoring vs Education

Many 'child-safety' applications (web filters, monitoring tools etc.) use 'stealth' techniques to hide their presence. The reason they give for this is because they consider it the parents choice to let their children know if they are being monitored or not. I do not agree with this type of covert action.

Personally I believe that children (just like anyone else) should be made aware if their activity is being monitored or filtered. If you feel that your children cannot be trusted to use the Internet wisely then perhaps they should not be allowed to use it unsupervised. It is not just a matter of trust but education too. Children should be taught safe Web use and by having a visible symbol showing that their activity is being monitored they may think twice about their actions and learn why filtering is taking place. If you filter their browsing but don't tell them why then they will expect to sit down at any computer and have the same kind of invisible protection. This false sense of security is dangerous.

This is why SafeSearchLock has the visible icon in the corner and we urge parents to tell their children why it is there and how it is helping to protect them, rather than let them think it's because you don't trust them.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

First Past the Post

Welcome to the SafeSearchLock Developers Blog!
This is the first post just to introduce the blog and explain why it is here. This site is really for those interested in what happens behind the scenes with SafeSearchLock. It will contain some technical information on changes and also some of the reasoning behind why we have made the software work the way it does. The vast majority of users will probably not be interested in the contents here and should go directly to the main SafeSearchLock Web site located here:

This blog will also contain some of our personal views regarding the Web and especially online use by children. Even though we are the developers behind SafeSearchLock, our views should not be seen as officially endorsed by SafeSearchLock. You may disagree with some of our observations and opinions but hopefully you will find some of the information provided here useful, or at the very least interesting.

Feel free to comment on any posts which allow comments, but obviously keep it legal, decent, honest and truthful. We reserve the right to remove posts and comments which we feel are not in other visitors interest. We have a strict 'no spam' and 'no advertising' policy so please... just don't.