TalkAboutIt.orgWhen I was 17, I was diagnosed with epilepsy. The good news is my epilepsy is controlled by medicine (unlike some people who suffer from this disorder). The bad news is I have epilepsy- a random, rare version caused by sleep deprivation and extended periods of reading.

When I was 17, there were no online resources to go to find out more information. In the early-mid-90’s, there was barely an “online” at all. Your lucky friend may have had AOL, but you were not likely to use it to research seizure disorders. Instead, you were probably on it to find out when your favorite band was at the Tweeter Center. Thankfully, today we have websites like TalkAbout It.org.

TalkAboutIt.org is a website and 501(c)3 charity created by actor Greg Grunberg - known for his role on Heroes. The goal of the website and the Talk About It organization is to “end the misperceptions and misunderstanding about epilepsy and seizure disorders.”  Greg was inspired to create this website after his eldest son was diagnosed with epilepsy and he wanted to help end the stigma around epilepsy while working to find a cure.

The website works as virtual subway with a map directing you to train stops for non-epileptics and epileptics alike, with the ultimate goal of getting people to talk about the condition. Each stop features an introduction by Greg’s celebrity friends like Kristen Bell, Jennifer Garner, John Mayer, Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine,  usually followed by a video of Greg interviewing doctors or actual people living with epilepsy. In the videos, Greg broaches topics like dating, bullying, employment, telling your friends & family –  things people may not be comfortable talking about with their Doctor.

And if you are worried you or your children are getting medical advice from celebrities, don’t fear. Their bits were scripted and expert advice was provided by the Epilepsy Foundation, the “national voluntary health organization dedicated to helping the over three million Americans with epilepsy.”

Talk About It.org also collects donations to raise money for epilepsy and has an active social network tied into the site.

Talk About It Behind-The-Scenes

Greg Grunberg directs Chris Pine (“Star Trek”) on the set of TalkAboutIt.org

With Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign putting the spotlight on childhood obesity, it is more relevant than ever to find content for kids that encourages healthy eating, but does so without preaching. That’s where the original interactive web property Fizzy’s Lunch Lab from PBS KIDS GO! fits in.

Visiting Fizzy’s Lunch Lab (PBSKIDSGO.org/lunchlab) allows for a chance to find animated and live-action webisodes, kid-friendly printable recipes, original music, flash games and suggestions for outdoor game concepts. All content is built around the idea of guiding children towards make healthy food selections without forcing or lecturing.

Of course, the heart of Fizzy’s Lunch Lab is the original characters and their unique design. Created by Boston creative group CloudKid, Fizzy’s Lunch Lab stars Professor Fizzy, the absent-minded and humorous host who is always there to educate about nutrition, cooking and good health. Fizzy is joined by a cast of animated personalities that includes his culinary sidekick Mixie-Bot, the official guide to human body, Sully the Cell, the kitchen drill sergeant Corporal Cup and nemesis to all things healthy, Fast Food Freddy. Fizzy’s absent-mindedness, and Freddy’s trouble-making, lead to various misadventures, while human characters like Avril and Henry explore fun facts around healthy food.

Fizzy and the Gang
Fizzy and the Gang

As a parent, you will definitely appreciate the humor and look of this series. It is certainly not preachy and the artwork has a distinctive, edgy sense that takes away any sort of pandering. Humor is the core of this series, which will help the message resonate with the little ones. You can also feel secure knowing CloudKid worked with education advisors Dr. Craig Sussman and Dr. Sharon Shield in building out all content. Make sure you try out some of the delicious recipes, too, developed by veteran cookbook writer Sally Sampson. Finally, there is also a guide for parents and teachers with additional resources and activities to push kids along further in choosing healthy food items.

With season 2 kicking off last week, Fizzy’s Lunch Lab co-creator Dave Schlafman was kind enough to let me throw a few questions at him regarding this original web property. If his name sounds familiar, he is the same creative mastermind behind the Monster Squad illustrations.

Nugget Island: Can you give me a quick idea about the origins of Fizzy? How did this property come to be?

Dave Schlafman: In 2007, Co-creator Evan Sussman and I were working at Soup2Nuts animation studio in Boston. He and I had just co-directed a series of shorts for Between the Lions and we realized that we worked well together. One morning before work, I mentioned to him that I had always been underwhelmed by children’s cook books, and that I wanted to create a cooking show for kids. He told me that his dad (Dr. Craig Sussman) had been trying to work on a live-action nutrition project, but hadn’t made much progress. We saw the need for both ideas, and decided to combine our efforts. Later that week, we met at JP Licks in Boston and created 90% of the characters in one sitting. It’s funny to think about how quickly it all came together. We were offered a development deal from WGBH Boston and ultimately passed to produce a pilot on our own. That pilot ultimately fell into the hands of Linda Simensky at PBS and the rest is history.

FAST FOOD FREDDY
“Bad Guy” Fast Food Freddy

N.I.: What was your creative inspiration for Fizzy and the gang?

D.S.: Evan and I both loved Pee-Wee’s Playhouse as kids, so I would say that format definitely influenced us. Fizzy was first an older man, but we decided to make him a younger, more current host who was both a little geeky and fun at the same time. Overall, we wanted to populate the show with lots of characters (similar to the Muppets) who each had a unique personality and offered something unique to the topic of nutrition and good eats.

N.I.: Did PBS give you any creative direction?

D.S.: PBS has been an amazing organization to work with. We’ve been fortunate to work directly with PBS National, and they have a lot of confidence in their creators and producers. They didn’t have too many changes during development. The main alteration that they suggested was to revamp the personality and design of Mixie-Bot, Fizzy’s sidekick. It was a great suggestion that made her character, design, and purpose more solid. PBS is fairly hands-off, but they review all our content and offer feedback throughout production, which 99% of the time is spot-on.

N.I.: What are the main advantages and disadvantages of working on a web property?

D.S.: The main advantages are that you can take creative risks and you can measure what content is getting the most “clicks.” We’ve been able to experiment with everything from music videos, to printables, to recipe offerings, to interactive games. It enables us to think about the characters and property in a more well-rounded way. It enables the characters to be able to live in a series of different content while staying true to their roles and personalities. If the Lunch Lab is able to grow, it’ll enable us to make the leap to other mediums a lot easier.

Also, being able to measure our audience’s habits has helped us determine what type of content we wanted to focus on for season 2. After season 1, we looked at the site’s stats and determined that the webisodes, music videos, and interactive games were the most popular. We took that information and focused on that particular content. We also decided to sprinkle in some new types of content to “test” for season 2. This is much harder to do on a traditional TV show.

The main disadvantages of working on a web property are twofold: budget and distribution. Budgets are always shrinking, so it’s something every producer is struggling with – especially because websites and games are costly to produce. Working on the web, you’re we’re forced to be really creative with the type of content you release. It’s been interesting (and fun) to see how far we can stretch our budgets and content. No one has really figured out how to monetize web content, so it’s something that web producers will need to deal with for the foreseeable future.

In terms of distribution and marketing, we’re lucky to work with PBS because their web presence is tops in children’s media. But the web is filled with an endless amount of content, video, games, etc. In TV you’re only competing against a handful of other channels (though VOD is changing that), but with a website you have thousands of competitors. That means your content needs to be the very best, so that’s what we try to strive for. If our web content is as good as what you’ll see on TV, kids will be more likely to stick around. So far it’s worked.

N.I.: Obviously childhood obesity is in the spotlight these days because of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. Where do you see Fizzy fitting in there?

D.S.: We’d love to be involved with the “Let’s Move” campaign. Our educational advisor and PhD, Sharon Shields, has been laying the foundation of a possible collaboration with the White House. PBS has also been making some headway, so Evan and I are hopeful that Fizzy will play some role in the coming year. Our fingers are crossed.

N.I.: Any future plans for the ‘Fizzy’ property?

D.S.: The big news for 2011 is that we’re currently producing a series of 30 second spots that will run nationally before and after PBS Kids shows. They’re designed to introduce the ‘Lunch Lab’ cast to the PBS audience and grow the site’s popularity. We also recently released our first iPhone App featuring Corporal Cup and nine original recipes. The app is a cooking-simulation game that’s been getting positive reviews. Finally, we just received the news that Fizzy’s was part of PBS’s “Ready to Learn” grant. We know that we’ll be getting additional funding, but we’re not quite sure what that means. It’s safe to safe Fizzy and company will be around for the foreseeable future, which we’re excited about.

The art of the music video is generally lost on today’s youth. While the occasional video from OK Go or the like may attract some viral attention, today’s teen looks to MTV for reality programming like Jersey Shore or 16 and Pregnant. In general, unlike my generation, today’s millennials are not tuning in to see the world premiere of a video by a breakthrough artist to admire the new special effects, styles or dance moves. MTV has shifted so far away from its original purpose of featuring the work of new and favorite music artists that it recently dropped the “Music Television” caption.

Entrepreneurs Randall Green and Dan Gellert may be in position to change to change this dying art form.

These two gentlemen realized their two preschool-aged girls were absolutely in love with music. However, there was no way these dads were going to allow themselves to listen to irritating kids’ tunes. So, tapping into the growing kindie scene, they decided to launch their own online music video and radio station for kids, jitterbug.tv.

Jitterbug.tv is a one-stop destination for independent children’s musicians to share their music videos and songs, and for parents to introduce quality music to their kids. The sites offers both streaming videos and songs, all congregated in one location to avoid endless YouTube and web radio surfing.

One thing that amazed me when surfing through the videos on this site was the imagination and work put into the music videos. From the candy-colored world of The Jimmies videos, to Gustafer Yellowgold’s original animated pieces to the low budget-and-endearing Recess Monkey shorts, music videos have become an essential part of the kindie scene. As the scene itself grows, and music videos get more viewings, jitterbug may be a key contributor to the rebirth of the format as well as the growing kindie music genre as a whole.

Co-founder Dan Gellert, also a Grammy award winner and music industry veteran, was kind enough to answer a few questions for me. Check out his Nugget Island interview below.

Nugget Island: What has been the general reaction from the artist community?
Dan Gellert: Most artists have been enthusiastic to get involved with jitterbug. Many artists contact us to get posted. I think they know the audience is totally focused on kids’ music, so it’s a good place to show your videos and music. And we are all for promoting great artists.

N.I.: Were you a big music video fan as a youth?
D.G.: I was not a big music video fan actually. I’ve always appreciated a well-crafted song, whether it be a pop production or a loose folky song – if it is well put together, I pay attention. I think a video can enhance a song, especially today when video is integrated in our online life so much. I’ve noticed toddlers love the music videos but given the right context, they really pay attention to songs with no videos also.

N.I.: How have your daughters reacted to this site?
D.G.: My daughter asks for jitterbug by name – and that is the goal, for jitterbug to enter the fabric of toddlers parents’ lives and be the starting place to find fun music and videos.

N.I.: Looking at the music industry, are there any business models that you respect or admire?
D.G.: I think the business model of offering part of a service for free and having a premium service that people pay for is a good model.

N.I.: What advice would you give to a family music artist trying to make a name for themselves in the industry?
D.G.: First, write music that is honest and appeals to parents and kids. Don’t try too hard to make it “kid friendly”; the kids comprehend more than we know. If you are serious about getting into this niche, there are many internet tools to help you market to your audience, distribute your music, gather fans…. a good starting point for the Do It Yourself artist is here: http://www.topspinmedia.com/

N.I.:Where do you see the kindie scene going in the next few years?
D.G.: My crystal ball tells me the Kindie music niche is going to keep growing and more artists will start making a living at it. I think the production quality will become better and more “venues” will pop up to accommodate all those enthusiastic toddlers with parents.

N.I.: Any future plans for jitterbug you are comfortable sharing?
D.G.: Jitterbug is going into phase 2, which will be rolling out more features on the website, more fan engagement and interacting with mobile devices as well as helping more artists promote themselves.

Check out jitterbug now!

When I see a quality kid-centric project coming out of my Boston hometown, it is hard not to call it out. And when it is a project with a philanthropic twist, it demands a post.

Zebrafish is named after the fish used for studying diseases

Generation Cures is an online community and content site created by Children’s Hospital Boston and FableVision with the goal of “teaching and empowering kids to give back” and to “use their powers for good.” A quick visit to the site shows this is no partial effort. Both organizations have created a robust experience that includes games, videos, music, webisodes and real-world challenges. The cartoon webisodes center on a relatable tween garage band called the Zebrafish, who work together to help a sick friend. According to Janet Cady, Children’s Hospital’s Chief Philanthropy Officer, the mission of the fictional band is to show tweens “that they don’t have to be an adult to make a difference, and that their good work can mobilize family and friends to help sick children worldwide.”

The “Zebrafish” concept was also Boston-born, dreamt up by author-illustrator Peter H. Reynolds’ FableVision media company. Reynolds, illustrator of the Little Boy and Judy Moody books, has set up both FableVision Studios, focusing on projects like websites, games, animated films, interactive graphic novels, digital books and iPhone apps, as well as the K-12 educational publishing division, FableVision Learning. A quick visit to this organization’s website makes it clear they are used to creating quality educational output for children.

The true impetus for this post was news that the Boston-born “Zebrafish” property is making its way from the Generation Cures website to the printed form. Children’s Hospital Boston recently sent out a press release announcing Atheneum Books, a Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing imprint, is creating a hardcover middle-grade novel of this property. The book itself, to be written by Sharon Emerson and illustrated by Renée Kurilla, will be in a unique “visual novel” format. More specifically, it teams a traditional prose novel with four color graphic novel panels, making it accessible to manga-happy middle schoolers.

The story of Zebrafish will focus on band members Vita, Walt, Jay and Plinko as they support ailing band member Tanya. Recently diagnosed with leukemia, Tanya and the band must deal with the implications of her illness while planning a fundraiser to purchase research equipment for her hospital. Proceeds of the books will go back to Children’s Hospital Boston.

Read more about the Generation Cures project here or learn more about the transmedia Zebrafish effort here. Also, check out the official book trailer below.

I was recently quite surprised to find out I had some family members and friends who allowed their children to have profiles on Facebook. Checking out the Facebook policy, it is quite clear that this not a social network that wants children under 13 as members. For obvious reasons that can be hashed out on your nightly news show, an open social network may not be the best place for children.

Since Maia is only three, it will be a while before she pops me the “Can I sign up for Facebook?” question. However, for parents dealing with that issue now, a site like FaceChipz.com may be a good solution.

FaceChipz add some color to the endcaps

Described as a “secure social network for kids” or “social networking with training wheels,” FaceChipz integrates most communication and sharing features that make Facebook so popular, but only allows kids to communicate with people they have exchanged a FaceChipz token with. Simply purchase a 5 pack of Facechipz at stores like Toys “R” Us, and then register each colorful, emoticon-decorated token online with a unique code. Once the code has been registered, the “Giver” passes each token to a “Receiver” friend who also registers online and confirms the friendship. The token’s code is then invalid so no stranger can be part of the online network. The site also integrates a basic game mechanic with the tokens where each one has a point value attached to it when registered. As for site registration costs, there is a one-time validation cost of $1, simply to prove parental approval.

The features that are sure to appeal to burgeoning social networkers include customizable profile pages, instant messaging, photo sharing, status updates, mood indicators, a “Secret Message” box, an “About Me” section, “My 11′s” list maker and a personal FaceChipz collection viewer. Upcoming features promised include virtual gifts, games, more profile customizations and new FaceChipz token concepts to collect.

FaceChipz was created by parents of tweens who were more comfortable with the idea of their children participating in a closed, safe social network. So, in true entrepreneurial spirit, they created one. On top of working in accordance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, the site creators have a bulleted list of Safety & Privacy Highlights to make you feel comfortable allowing your children on the site. (Read more about the experienced management team here.)

This company is still in its early stages and the site is in beta phase, but I look forward to seeing it grow so that when I do get that inevitable question, I can go pick up a few brightly colored chips and hand them over. Or, if the company has truly been realized by the time and Maia is interested in interacting online, she will instead be asking me for her first pack of FaceChipz.

FaceChipz code for entering
Tween-friendly profile design