An Israeli father came up with the idea for Nipagesh/NetoKids, a social network for children where teachers and parents retain control.
By Avigayil Kadesh Facebook is officially off limits to kids under the age of 13, but that doesn’t stop preteens across the world from lying about their age to join the social-media site. Itay Eshet’s 10-year-old daughter wanted to be one of those kids. Instead of allowing her to lie or wait for Facebook to launch a special interface for children that is reportedly in the works, Eshet created a safe social network, Nipagesh (Let’s Meet), based in Israeli schools. Outside of Israel, the service is to be offered as NetoKids. “Since at that age kids’ lives are centered on school, we decided to give them a platform that will enable them to connect with other kids with similar interests, share ideas and chats, and connect to school as well,” Eshet explains. About 150 Israeli schools have registered to use the program for free, with the cooperation of the Ministry of Education. The ministry was eager for a solution to help kids learn online etiquette. “Fights that begin online often end up in the schoolyard, so we give [educators] a place where they can control it and be part of it,” says Eshet. This synergy with schools is what distinguishes Nipagesh/NetoKids from a handful of other children’s social media networks including ScuttlePad, and, Eshet hopes, will make it more successful than those that have come and gone over the past few years despite lots of media hype, such as Disney-purchased Togetherville. Both parents and teachers can access Nipagesh, though they cannot read their kids’ personal messages to other kids. If an adult or child is uncomfortable with anything posted, they can click the “I’m bothered” button to alert system administrators. Eshet says research showed that children under 13 feel comfortable having trusted grownups supervising their online activities. Parents of children using Nipagesh/NetoKids receive alerts when their children post comments and photos, and know with whom their child is chatting. Connecting kids across continents Though many schools in Israel and elsewhere have intranet sites on which teachers can post assignments and announcements, Nipagesh/NetoKids is unique in that it also lets teachers begin and moderate online group discussions and cooperate in educational projects with other schools using the network. But primarily it’s a way for kids to get talking with one another across Israel — and across continents — without the dangers common to Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter, which all have minimum age limits. “We hope to connect Jewish kids from around the world on a daily basis thorough Itay’s network,” says Moty Kanias, director of the Jewish Agency’s School Twinning Network. Three Israeli and three South American Jewish schools participated in a Nipagesh pilot program in 2014, funded by the Jewish Agency, the L.A. Pincus Fund for Jewish Education in the Diaspora and Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv. The project is expanding to encompass 10 schools in Israel and 10 in South America. “We chose Nipagesh after researching all the possibilities,” says Kanias. “It has the signature of the Education Ministry, and it really serves our needs. The next phase will be connecting US schools to South America and to Israel – a sort of triangle. And we are working with Itay to add more languages.” Eshet plans to offer NetoKids internationally via a subscription-based business model, probably beginning in Europe. Meanwhile, he ran a Headstart crowd-funding campaign seeking to raise NIS 75,000 to keep the service free in Israel. “We are doing something unique; our business model is not based on advertising. So we ask parents to support us if they think what we are doing is for a good purpose,” he says.