IOBR - Social Networking for Toddlers
2011-01-20 0:00

By Siddharth Basrur |

When you’re in the habit of being logged into Facebook or Twitter 24/7, you’d expect no less from your kids, right? And I’m not talking about your pre-adolescent son on your teenage daughter, but your toddlers. Yes, you heard that right! Two Finnish designers have come up with a social networking tool for kids called IOBR.

IOBR is a device that toddlers can use to tell others what they are doing. It has no reading or writing involved (duh), just what toddlers usually pick up when they’re growing. The IOBR has a set of different shaped blocks with an icon on each of them. For example, an eating block has the image of a fork on it, or a sleeping block will have the image of a bed with a horizontal figure on it. So if the toddler is taking a nap, all he or she has to do is place a triangle shaped block in its respective hole. The other toddler who has the IOBR will be notified immediately, as the block will light up on their device.

The IOBR was built from an existing toy, the Brio Shape sorting box, and the status updates are triggered using magnets in the blocks. Apparently, the two designers say that this device has been a huge hit with their children, especially the girls.

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Sign of the Times: Toy Blocks That Teach Toddlers Social Networking
By John Pavlus |

Finnish designers give the short set a way to update their status besides whining and screaming.

Crying, yowling, whimpering: Evolution has already equipped infants and toddlers with myriad ways of communicating "status updates" to their parents. But let’s face it -- they’re pretty ambiguous. So two Finnish designers decided to expand kids’ repertoire into the digital age by creating the IOBR: a classic block-sorting toy that also functions a bit like Twitter. So even if they can’t yet read or type with their cubby little fingers, toddlers armed with these things can trumpet their current doings to parents and friends.

Sound like a harbinger of the apocalypse? Actually, it’s clever and cute: pre-verbal tykes grab colorful blocks with icons for sleeping, eating, or brushing their teeth, fit them into slots to indicate what they’re up to -- that is, what their parents are trying to get them to do -- and the IOBR then transmits the "status update" using a web service called Iobridge, which lights up the corresponding block-shape on an IOBR in another household.

The designers focused their efforts on simple morning and evening activities that bookend kids’ days (and are parents’ "toughest moments"). They claim the IOBR "can be used as a small game to motivate children to be more swift in their activities: ’Let’s see if you are in bed before your friend.’"

They built the IOBR prototype out of an existing toy, the Brio Shape sorting box, to avoid introducing more clutter to the household. Magnets in the blocks activate sensors in the IOBR box that trigger the "status update."

So far, the two designers say that the IOBR is a big hit in their respective families -- especially among the girls. But does it portend future texting addictions? Only time will tell.

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