== Joe Carrano ==
archivist + historian

A short look @ Kids dot US, a failed public/private web experiment [for kids]

web history web archives

A little while ago I went down a Wikipedia rabbit hole and ended up at the the Wikipedia article for the .us domain. I was particularly intrigued by the section for Kids.us. Have you heard of it? I know I had no idea what it was.

As the Wikipedia article states, it was a subdomain of the .us domain made specifically for kids and created by U.S. law! Through an act of Congress in 2002, lawmakers created the subdomain to be used by content providers to create kid-centric websites. It never really took off and by the end there were only 6 active websites left on the subdomain: Nick, NickJr, PBSkids, Smithsonian, and two identical sites selling trampolines.1 2

This peaked my interest. What were these websites like? Was there any more information out there? Why did the U.S. government ever think this was a good idea?

Birthing a subdomain

In the early 2000s, just as today, politicians were concerned about kids on the internet. Especially how sites were using common word web domains to host pornography, which many people, including children, would stumble upon accidentally. A bipartisan group of lawmakers felt the solution would be to create a domain where there would only be appropriate content for children, which many of them described akin to the “children’s section of a library” but of course probably never spoke to a children’s librarian.3

The original idea was to create a new TLD (top-level domain) called dot kids (.kids) but there was some controversy over the US throwing its weight around to impose US law to a domain that would be used internationally and also the bill’s sponsors felt it would take ICANN forever to actually deliberate on whether they would agree to create this for them. In light of this, the focus switched to an area more under US control, the .us domain.4

So as mentioned above, they created an act (the Dot Kids Implementation and Efficiency Act of 2002) and the kids dot us subdomain (.kids.us) was born. The law tasked the company under contract with NTIA to administer the .us domain at the time, Neustar, to manage the subdomain and the content moderation of the sites that registered.5

We have rules

Neustar started up the service and got a decent amount of registrants but not a lot of #content. It was pretty strict what could go on the site - no external hyperlinks (a walled garden), no “two-way and multi-user interactive services” (email, chat, etc.), nothing that would break existing laws, plus no: mature content, pornography, inappropriate language, violence, hate speech, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, ambling, weapons, and criminal activity. In order finance the administration of these rules, each registration came with a hefty price tag plus a “content approval fee”, which in turn probably stifled demand combined with the already stringent content rules.6 7

We’re the kids of the dot US (woah)

At its peak, Kids dot US only had about 24 active websites, a far cry from what the crafters of the act that established it envisioned. The main kids.us site indexed these pages on the homepage. Most just consisted of Flash games which included hyperlinks, i.e. violated the rules, directing users to the download the required software (safest software out there at the time!). There also seemed to be a bunch of sites that had links to outside sites but they weren’t hyperlinked, so really any kid who learned copy/paste would be well on their way to the big bad internet.8 2

Below are a selection of the mundane to strange screenshots I saw when browsing the archived website.

screenshot of early kids.us homepage
original kids.us index page

screenshot of pbskids.kids.us
clearly part of the conspiracy

screenshot of AmericasLibrary.kids.us
everyone knows what America's library is

screenshot of minnesosta.kids.us
they do stuff

screenshot of noaa.kids.us
Owlie Skywarn is actually pretty cool

screenshot of noaa.kids.us
lightning is dangerous, but also fun!

screenshot of summum.kids.us
mummification, for kids!

screenshot of ‘summum.kids.us/mummybear’
did I mention the mummy people had a mummy bear mascot?

screenshot of stnicholas.kids.us
Santa truthers were there too

You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here

screenshot of knex.kids.us
please set it aside, and do not use it

Kids dot US shutdown officially in 2012 and an education advisory group set to the task of evaluating whether it was worth it to keep it going in some way. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t. 2

The limited scope of the subdomain makes it an ideal use case if someone wanted to do research on what went on there from a number of perspectives. It could be something similar to the study of another short lived domain, Yugoslavia (.yu), or something different entirely! Take a look at the archived 2005 site of the index (around the time with the peak number if sites) either in Wayback or Oldweb.today (for flash!) and enjoy the ride.