Safer toys

Several months ago, I wrote about the horror I experienced reading about Magnetix toys in the Chicago Tribune. These toys – dozens of which were in our house at the time – had killed a young boy and injured many others. What was worse, the manufacturer and the government were both made aware of the hazards in the toys well ahead of the death. I decided that there had to be something that we – concerned parents – could do to remedy the under-staffed government agency tasked with managing toy recalls. My summary:

Give thousands of parents the tools to easily identify harmful products, leverage the community’s ability to provide visibility to legitimate threats while minimizing less serious risks, and quickly disseminate information that could be instrumental in avoiding a serious accident.

I reached out to friends – Asha, Matt, Evan, Raanan, Ross, Dermot, Sean, Ray, and Dan and Genevieve from – to invite their input to flesh the idea out. Ross graciously contributed a Socialtext workspace so we could brainstorm a bit on what this site should do, how it should function.

Then Google bought FeedBurner, I found out I was moving, and now we’re a couple weeks away from September. Sheesh.

Somewhere in there, I installed Pligg on the domain I registered for this project – I’ve had no time to tweak it beyond the initial setup, so it is unfortunately not that user-friendly to the tech novice. But in light of recent news – the Thomas the Train recall, this week’s Mattel recall, the Chinese company’s CEO’s suicide – I decided that if this idea is at all likely to have an impact, it’s better to get an unfinished site up and invite feedback than it is to sit on it while I wait for more time. (Time which I think I may get sometime around 2011.)

With that, I present SaferToys is running on Pligg, an open-source Digg clone. Users can submit stories (links, original commentary, etc.), or they can simply visit “upcoming news” and look at what others have submitted. Any stories that a user feels are worthy of increased attention, that user should vote for the story. The more votes a story gets, the more visibility it gets. (By contrast, the more people who ‘Bury’ a story, the less likely that story is to be seen.)

A note on upcoming news: to seed the site, I have Pligg monitoring a number of different sources for stories. Google Blogsearch, Google News, and are all feeding with stories that may be of interest. You’ll see stories submitted by “STANbot”, where STAN = SaferToys Automated News. Seemed cute at the time, now, not so much. Whatever.

This is very much a work in progress, and I would love to see a few people with more time than me chip in some of their time and energy to help get this site ready for primetime. Specifically, the site will need some explanations/FAQs – what is it, how do you use it, etc. A more user-friendly theme would be a big help – if this is successful, it’ll be used by people who have no idea what Digg is (nor should they). Finally, I’d like to use Pligg’s tags more effectively – right now, those are a bit more rigid than I’d like. (Ideally, tags would become a useful way to navigate the site if someone came looking for info on a specific toy.)

Thanks to everyone who contributed ideas up to this point. I’d hoped to be a bit more deliberate in guiding this to a more formal unveiling, but circumstances got in the way. I’d love to hear what you think, and hope that you find SaferToys a useful resource.