Flying Under the Radar: e-Health Innovators, Digital Darlings

sneakpeek-beta.gifThis week’s Under the Radar conference which tracks early stage innovation announced that our friends at Dizzywood were awarded “Best in Show” of the 32 companies chosen to present at this year’s event, based on “unique value proposition and ability to monetize.” (criteria here)

Scott Arpajian, (interview posting here next week) is co-founder of Dizzywood, as well as a socially responsible business guy, and dad of two adorable preschoolers…so I guess it should be no surprise that he believes, “The next-generation of virtual worlds can inspire kids through imagination and collaborative play.”

In fact, New York Times reporter Michelle Slatalla wrote “Today I Think I’ll Be Hippohead” about her 10-year old exploring Dizzywood, capturing the creative eye of the DW team as an avid feedback fan (unbeknownst to her mom). She flit about like a hummingbird buzzing from bright red flower to flower, guiding her mom ‘in-world’ like a pathfinder.

I’ve linked to a few other ‘family friendly’ under the radar sites at the end of this piece that look worthy, to give folks a ‘sneak peek’ of newcomers on the digital landscape that have launched within the past year.

Another one to watch is the whimsically creative Playnormous, one of the top ten award-winners in the e-Health innovation realm, which Shaping Youth is also VERY intrigued to explore in-depth, especially since it wants to be a ‘full-fledged virtual world when it grows up.’

playnormous1.pngI stumbled on Playnormous when I was sourcing health games in development like the XDreamChallenge by the Zoey’s Room tribe, and branded games like Kaiser Permanente’s Amazing Food Detective)

Playnormous has only been ‘live’ about a month, (blog came onboard in Feb. evidently) but I found ‘em fast and put them in my popcorn brain as a potential strategic ally for health gaming pronto. (even though my inkling is subtle, ’embedded learning’ like Dizzywood has more ‘stickiness’ than edugames/serious games as core content)

dizzywood_prestos_grove.pngFull disclosure, that’s actually why I’m working on testing some e-Health avatar research for Shaping Youth ‘in-world’ at Dizzywood, specifically because it is NOT a ‘health related’ theme or one-focal-point site…

Among other things, DW impresses with its collaborative play and ‘grow a tree online, plant a tree offline’ concept for meaningful messaging. (visual at left of potted plants kids’ grew themselves and plopped in Presto’s Garden)

Anyway, I’m interested in testing ‘best practices’ in a variety of formats and forms, for counter-marketing scalability too, so ping me if you know of others that might be a viable fit for our ongoing work!

monsterdress.gifPlaynormous for example, has a ‘Monsters Inc.’ feel to it with a business licensing model that makes solid sense to me, particularly when it comes to wellness programs and distribution channels for health initiatives. (haven’t tested fun factor yet)

Their white label offering is nothing short of brilliant in terms of customizing an online environment to repurpose digital content, so it’ll be interesting to see where it goes and how fast. (picture a wellness program branded for a large franchise, like the YMCA, or an aftercare facility wellness program; strong partner potential for scalability)

The balance of learning and fun is always tricky though, as this GamaSutra post captures quite well and this ScienceDirect article attests.

Still, lifting the covers a bit further reveals the team behind Playnormous (Archimage) has some serious chops in the world of gaming glitz, so this looks promising…

A quick spin around their screening room shows there’s NIH backstory, NIDDK funding of their “serious games” and interventions that could ‘play well with others,’ so to speak.

escape-from-diab.jpgThe Playnormous sci-fi, kid-vid adventure “Escape from Diab” (get it? Diabetes?) has a slick, theatrical feel to it that’s very Hollywood, and the teaser trailer plays like interstitial entertainment.

It’s already won four international media awards, so it’s clear to me some bucks are finally being placed behind interactives to back industry pros who “put players inside the action” and embrace an over-arching message that “healthy lifestyle choices are the key to winning.”

Hmn…she says with a wily, gleeful grin…

verb.jpgThen again, the feds have fouled up good instincts before, by putting megabucks into Verb Yellowball and then pulling the plug just as it was taking hold, so I like the fact that Playnormous is constantly developing new games and plans, that they’re self-funded, and aligning in strategic partnerships independently for long term sustainability. (vs. relying solely on grants or VC funding)

We’ll send some ‘beta tester kids’ into the games when we can get finally get some summer interns committed, meanwhile, here’s the scoop on Playnormous from MarketIntellNow, an expert in the eHealth field, who interviewed their CEO Jerald Reichstein.

monster_lineup_02.gifNow, I wonder if gaming communities like this are exhibiting at Moscone Center this week as the world’s largest diabetes conference takes place? (more than 13,000 top scientists, physicians, global health care pros, sharing cutting-edge research and recommendations for a cure)

Here are some of the other e-Health Innovators of 2008, (Playnormous was #8 of ten, with two still to come, so far the only child-centric e-health intervention)

  • Alensa: custom-built platform for pharmacies and health shops to sell products online
  • Dossia: personally controlled health records to transform the healthcare industry
  • eDrugSearch: community and resources to help consumers make smart decisions when purchasing medications online
  • lefora: making it easy to set up and run a discussion group
  • MedHelp: connecting people with medical experts and others with similar experiences
  • RTX: wireless devices that allow patients with chronic conditions to connect in real-time to the health system from the comfort of their own home
  • Xoova: online medical services marketplace that helps you find and learn about local doctors and schedule appointments online
  • Playnormous is a Houson, TX-based health-related games company

I’m hoping to at least sneak a peek at Moscone Center and report back any news that could help us help others as we keep exploring new ways to embed positive content and reverse unhealthy trends in the kids’ media arena…

And in the medical one:

tape-measure.jpgDiabetes affects nearly 21 million children and adults in the United States, contributes to the deaths of over 220,000 Americans each year and costs our nation more than $174 billion annually. sigh.

Directly following the diabetes event, endocrinologists convene June 15-18, expanding from obesity into sexual performance, steroid abuse, growth hormone doping and other health/media messaging that has youth reverb…

Whew. Talk about ‘serious games’…

On the lighter side, we’ll end with a few more ‘up and comers’ in the ‘casual games’ category…

Check out this PC World article on the 2007/2008 Independent Games Festival for finds that are “playable, fun, and sometimes quite weird.”

Wow. I’ll say…some wacky and wild ones. These freebie indie games read like a Hollywood pitch session of log lines and media snippets:

Poesysteme: Sims meets refrigerator magnetic poetry
Synaesthete: Guitar Hero meets Diablo; synthesis of funkadelic music/isometric action
RoboBlitz: 3rd person physics-driven puzzles of a robot saving the world
FlOw: Wiggle through the ocean deep as an insatiable worm-thing

gesundheit.jpgGesundheit! “Sneezy, puzzle-like adventures of a booger-flinging pig and the monsters that want to eat him…”

Um…yeah. I’ll stop there. You get the drift.

Gee, wonder which ones the kids will ‘adopt’?

I’m getting a ‘gi-normous’ headache thinking about all this screen time…

Which leads me to our next post…on The Case for Make-Believe and unstructured play in an increasingly digital world.

Here’s your first hint…did you know that working at Google on-site, there are evidently no computers, commercial characters or electronic toys inside the preschool/day care center?

Hmn. Stay tuned…And take a peek at this post from Whole Kids Project about the new National Wildlife Report released, called Connecting Kids with Nature

Meanwhile A Little Link Love for Fun Finds:

Nesting: “Your life, connected.” (Scheduling, networking, organizing from playdates to family activities)

Crowdspring: Nonprofits take heed! This is something Shaping Youth could use to keep creative costs down on new pilot projects for logo design, youth tees and such: “post a creative project, let the world contribute ideas, choose the one you like” Looking to see where it makes sense to partner with this community

Animoto: As regular readers know, this is my all-time favorite fun find, and I use Animoto regularly for all my presentations. Ditch the powerpoint. This will rock your audience in MTV music montage style, just upload your photos, get creative, and whammo!

Here are some samples of my Animotos for recent intros to Shaping Youth talks:

CCFC Presentation on Using the Power of Media for Positive Change (Snidely Whiplash vs. Dudley DoRight!)

Preteen Alliance/Kaiser event: On kids body image, nutrition media messaging

Junk In, Junk Out: Counter-marketing & media literacy demo on junk food

And here’s a personal one of my daughter who ‘pimped her MySpace’ with her waterski-girl identity looking like a professional movie maker in a couple clicks!

Animoto also took top awards at the South by Southwest Interactive convergence of creative talent, and you can see all kinds of new ‘heads up’ sneak peeks in the SXSW recap here. Content aggregator; who couldn’t use a laugh with one-stop shopping?

Zookazoo: Full feature forthcoming on this imaginative world that aims to make the world a better place, as we’ve already seen in their Earth Day Challenge using community voting to make a donation to Keep America Beautiful, as well as their water/power eco games and such.

elf-island2.JPGElf Island: Izzy Neis wrote about this virtual world launching at the end of summer, based on the premise of practicing good online and reflecting that same good offline. (just like the planting trees in Dizzywood!)

“Elf Island uses “Mirrored Gaming™” to leverage the power of fun through entertaining game play, social interaction and storytelling while encouraging kids to understand they have the power to influence change in the world.”

Here’s Izzy’s comprehensive (often updated!) list of online kids communities in beta or pre-beta launch phase from pet MoshiMonsters to financial literacy in Minyanland.

Parent Primer: Izzy Neis’ Useful Links Along These Lines:

Worthy Tween/Twid/kid Communities (and virtual worlds)

Communties NOT for Tweens/Kids

A Breakdown of Tween/Twid/Kid Virtual Worlds & Terminology



  1. Update on Playnormous offerings today, press release as follows:

    “We are pleased to announce the release of Bubble Trouble, our second online game for health, as part of our newest venture, Playnormous, LLC…

    “Bubble Trouble is centered around a curious underwater monster, Chicken Dawg, who wants to get healthy by learning about aerobic exercises. Help Chicken Dawg by popping the aerobic bubbles and collecting his aerobic exercise minutes for the day. But watch out! Strength exercise bubbles don’t give Chicken Dawg any aerobic minutes and sedentary bubbles turn into rocks which block the screen.”

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