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Glubble: The nannybrowser

New service combines a "social network" for families with a locked-down, safer browser.

The family "social network" and browser, Glubble, went into open beta today. The Glubble.com service is a home page for families. On it, parents and kids can leave each other messages, coordinate calendars, and share photos. The Glubble Firefox extension converts the browser into a locked-down system that monitors which sites the user views and where he or she searches, and that can only visit sites that are on the parents' approved list.

The nannybrowser component isn't bad--I'll get to it in a second--but the "social network" component is weak. You get, basically, a Web page with a calendar that's only a list of events (no grid view, no way to tag events to people), and a photo library with a painful picture-by-picture upload function.

The Glubble Web site is useful for monitoring your kid's browsing.

The Web page's real function is to control the nannybrowser. It's on the Glubble site where you can whitelist or block Web pages that your kid requests access to, or deny access to any of the pre-set pages that have been marked as safe for kids.

The extension turns Firefox into a locked-down browser that can only visit approved sites.

To convert your instance of Firefox into a kid-friendly browser, you just press the kid button on your toolbar, and the browser takes on a whole new full-screen look, with the exit button password-protected.

There's a list of favorite sites kids can access, or they can type in a domain, but when they try to go to a site that's not on the approved list, they get a message saying that access to it is pending approval. If a parent is logged in to the Glubble site on another machine, they'll get a message about the access request and can then approve or deny it. If the parent is right there, he or she can just put in the password to unlock the site on the spot.

The Glubble-ized version of Firefox also tracks every site that is visited and reports it on the Glubble family page.

Glubble CEO Willem-Jan Schutte pitches the browser not as "100 percent safe, but trying to include the family." That's a fair characterization, since busting the protection is easy: just press Ctrl-Alt-Delete to bring up the task manager, kill Firefox, and open up the version of Internet Explorer that's installed on every Windows PC. It won't take many 8-year-olds too long to figure that out.

Some sites just aren't fit for kids these days.

For the parent who is present when the kid is online, and the kid who can tolerate safety wheels on the browser, though, Glubble is a safer experience.

See also: Netnanny, Cyberpatrol, Cybersitter, and many other child safety apps. For a functional family homepage, see Cozi.