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Celly Blog: A Letter to Parents from Celly Cofounder Russell Okamoto
2011-11-09

Dear Parents,

First and foremost, as cofounder of Celly, I want to let you know Celly is designed from the perspective of parents:


Namely, I AM THE PARENT OF A TEENAGER.

In fact, my teen’s high school was one of the earliest adopters of Celly. We have an ongoing collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and coaches at my child’s school as well as with many Portland area civic leaders and high schools around the nation. Now that the school year has begun, Celly is growing quickly. Students, teachers, administrators, parents, families, neighbors, coworkers, etc. are all signing up. As growth occurs, I want to proactively address questions that parents might ask.

WHAT IS CELLY AND HOW DOES IT IMPROVE MY LIFE?

Celly turns classrooms, schools, teams, neighborhoods, offices, or any organization—big or small—into their own private communication networks. We call these “cells”. Cells let members communicate in a group using their phone (via text messaging) or the web. Communication is secure, private, and can be moderated by one or more curators.

Thousands of schools have already adopted Celly for a variety of scenarios from teacher-led study groups, link-crew mentoring, team sports, field trips, orchestra and band clubs. Cells are private by default so members are explicitly invited by a cell administrator. Celly lets students communicate with teachers and administrators at anytime—in class or out of class. Teachers can send homework reminders to students via Celly. Students can ask teachers and fellow classmates about assignments. Student athletes and coaches use Celly to coordinate games and practices. School administrators use Celly to send out school-wide alerts and event information to parents. Parents can use Celly to coordinate daily schedules, keep in touch with extended family members, and organize reunions, weddings, vacations, neighborhood watch groups, and office work groups.

HOW IS CELLY SAFE AND WHAT DOES IT DO TO STOP BULLYING?

We designed Celly keeping in mind the lessons of cyberbullying, impersonation, and oversharing rampant in the use of existing social networks. These systems weren’t designed for the privacy and moderation requirements found in sharing environments like the classroom. As first generation social networks, they followed the design path of “everything is public”, whereas Celly is designed from scratch for privacy and safety.

To build Celly, we collaborated directly with teachers, students, parents, and education technology experts coast-to-coast to learn where and why existing social networks do not work for schools and complex organizations. Reasons cited were inadequate privacy, oversharing, and the lack of fine-grained moderation and membership controls. Schools also told us that educators and students cannot be permitted to exchange phone numbers because of privacy policies, yet they still have a pressing need for quick and simple, equal access methods of group communication. Such requirements were all considered and designed as core features in Celly:

*Members can securely join and participate in a cell WITHOUT HAVING TO EXCHANGE PHONE NUMBERS. This removes any context for impropriety.

*Users can BLOCK messages from other users to explicitly prevent receipt of abusive messages.

*Messages in Celly can first be FILTERED FOR APPROPRIATENESS by one or more CURATORS. This enables particular messages to be picked out and then selectively broadcast to a wider group (such as a question & answer scenario). This curation process prevents spamming of large groups with swarms of chat messages and gives curators a way to guard against cyberbullying activities.

*Curators can control how and who joins a cell. Any curator can decline a new user who picks an offensive user name or a curator can KICK an offensive member.

*Curators can control who can chat on the cell (e.g. everybody, just curators, etc.) and manage when cell messages get delivered (e.g., only during classroom hours or during a daily time window).

HOW MUCH DOES CELLY COST?

Celly is free. We don’t charge anything. You still, however, need to pay your carrier phone bill. For example, if you have a limited text messaging plan, text messages exchanged via Celly count toward your plan.

HOW CAN IT BE FREE?

Celly’s core services are available for free as a base level of support. To make money, we offer advanced features that organizations like school districts can purchase.

WHAT PERSONAL INFORMATION IS COLLECTED? IS IT SHARED OR SOLD? WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR CONTENT?

First time users select a username of their choice that can be 6-20 characters long. The username they choose is entirely up to them. It can be their actual name if they like, or it can be whatever they want.

Celly collects cellphone numbers only for purposes of delivering messages to a member’s cellphone. Celly does not use this information for sharing identity. Instead of cellphone numbers, a member’s username is what other members see. As mentioned previously, a key security and privacy mechanism offered by Celly is that users can text each other WITHOUT disclosing their cellphone numbers. Regarding messages that are sent via the service, only the sender and the recipients see the information provided.

To summarize:

*We will NEVER share any of your personal information with anyone.
*It’s your choice to post content and make it public. You are solely responsible for the content you post.
*You are solely responsible for any data, screen names, graphics, photos, profiles, audio and video clips, links and any other content that you submit, post and display on Celly.

For more info, see Celly’s Privacy Policy, http://cel.ly/privacy and Terms of Service, http://cel.ly/tos

IF MEMBERS PICK THEIR OWN USERNAME, HOW IS IMPERSONATION HANDLED?

Celly enables curators to approve/disapprove all membership requests. That means if a new member picks an offensive or deceitful username, the curators can detect this and prevent the user from joining.

Curators can also enhance the authentication process by requesting the new user provide a profile description. Based on this profile, curators can establish identity of the joining member. Furthermore, curators can augment the authentication process by requiring a password to join a cell.

WHO IS CELLY AND WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR?

My cofounder Greg Passmore and I are friends who have worked together for 14 years as software engineers at GemStone Systems, Inc. and as cloud computing architects at VMware. Greg and I have combined our strengths to solve some of the hardest problems in data management and distributed systems. Over the years, Greg served as a principal design engineer on many products. I worked as lead architect, Director of Engineering, and ultimately Chief Scientist. We left VMware in May 2011 to pursue our passion with Celly. We want to build a socially responsible and sustainable technology venture with giveback to schools and communities imprinted into the DNA of our business plan. We want to empower local schools and communities by transforming anybody’s phone into a learning device.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Celly is designed by a parent. Not only is Celly’s reputation at stake, but my own child’s safety and credibility is at stake! I don’t allow my child to use Facebook because of the frequency of bullying and abuse. So in contrast to popular social networks, safety, privacy, and moderation are front and center in Celly. Though no system is game-proof, I think the more you learn about Celly, the more you’ll understand what we’ve done to build failsafes. You can count on the fact that we will remain vigilant and continuously evolve Celly to provide a safe, productive environment for social communication. Please send us feedback, concerns, and ways we can improve Celly. You can email us at support@cel.ly. I’d be happy to answer any questions. You can contact me personally at russell@cel.ly. Thank you.

With gassho!

Russell Okamoto
Cofounder Celly, Inc.

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