Weekly chores done via online signup sheet

A parent can no longer bark out an order to do a household chore and expect it to be completed.

How do you get them to clean their rooms? The designer of an online household chore signup system figures its all about effort and reward.

A parent can no longer bark out an order to do a household chore and expect it to be completed.

A request must be filed at Handipoints.com. The child will then log on, weigh the reward assigned to a given task, then either accept or decline the task, all by interface, as opposed to face-to-face.

The system, which went online in November 2007, and now claims 550,000 users, was created by “pre-parent” Viva Chu, 33, of Oakland, Calif.

Chu, who is single but hopes to have children one day, was between startups, doing fixer-ups, when he saw a quaint chore chart posted on a refrigerator. This got him thinking about “what motivates kids,” he says.

“Why do they do their chores? There is Mom nagging them, but ultimately what drives them is the same thing that drives you and me. They are interested in rewards.”

In his scheme, those rewards are virtual, paid in “handipoints” that add up to prestige, as in Guitar Hero. For kids who have already been tarnished by commerce, there is also a system for converting those points to real goods and services issued by the parents.

The target audience is ages six to 12. Parents are the ones who sign up at Handipoints, “looking for a fun, easy way to start teaching their kids about saving,” Chu says.

Drawing up an online chore chart is free. Access to HandiLand, where the virtual rewards are, is also free. Each user is issued a Cool Cat cartoon character that becomes the kid’s online identity. Cool Cats roam around HandiLand, playing games, meeting friends, watching movies together, doing what kids do. But they have to be paid for by virtual money earned doing work in the real world. All cats want to be spoiled, and that is where real-world money comes in.

Costs for those privileges start at US$5.95 a month to shop with your points at the HandiLand J. Cats Clothing Store and Kitty’s Home Furniture.

“They’re playing this game, but at the same time they’re learning how to be responsible and save. It’s like its own economy,” says Chu, who learned economics growing up in a restaurant family in Greensboro, N.C.

The son of Hong Kong immigrants, he was busing tables by 13 at his parents’ restaurant, China Gourmet. By high school he’d moved on to waiting tables at restaurants that paid better, and by the time he arrived at Duke University on an academic scholarship, he was being paid to design and lay out advertising for the school paper.

With a bachelor’s degree in computer science and public policy, Chu came to California in the Gold Rush of 1997 and joined Viador, a business software company. His first startup was Transplay Inc., an advertising platform for game companies. He sold that and bought and sold a few houses. One of them came with a previous owner’s magnetic list still stuck to the fridge, and that was his first “aha moment,” he recalls. “I thought that this would be great to take online and offer to parents.”

Many months later, Handipoints was started from Chu’s house. Once he’d gotten kids hooked up to the computer, he had his second aha moment — and decided to unhook them.

“One of the things we’re trying to tell the kids is ’Don’t spend all your time on the computer playing video games,’” he says. “‘Go outside and be healthy. Run around the block.’ There’s a balance there and we recognize it.”

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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