Bitsbox: 5 Million Minutes of Programming and Counting

By September 14, 2015Startup News

Bitsbox’s launch was a great success. While many Kickstarter projects run into delays, the Bitsbox team stayed on track, meeting their 2014 Christmas stocking stuffer delivery and every box thereafter on time. Now a few months past the initial frenzy, founders Scott Lininger and Aidan Chopra caught their breath and had time to sit down with me to discuss their progress, what they’ve learned, and where Bitsbox is headed next.

To set the scene for why they’re so excited about how Bitsbox is doing, Lininger went over how they got started:

To set the scene for why they’re so excited about how Bitsbox is doing, Lininger went over how they got started:

Lininger:
We founded the company for my daughter. Audrey was seven at the time and I [wanted] to teach her to code. . . . And so, the target age range was: ‘whatever my daughter is’. She happened to be seven, so we designed a system and tested it initially with her; she was our first beta tester.

 

Testing was also conducted through a series of classroom events in local schools, which focussed on the seven-and-up age range. Their very first classroom test happened to have some kindergarten kids present, and the team was encouraged to see that the five-year-olds were figuring it out, even if they were slower. This led to the realization that if kids could read, they could do Bitsbox.

Lininger:
So we had kids in some of our tests who were behind in their reading and it was really hard for them because, to transfer from a printed piece to a computer when . . . you don’t know how to spell, those were the kids who fell off because they had to do it one character at a time and they would lose their spot, and so on. So, as we saw that pattern, that became our answer, when parents would ask “what age is this for”, I would say, “it’s for kids who are getting pretty good at reading”. So there are some four-year-olds who can read, and some eight-year-olds who can’t.

 

While reading was found to be the limiting factor in kids starting to program with Bitsbox, it may be that Bitsbox can impact reading. Some parents have reported that the draw of game creation has been such that their kids’ reading has improved as they’ve worked at making apps. On a personal note, my daughter has learned to touch type, driven by a desire to make it easier to program.

All of which is to say that the team suspected that Bitsbox would be used by children under seven, but they didn’t know how much. Now that the system has been in use for nearly half a year, they’ve collected some fascinating data. How they get that data is really interesting.

Bitsbox is a web app, and the Javascript programs that users write are stored online. Running an app you’ve written simply means going to the web page at Bitsbox.com where it’s stored, as it’s just a web page with Javascript. This allows the Bitsbox team to look at app length and examine the differences between what kids create with what came in the monthly book. In addition to those records, Bitsbox records usage. Every minute where the user has clicked or typed in Bitsbox is counted as a minute of use. This is important, because it filters out the time when kids who have left Bitsbox open when they’ve left the computer, or even while they’re playing Minecraft in the foreground. Users also have the option of entering their age and choosing their gender. Bitsbox doesn’t ever prompt you for this info; in fact, you have to dig a bit to find out how to enter it. Still, roughly 50% of their total recorded minutes of coding have come from users who entered their age, and this has resulted in some surprising and exciting findings.

A bar chart showing Bitsbox programming by age, with use peaking at age 10 at 122,000 minutes.

Users of Bitsbox aged four to six have spent a combined total of 34,388 minutes programming! Given that half of their users aren’t entering demographic info, the actual number is likely much higher. This is an astounding result, especially when you consider that Bitsbox was not marketed at this age group.

 

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