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WEB REVIEW: Out of kid party ideas? How to skip Chuck E. Cheese

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Jim Cota

With four young kids at home, we’ve certainly thrown and attended our fair share of birthday parties. While my wife seems to have some sort of sixth sense for identifying a theme the kids will enjoy, I’d likely be at a total loss if left on my own. I suspect there are others like me out there, and this suspicion was confirmed this weekend at—you guessed it—a birthday party for a 5-year-old.

The theme was “puppy party.” All the attendees were to adopt and take home a small stuffed puppy. The invitation was classic: It mentioned that all the guests would have the opportunity to adopt a puppy, followed by a note to parents: “Don’t be alarmed, it’s not a real puppy.” Without that note, attendance would have surely suffered.

The hostess had prepared adoption papers for all, gave each puppy its own blanket, treats and housing to carry it home. She even had her husband, an animal lover in his own right, play the role of veterinarian, allowing each puppy to have a thorough checkup before its adoption was final.

It was a great idea, fairly simply accomplished, and it went over great with all the girls.

While we were there, I overheard a discussion about the idea for the party.

“I got the idea from a website,” she said, “called BirthdayPartyIdeas.com. It’s full of ideas for parties of all kinds, for all ages. And the best thing about it is that the ideas come from people who use the site, so no one is trying to sell you anything.”

Well, with an endorsement like that, I had to follow up.

The site certainly has some things going for it. Even a cursory glance will tell you there are thousands of party ideas here, ranging from little kids to adults, truly covering everything from cradle to octogenarians and beyond. The site was launched by Brad Maxwell in 1999 and has been built to become “the largest collection of party ideas in the world,” a statistic that would be exceedingly difficult to prove or disprove. The team solicits ideas from readers and compiles them into a growing database. The ideas are generally theme- or age-based, and the database contains ideas regarding format, activities, decorating, games, food and invitations. You can either submit brand new ideas (if there are any new ideas out there) or add your own twist to an existing idea.

Not all ideas are created equal, of course. So each month, the Birthday Party Ideas team selects a winner for the best idea submitted, an honor they’ve been bestowing every month for the last 10 years. Perhaps the easiest way to find a great idea is to just peruse this list of winners.

It doesn’t cost anything to search the database or use any of the site features, and it’s also free to submit your own ideas. The site appears to survive on revenue from advertising, including Google and banner ads, which is nice for anyone trying to find an idea fast without having to create an account or become a member.

As a result, however, the owners haven’t had much of an opportunity to devote resources to site design or usability. The party ideas are good, but reading through three pages of text that hasn’t been formatted and offers no line breaks can begin to feel like a word search. This deficiency leaves the door open to competitors. Even some small attention to detail could make dramatic improvements to the site design and make the whole thing easier to use.

Still, the success of this site rides on the strength of the database and the ability of parents to find workable ideas for successful parties. If those parents are as busy as we seem to be, they’re likely doing their searching at the last minute. Suffering through bad graphic design is a small price to pay to find a great idea and create a successful event.•
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Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.

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