It was late Friday night when Paul Carr asked me to take a look at Olly, a kid-friendly browser from MetaCert. Paul wrote about MetaCert earlier this year and broke the news that the company had raised $740,000 to make it easier for schools and parents to block porn on their kids’ computers.

“A porn-free browser?” I thought. “Well, there goes my weekend.”

Olly asks users if they would like to enable this safe browsing mode on first launch. “What the hell,” I thought. “Might as well.” The browser asked me to set a password to access the parental controls, and then presented a list of non-pornographic sites that users might want to block, including Facebook, Twitter, Tumbr, and YouTube. I decided to block Twitter and Facebook as a test and then started in on my attempts to stump the kid-friendly browser. If experience with other “you shouldn’t be doing that!” browser tools, such as WebSense, had taught me anything, there’s always a way to skirt any restrictions.

I was wrong.

Olly blocked every dark, vile website that I tried to reach, both directly and via Google search. (It’s at this point that I’d like to note that Olly has a setting to prevent the archiving of search history, the only thing that has allowed my iPad to keep even a shred of its dignity.) MetaCert CEO Paul Walsh told me that MetaCert – and, by extension, Olly – has indexed and identified some 637 million explicit-slash-pornographic Web pages, and continues to identify an increasing number of websites as I write this post.

Walsh says that MetaCert has worked carefully to whittle its error rate down to less than .3 percent, resulting in fewer false positives that might frustrate Web surfers. Users are able to report mistakenly-blocked sites with just a few taps, and Walsh says that MetaCert employees process each request within two hours and are able to unblock a site with the click of a single button. MetaCert’s cloud-based nature allows these changes to be pushed out quickly and without any further action by the user.

Olly is the primary consumer-facing product to take advantage of MetaCert’s database of naughty websites. The browser is unremarkable save for the parental controls, and currently looks like a carbon copy of Google’s Chrome browser, right down to the shape of the “new tab” button. Fortunately, Olly chose the right browser to copy – I’ve been a fan of Chrome’s “tabs on top” interface since it debuted on the desktop, and the design is pleasant without being overbearing. Olly seems to be as fast (or, in some instances, faster) than both Chrome and Safari, which was a pleasant surprise.

Walsh says that a new version of the browser with an all-new design will be shipping in the coming weeks, and that there are plans to ship Olly on the iPhone and Android devices in the near future. MetaCert could have waited to release Olly until these other versions were ready, but Walsh says that ultimately they decided it was best to get this first version out into the world and into customers’ hands.

I imagine that parents will appreciate the decision to ship, as iOS’s parental settings are fairly lackluster, so far as Web browsing is concerned. Parents can block access to Safari, but, unless I’m missing something in Apple’s convoluted Settings page, are unable to block specific websites or categories or websites. Browsing the Web on an iPad is very much an all or nothing affair without Olly installed.

Even if Apple were to add support for some parental settings, Walsh says that many of these blockers tend to be over zealous in what sites they decide to cut off. “We’re not focused on other forms of content – gambling, vulgarity, etc. – because there are different cultural standards for what is appropriate for, say, a fourteen year old to view,” he says. “We focused on the one type of content that we know pretty much every adult wants to exclude for children.”

In the end, if I had children or simply wanted to have control over what someone using my iPad chooses to view on its formerly-innocent screen, Olly would likely be my first choice. MetaCert is addressing my main concern – that it looks way too similar to Google Chrome – with the next release, and I haven’t run into any technical problems in my weekend of testing. Privacy nuts may also appreciate the fact that Olly can forget their Web searches and doesn’t allow websites to track their browsing habits. (Though, Safari’s “Private Mode” has been called “Porn Mode” for years for a reason…)

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]