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Live Conference: Global Kids’ Digital Media Initiative

[conf] Live coverage of Logging into the Playground: How Digital Media are Shaping Children’s Learning

Watch the live stream from the First Annual Joan Ganz Cooney Center Symposium focusing on the Impact of Digital Media in educating children event “Logging into the Playground: How Digital Media are Shaping Children’s Learning” here:

Global Kids’ Digital Media Initiative

Go check it out if you have the time today.  Apparently there’s a possibility of The Electric Company making some sort of return? 

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Privo gives Dizzywood the Safety Nod

April 25, 2008 Leave a comment

Now if only the Safety Nod of approval was more like a Safety Dance… Oh, Dexy’s Midnight Riders… where for art thou & thou brilliance?

Anyway– check this out:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Dizzywood Earns PRIVO Online Kids’ Safety Seal of Approval

Privo’s rigorous review finds Dizzywood to be one of the safest environments for children online.

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – April 25, 2008 –Dizzywood, a virtual world and online game for children ages 8-12, today announced that it has earned the PRIVO Seal of Approval for providing one of the most safe and secure environments for children online.

In addition to its sophisticated filtering system and presence of live moderators who monitor all actions and communications in the world, Dizzywood strictly complies with the high standards of regulations contained in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA). Dizzywood has also taken additional safety measures to implement the privacy requirements of Privo’s Privacy Assurance Program.

“Dizzywood has demonstrated their commitment to safeguarding the privacy of kids,” said Denise Tayloe, CEO of Privo. “We appreciate the steps they have taken to earn our Seal of Approval and believe they have set a strong example for others who cater to children under 13 to follow.”

To earn the coveted PRIVO seal, Dizzywood’s privacy practices underwent a rigorous review process to ensure they met Privo’s requirements, including a full audit of Dizzywood’s safe and secure chat feature.

“Safety has always come first and foremost in Dizzywood,” said co-founder Sean Uberoi Kelly. “We have implemented a substantial number of technical safeguards for the web site. We have combined this with live real-time moderation by trained professionals to provide a safe and fun environment for kids.”

Dizzywood was launched in November, 2007. The imaginative, story-driven world offers kids a safe environment where they can engage in challenging activities that develop self-confidence, as well as cooperate with others and find a sense of belonging.

Dizzywood is free to use. Subscriptions will be available to access premium content in the future.

About Privo

Privo is the first and only infomediary service to be recognized by the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”). Website operators are deemed in compliance if the operator complies with Commission approved self-regulatory guidelines. The posting of the Privo Privacy Assurance Program Seal signals to consumers, partners, advertisers, as well as government, that your site meets the COPPA guidelines.

Privo extends to multiple industries that market family-oriented products and services and to general audience websites that attract kids. It is a costly challenge for individual companies to responsibly and legally initiate and sustain online interactive communication with kids. Privo enables these companies to create lifetime customer relationships through branded permission-management systems consistent with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The Privo system is a secure, third-party Kid registration and Parental consent service for companies who attract kids to their websites.

About Dizzywood

Dizzywood’s mission is to inspire young people to use their imagination and have fun, while learning real-life values and skills. Dizzywood’s creative, story-driven world offers children a safe virtual environment where they can explore worlds unlike any other, engage in challenging activities and cooperate with others, while developing important cognitive skills. Because Dizzywood’s games and activities have endless variation, each experience is new and unique – keeping kids captivated and engaged. Kids are appropriately challenged with games and activities that earn players unique super powers and other creative rewards. For more information, visit www.dizzywood.com.


Very rad. Live moderators? That’s wicked great. Full audit of chat security? Niiiiiiiice. I can’t imagine that would be easy to sit by and watch happen — like spending months on a thesis paper, and then handing it in to the professor, and watching him grade it in front of you. Pins, Needs, Nerves, and Anxiousness. But BRAVO to the folks of Dizzywood. They’re really putting in the full effort to make Dizzywood a well-rounded, unique virtual world.

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ZooKaZoo steps out of Stealth

April 4, 2008 8 comments

welcome ZooKazoo, a Flash-based world for 6-12 year-olds that’s just emerged from stealth mode.It’s headed up by CEO John Kim, who’s ex Sony and Disney, and also on board is former Apple man David Dwyer. The world is free to join, and like its rivals, has its own virtual currency – Kazoobits – which users earn by playing games. However, if they want to then spend that currency on customising their avatar or room, they have to pay a monthly subscription of $5.95. Correction: their parents have to pay a monthly subscription…

There’s lots of mini-games, as you’d expect, and it’s all based around cartoon animals. All chats are public, and users in the world can send messages to people outside it – for example parents – although it doesn’t work the other way, for the safety of users. Interestingly, music is a big part of the world, with original tunes composed by ZooKazoo’s staff. There’s even plans to have a UGC element, with users able to upload videos to the ZooTube theater.

ZooKazoo virtual world for tweens emerges from stealth mode | VWF blog | Virtual Economic Forum Content Library

Well, they’re out of stealth! Stealth is such an odd place to be. How many of us are still in Stealth? I’m jealous of their out-of-stealth mode and look forward to the day when we can do the same. Ah well, on to Zookazoo:

There’s things to love, things to work on, and things to watch for improvement as their beta carries on. Overall– it’s like a flashback to the Magic Kingdom jungle area & future area. A mix of decade genre styles with silliness and visual amusements (especially the tiki area & the dark cave with the flashing eyes– very Splash Mountain).

With only 5 or 6 options for avatar (a corn head, a dog, a monkey, a bubble–which turns out to be a roll of toilet paper with eyes HA!, etc), it automatically sticks you in genderless pretendville. For the most part– loads of the individual characters & animations remind me of Cartoon Network (I swear there was a Corn Head in Fosters…. OH WAIT! The corn head is from Jaks and the Power of JuJu on Nickelodeon– the judge was a corncob head). Regardless, the characters & animations are cute and adventurous. FINALLY– a virtual world who has voice overs that don’t sound condescending. Plus the music is fun and not stick-a-pencil-in-my-cornea annoying (like say… a certain beary pawsome virtual world).

It’s a little too “vast” for my preference– with the scroll screen and large rooms, they must plan on packin’ a lot of kids in one server? And there are a lot of barriers to entry for play– foyers and halls and teleportation and maps all to get to a theme world. Interesting method, but a little too long to get where I want to go.

Free members can’t do too much customizations, but from the “tour” of the rooms, the things I saw looked wicked (love the lava table & the tiki fountain).

In registration & account information, there’s a lot of thought to parents. And the registration process was swift enough (although, took a few pages of content to get started). Parents can dig in and opt for their child to use pre-written messages if they do not like the default “filtered” chat.

Some parts feel very young, some feel fantastically funny, and some so-so. Of course, it’s still beta, so they can continue to improve, etc, as they go.

There is a strong sense of animal appreciation & nature support (at least in the Jungle area), with young games like help the baby cheetah find it’s momma. Kids can send ecards that have facts about endangered animals (I was TOTES one of those kids hopped up on saving the wildlife as a kid– my favorite board game was called “Endangered Species” and was a lot like Life).

There are a bunch of monkeys wandering the virtual world with the conspicuous titles of “monkeyface” and “monkeyman”– which makes my moderator senses tingle with “there are screeners amongst us”, either that or behind the scenes folks doing AQ– awesome.

The login process is relatively quick, and I can’t help but wonder if they push the screen names through filters without moderator eyes on them. But then again, that’s an impression– they could have my name ghosted so to ME it says my username, but to others says something else. Personally, I just like having a second pair of eyes on any username– they stick around a lot longer than a fly by statement.

I’m interested to see how the membership model works for them as they build their relatively new brand. There’s a good bit of customizing that a member can’t do without a paid subscription, which takes that element out for the user all together– making them focus on roaming, games, and watching the amusements.

Question to ponder: Do parents chose to put a credit card down for unknown, new worlds without ties to trusty brands? I dunno.

It’s fun to watch new virtual worlds come out for our competitive market — each takes something others have done & expand on it, making it better, or presenting a unique approach. The menu system, the mail system, and the foyer-amusements for example. You can add voice overs and the tour of rooms to that mix.

I’d say the age group is geared more towards the 6 & 7 year old– especially as a lot of the tween sites coming target the 10, 11 demographic (aging things up). There’s a sweetness to this world, and a youthful silliness. Again, it’s not BOOM out of water awesome like I’m expecting FusionFall to be, but it’s a nice alternative for those who want to have something sweet, safe, and amusing for their 6-9 year old OTHER than Webkinz.

As for the community elements, time will tell. Not too much to make me want to interact, share with others, play, talk, get invested, etc. And again, it feels a little TOO vast, and a little TOO unfocused at times to support any range of interaction that Club Penguin may have– but again, those things can change through Beta. It’s worth taking a peek at and watching.

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Heads UP: Virtual Environment MMO for tater tots

March 12, 2008 1 comment

There’s certainly money in this targeting children lark, judging by the news that California firm Fluid Entertainment has secured $3.2 million of Series A funding, which it plans to use to launch a new MMO aimed at children.

The company is keeping exact details under wraps, apart from the fact that the MMO will have an environmental theme, engaging kids with green issues as they play. Fluid has been developing games for children since the late 1990s, with clients including Hasbro, Disney, Mattel and The Learning Company.

Trinity Ventures led the funding, and general partner Tim McAdam explains the reasoning behind the new venture:

“With three other gaming investments in our current portfolio, we were looking for the right play in the children’s MMO area, which is an open canvas with only a few incumbents. Fluid has a veteran team, a great history, and a clear and progressive vision that positions the company to become a leader in this arena.”

The announcement cites a recent study from eMarketer claiming that MMOs will be played by 20 million children and teens by 2011.

Fluid Entertainment raises $3.2m to make MMO for kids | VWF blog | Virtual Economic Forum Content Library

Eyes peeled. 
With all the talk at SXSW from people looking for a educational, social conscious VW, this might be yet another example of unique IP. 

Really, what this comes down to is: great idea, but will it (in execution & launch) be able to compete with the entertainment/brand focused mega-worlds like Webkinz, Club Penguin, and Buildabearville? 

The Niche sites are fab, and I’m eager to see how the competition and/or SHARING of multi-world users (or single world players) shakes out.  The market is turning out like a buffet of opportunities, and kids will have full plates no doubt. 

We talked briefly in one of the virtual chat rooms during the SXSW panels about educational virtual worlds, etc, and why there always in need but rarely around.  One comment (probably from me, although I can’t remember) was about the entertainment, enjoyment level vs the hammered-over-the-head-with-learning.  Or perhaps it’s more about MARKETING.  Who gets in the kids faces the most?

Again, this year should prove interesting.

If anyone hears more about this, please pass along.  :)

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Noteworthy: Pixie Hollow

February 21, 2008 2 comments

NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–At the 2008 American International Toy Fair, Disney Online officially unveiled the next exciting addition to the company’s line-up of virtual worlds – Disney Fairies Pixie Hollow, based on the wildly popular Disney Fairies franchise. Visitors to the new online world will be able to explore the homes and meadows that make up Pixie Hollow. Fans will play and chat with Fairy friends, go on quests for Tinker Bell, play games, earn badges, craft jewelry and clothes and personalize their Fairy world. The first phase of Pixie Hollow is scheduled to launch later this year, followed by a continuous roll out of in-game enhancements and product features.

Disney Fairies has proven to be one of the companys most successful franchises and we are excited to give fans the chance to live and play in the magical world of Tinker Bell by bringing Pixie Hollow online, said Steve Parkis, senior vice president, Disney Online. Fans have already created millions of Fairy avatars on DisneyFairies.com, making it evident that there is a strong desire for additional content around these beloved stories and characters.

In 2007, the Disney Fairies franchise generated more than $800 million in global retail sales with a wide range of Disney Fairies products that have captured the imagination of girls worldwide. Also unveiled at the Toy Fair event was an innovative new line of Disney Fairies Internet-connected toys featuring Clickables technology. The products will be the first to link online play within the Pixie Hollow virtual world to play in the real world. The new Disney Fairies line featuring Clickables technology will give girls new ways to extend their online experience by sharing Fairies, creating friendships, earning in-game items and unlocking exclusive content through traditional toys.

In anticipation of the games launch, fans can now visit www.DisneyFairies.com to create their very own personalized Fairy avatar, complete with the ability to select clothing styles and colors, accessories, hair style and more. After creating and naming their Fairy, online guests can share their Fairy with friends and family via e-mail, choose from a selection of approved messages to leave others who have made and published Fairies on the site, and decorate a room in which their Fairy will live. To date, nearly 5 million Fairies have been created at the popular Web site.

Disney Fairies is the latest endeavor in the creation of immersive and engaging virtual online worlds for kids and families that Disney pioneered in 2003 with the creation of Disneys Toontown Online, and followed up with the addition of Club Penguin and the recent launch of Pirates of the Caribbean Online. Leading virtual world industry analyst eMarketer predicts by 2011, an estimated 53% of U.S. children and teen Internet users will visit virtual worlds–up from 24% in 2007. (Source: eMarketer, September 2007)

Disney Online’s Pixie Hollow Takes Flight at Toy Fair; New Fairies Virtual World Officially Unveiled: Financial News – Yahoo! Finance

I’ve known this was coming for quite some time, and I love it. They did a fantastical job on the Disney Fairies page– and if you view my avatars, you see I’ve already started my own collection.

One of my friends who works with the Mod team gets giddy every time she talks about the details within the world (buzzing of the wings like humming birds!), and naturally I follow suit with my giddiness.

I’m looking forward to seeing if there is any difference between “Clickables” and regular buy-able assets and their unlocking capabilities. Is it just a clever name for branding? Or does it have some unique characteristics UNLIKE the webkinz, neopets, bratz, barbiegirls, etc, etc, etc that have the “if you buy this too, you get it in the virtual world too!” yadda bandwagon. Or if Disney is doing something funky with the process. Fingers crossed.

Overall, I’m looking forward to it — as both an industry chick who wants to see revolutionary methods, and a fairies fan who just like Gail Carson Levine, Neverland, and fairies-in-general (plus, I’m enamored with my own disney fairy creations, lol).

Here’s a great passage from the Virtual World News: Round Up of Disney News (thanks, Joey Seiler) that might help clear up my confusion about the unique-play pattern of the accessory-buying unlockables:

Connecting Pixie Hollow to the real world are Clickables, a patent-pending technology for Internet-connected toys that Disney plans to roll out to its other brands as well. They sound pretty interesting, actually, just from a pure technology and interaction perspective.

Pixie Dust eJewelry Collection includes a magical jewelry box, a charm necklace and three exclusive Disney Fairies charms powered by Clickables™ technology. When a girl touches a charm to the Clickables center of her jewelry box, Pixie Dust sparkles and music plays as the jewelry box comes alive. Each charm unlocks a unique fairy gift at http://www.PixieHollow.com, including exclusive clothing, and décor. Girls can store their Disney Fairies jewelry sprinkled with magical Clickables technology in this enchanting box where it will be protected by the magic of fairies.

Tink’s eCharm Bracelet is customizable charm bracelet and three themed charms, where each charm unlocks a unique Pixie Hollow item. That’s fairly standard, it Disney is actually encouraging copying and sharing of the digital items by touching the charms Pixie Dust eJewelry box, a physical jewelry box that also tracks the digital items, or Tink Friendship eBracelet. The Friendship bracelet is linked online once a user creates her avatar. The avatar s well as message and gift are stored offline on the bracelet and can be shared just by touching bracelets together. They glow, and the transaction is complete.

Hey, that’s a cool idea.  What a new level of community that makes, right?  Not to mention sharing & caring.  Very nice indeed!!  It’s like they took the idea of trading cards & product-based VWs and tossed in some (dare I say it?) PIXIE DUST!  Can’t wait to see how it works with the audience.

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Ramble: Why I’m Enamored With Club Penguin

February 19, 2008 4 comments

Okay. Honesty here. I used to despise club penguin. I won’t really get into it, but let’s just say I couldn’t understand why boy & girl tweens would be interested in something that seemed to young.

That was quite a while ago. Now, I’m in awe of the community manager/strategist/PM… WHOMEVER it is over there making that gem of a world. Why????

SIMPLICITY. And Imagination.

There seem to be quite a few things in life that make me giddy. GIDDY. I think I’ve established that in the past. But I’ll tell you what– it’s uber-hard to trump how giddy I get when I see kids living out their imaginative play– uninhibited and free-flowing. It makes me proud to be in this industry– whether or not I have a bloomin’ thing to do with the project. Why? Because people like me are attempting to offer quantities of similar opportunities.

But I digress: Back to the splendor of Club Penguin’s progression. About a month (or more) ago, Rockhopper (Club Penguin’s “celebrity” in-house penguin, of piratey nature) was sailing his ship through the seas. Rockhopper’s ongoing storylines have continually brought new levels of realness– or pretend play– to the world, giving kids someone to aspire to meet, greet, be like, hang with, etc. Grounds them a bit more in the surreal nature of the penguin world. You could see good ole Rockhopper sailing his ship in a low-tech flash video by climbing to the top of the lighthouse and peering through the giant telescope. Well… tragedy struck a few weeks back, having poor ole Rockhopper crash his boat. In response, CP provided PFD (personal float device) for penguins to sport around– which they did in droves. Nothing like giving cool-factor to otherwise lamish safety devices (however, that Titanic camp sound about the PFD’s always made them cool for me, and now I’ve the sound stuck in my head, lol if you know it).

Marooned Rockhopper then became a local celeb, hanging out from time to time, greeting penguins and gifting them with avatar backgrounds of himself (signed too– for extra famousness). If a penguin got this background– he/she STILL has this background. It’s a status thing now. Limited and exclusive and now unable to attain. SMART SMART SMART. Fueling the “citizenship” competition, and encouraging penguins to WANT to hang out more often (they don’t want to miss out).

Well, time has passed. They through an underwater-themed party… which they tied into Rockhopper’s tale by the addition of a submarine game for penguins to explore the underwater wreckage. That’s pretty wicked.

All of this is fantastic strategy & planning & tie-ins for the cross-world interaction. But THIS WEE GEM today floored me even more….

While exploring the temp/new party-aesthetics, I went to the ICE BERG, where the free “minors” hat was, and where I suspected the sub game to be… The “room” (iceberg area) was FULL. Took me several tries to enter. Regardless, it was full. When I finally entered I was met with this site:

club-penguins-trying-to-tip-ice-berg.jpg

 

 

(side note: I just wrote a HUGE inspiration piece about this bloody interaction and STUPID wordpress just erased it. Forgive me, but I’m IRRITATED as I just spend ages writing that…. GRRRRRRROWL)

Anyway. Background about the island: the iceberg is a STATIC BACKGROUND. There isn’t a lick of flash or movement or anything. A few months back, and for days on end, this room would fill to the max with penguins trying to FLIP/TIP the iceberg. Let me repeat: static. image. They would all stand in hordes on the edge– encouraging each other to dance or move so that it might do something to the berg. Alas, it didn’t.

Well, here we are, months later, and Club Penguin staged a themed party of “underwater” delights. One of which was the pimpin’ out of the barren iceberg & a future SUBMARINE game allowing users to EXPLORE Rockhopper’s ship wreckage. Pretty darn cool. Once again– this gives kids a sense of cause & action. This world has meaning. If a ship wrecks, one might be able to see it. So, the clever wee penguins (or not so clever, depending on your value of imagination & play) are once again trying to TIP THE BERG… this time they’ve come armed!!

Club Penguin has continuously added customizations that are action-bound. The fireman costume can spew water from the hose, and the construction worker penguin can jackhammer– complete with jackhammering animations. The users (as you can see) have collected at the bottom of the iceberg and are collectively trying to “break” or tip the berg.

“Why are we doing this?” asked a lemming penguin
“Because it’s fun!” replied four others.
“Rockhoppers ship is down there!” shouts another penguin.
“We’re going to free the ship” adds another.
“Dance or move to do something to help!”
“Get your friends!”

And they continue on– collectively pretending & hoping & interacting. Awesome

Have you ever seen a group of day camp kids @ the beach? I was a summer camp counselor for nigh on 14ish years (ten of which I spent at a day camp for the park district). It doesn’t matter WHO you are– if you’re a kid, you are welcome to join in the mayhem– especially the boys. They build and create worlds in the sand– and the waterfalls they make never stay right, so they build dams, and yell for help, and recruit bucket kids whose sole job is to run back and forth from the water, bringing in water reserves. They don’t even look you in the face, they just include you in the emotional-story-creation.

One of my favorite campers ever– a nine year old named PAYTON decided one day that she HATED this plastic baby toy truck she found on the beach. She and her 4 friends decided to bury it, all the while spewing their wrath on the poor toy, building story lines about the infamous “Farmer Brown” who was painted as the driver of the truck. Oooo, that Farmer Brown! So, I came along, checking in on her and the girls, and they told me of the burial. I suggested that we build Scotland on top of the buried Farmer Brown and then we could have a proper funeral afterwards. So, that morning we spent nigh on 2 hours building mountains and lochs and valleys, etc. We started with six total ‘builders’ (myself included, naturally). When we finished we had forty-three children working with us– some were just locals, not even campers. We each made up folktales about the wilderness and how Farmer Brown was attached to the story. Oooo that Farmer Brown. When it came time, I gave the sermon of Farmer Brown’s funeral. Payton gave testimonials, as did a few others who wished to join in, and then we all… and I do mean all, gave the most faux-miserable, loud-sobbing version of “Amazing Grace” one could ever hear. At some point during the “service” we attracted a HUGE crowd. I couldn’t give you numbers– parents, campers, public, etc. And they laughed and cheered and faux-cried along.

Afterwards, the kids set to “destroying” scotland by trampling it, as a uber-sandcastle should be trampled. I went to grab lunch. When I came back– all the kids were at it again. Burying Farmer Brown & getting into the stories & history of it.

Basically– kids want to be included on the magic, they want to build empires from scratch, they want to emotionally invest themselves in seemingly-silliness, etc. It’s fun. It’s a release. It’s escapism– all the while feeling included and excited.

I see this play pattern/behavior all the time on Club Penguin. From “snowball” wars (which are much more fun in the making then the actual war part, which is why “retreats” are so much fun too), to parties in the igloo (again, much more fun in theory and planning and rounding up than the actual dancing part). Club Penguin provides tools… triggers… that allow the users to “go to town” — making up their own rules & play. Club Penguin tries to support by facilitating pieces of storyline — just enough of a taste that the users will run away with the end.

The staff gives real credit to the power of their community, and the innovative nature of this demographic, and I just dig it. Other Virtual Worlds you see out there have to hard-sell all the brand elements, and try to “knock you out” with their high tech awesomeness. I “get” that in regards to catching enough attention to even COMPETE in this market these days– I do. But, Club Penguin… man, they get a WHOLE LOT out of very little (at least in regards to flashiest of the flashy). It reminds me of the good ole days– a large cardboard box, time, and loads of imagination. I’m not sure anyone could really compete with Club Penguin’s level of simplicity & community any longer because it’s all about the differentiating of “big sells” and catchy 2.0 intensiveness or beat-head-with-education that the corps peeps are looking for– and no longer about the simplicity of the play…

But in the now: Bravo, Club Penguin Staff. I salute you proudly.

Social Networking, Youth, Brands, and evil IMs

February 6, 2008 Leave a comment

Parents, don’t just talk with your kids about social networking – chat sites and instant messaging really need to be in the conversation too. Despite the news media’s focus on social-networking sites as the locus of online child exploitation, it turns out chat sites and instant-messaging are where most sexual solicitation and cyberbullying is happening. But even in those “places” online, “only 15% of children [aged 10-15] experience unwanted sexual solicitation and only a third report being harassed online,” reports HealthDay News, citing a new study in Pediatrics.

NetFamilyNews

Monday I stumbled upon Sara Grimes latest post about Virtual Worlds. It’s brills. I finally was able to locate and eloquently acknowledge my worry about virtual worlds, ads, marketing, and branding. Overall, the combination of branding & virtual worlds = fantabulous (from a play perspective): users getting to not ONLY continue their appreciation for a branded world, but also become a part of it– a citizen of the imaginary world they want to escape to… It’s another step of furthering the impossible. Making magic attainable, or at least allowing for the opportunity to interact with “magic”.

However. There is a dark side too– taking advantage of innocence, curiosity, and exploiting imaginations. That scares the living CRAP out of me. When we build these worlds and then get so ‘hopped up’ on how to wring the worlds of every avenue– every unique epiphany. Mmmm. It’s such a thin line between great intentions and intended spoils.

Anyway, I digress. Basically– I was reading Sara’s fab post, ruminating on my own professional fears, when I started the good-ole click-a-link, ending up in Sexual Safety for the Price of a Teddybear. Having spent a good amount of time in Buildabearville for competitive market research (and genuinely thinking it’s a solid step into VW’s– btw, their artwork from the world into the flash games = fantasmical), I was kinda disturbed by the title of the article. But, overall, it was a nice review of the site, bringing out some of the more social aspects about what kids say to each other.

It’s the comments section that got my attention. Loads of people worried about U12 kids participating in MMO’s and VW’s– saying that they’re not ready for that level of socialization. Wha…what? Cos, ya know, kids don’t have conversations, opinions, attitudes, desires, friends, language…. Okay, I’ll stop being snarky. Naturally– being the “soap box harpie” I am as of late (many apologies for the abundance of my rambling rants), I rang in with the following:

Forgive me from hopping in from the peanut gallery, but I think it might be good to remind everyone of the behaviors displayed (flirting, interacting… TALKING) on playgrounds and junior high hallways, at camps and malls, in notes passed and school dances. Not that this behavior is “great”, but it’s everywhere, and it’s part of the learning experience. Social exploration.As a community professional for preteens, it’s up to US to create the right kind of environment that promotes better engagement, as well as continuous staffing that keeps the “less” than acceptable behaviors off our social world atmosphere, or at least under control.I’m glad many of these virtual world experiences exist. Why? Because they garner some of the precious computer-time they spend on Perez Hilton & surfing Youtube– both locations not appropriate for U13, period. Plus… everyone forgets about chat programs like aim and msn messenger– those are free-ranging chat programs with NO supervision, filters, etc. Adults can “Find” kids, kids can “find” kids, harassment, engagement, chatting– all of it. Most of the youth I speak to about online media get their first “aim name” around 8 or 9– and it’s like a right of passage.

Standard Izzy-fair, and typical anti-band-wagon rant seen around these parts of the blog-o-sphere. So, having made my point, I was PSYCHED to see Anne’s post in the NetFamilyNews RSS feed this morning. I can’t wait until people remember what kids are seeing elsewhere– on youtube, chat programs, etc.

We don’t have to ID check all the time– that’s not what I’m saying. It would BEHOOVE Youtube and chat programs to find a way to BETTER ADDRESS u-13 tater tots from feeling “at home” in their programs… it would behoove ME, anyway. But the word needs to be spread to parents. At least in these VW’s there are filters/programs/ADULTS constantly trying to safeguard the audience. There ain’t no coppers hangin’ ’bouts them youtubes and instantoneous messanger programys.

Like this poor kid… who is now a favorite item of fodder over at Bestweekever.tv. WHERE ARE HIS PARENTS??? I’m sure he’s like 14 years old (god help us if he’s younger), and well in COPPA/Youtube’s good age graces… but still. That kid is getting blasted on the net and laughed at. Star Wars Kid, anyone? That community pressure really, really gets to you. Or how Australia’s very own Party Boy, who rose to instafame thanks to throwing a party while ma & pa were gone and posting it on the web, who now has to “defend his title” in real world fisticuffs which also was posted on the web.

These are things we’re SEEING. What about the things we aren’t? When I was in college, I would talk to strangers ALL THE TIME who randomly popped up on my aim to “chat” while I was procrastinating some paper or another– and I was a (naive) adult! Who know what folks are popping up on tweens? Granted, they understand safety 10 folds better now than I did at 20, and good on ‘em– let’s keep that good work up. But do parents? I soon hope so.

UPDATE: Le Sigh… As I was kinda alluding: Online Predators Prefer IMs over Social Networks. Thanks Anastasia, Ypulse, for that link.

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