Even MORE on Zwinktopia

Zwinktopia Slides Younger Teens Into Their Virtual Playground


Call it a marketing hook, tween baiting, or young teen branding brilliance, Zwinktopia, the online virtual world that just launched Monday has leveraged their growth substantially by familiarizing kids with their avatar site Zwinky, first.
Kids have been creating customizable Zwinky identities to plop on their blogs, profiles, IM and chat sites representing themselves for quite some time…Now they have their own world to play in too.
According to TechCrunch, they’re launching at the peak of virtual world hype. 606Tech adds that Zwinky already has 20 million active members making it one of the largest launches ever. Hmn. Smart. A little TOO smart…Did they just get lucky or did they strategically plan this? Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Shaping Youth » Zwinktopia Slides Younger Teens Into Their Virtual Playground

Amy over at Shaping Youth wrote up a GREAT piece about Zwinktopia, the new social networking site for teens.  She really dives in and explains the nitty gritty of it.  So, if you’re uber-interested in Zwinktopia but don’t have the time to roam around yourself– check out Amy’s blog.  🙂

Okay, I have to admit it.  Zwinktopia is starting to make my hair stand on end.  Aside from its cleverness and cuteness… my concern directly relates to WHO is invited into Zwinktopia.

The toolbar download that is necessary to even begin the trip into Zwinky-ness (there is no direct route to Zwinktopia, you have to jump into Zwinky.com first) is not intended for anyone under 13.  Zoinks.  No pretweens or tweens invited (aka anyone under 13).  Poor little tater tots, left out of the party again.

Okay, okay… if Zwinktopia is for teens (not tweens or kids), I can see why they would forge forward as easily as possible for their appropriate community and not concern themselves with those non-13+ faces pressed against the windows peering in hungrily (i hope your visual is as funny as mine).  …But part of me still cringes.  It’s VERY young looking.  Very cutesy pie. 

Question: Is the temptation to play in Zwinktopia going to win over the “age barrier/restrictions”?

Kids & Rollercoasters.  “You have to be yay-big to ride this roller coaster.”  Kids wear thick soled shoes, stick napkins in their shoes, walk on tip toe… ANYTHING to save themselves from missing out on a cool ride– or looking lame when their friends get to go and they can’t.  They don’t think about the logistics of WHY they can’t ride the roller coaster (fear of falling out? doesn’t even cross their minds).  They just hear the word “can’t” and want to prove it wrong.

Here’s my other worry… I found this GREAT blog about Zwinktopia.  The blog offers a particularly revealing post that offers this:

There is no age verification process and Zwinktopia does not filter
sexually explicit comments
. While some sites aimed at younger kids,
such as Disney’ s ToonTown and Ganz’ s Webkinz only let members
exchange canned messages, anything goes on Zwinktopia. On the site’ s
opening night, conversations on the virtual beach called “Splash” went
like this: “If u wanna hook up with me, say 123,” wrote one person.
“123” says another. “Ok, let’ s kiss then.” Other members were swapping
their MySpace addresses and asking for e-mail addresses. There’s even a
video chat feature built-in that lets kids activate their webcams
.

While
members can report offensive comments and the site keeps a log of all
chats, IAC is taking a hands-off approach to monitoring what goes on at
Zwinktopia.
“It’ s going to be a learning process,” says Dorcas Casey,
IAC’s director of product strategy, when asked where the company draws
the line on inappropriate behavior.
If Zwinktopia really hopes to
attract kids aged 13 and up without sending their parents into cardiac
arrest, it might want to speed that process up.

All I can do is furrow my brow and shake my head.  In this day and age– with all the safety-buzz and anti-myspace brigades… wouldn’t you think a site that has a potential draw from lying U13’s might have a bit more to say about safety than “It’s going ot be a learning process”?  Perhaps they have… perhaps they have tons of research now since the site has been open.  But I’m telling you– from a public perspective of someone just nibbling on the edges of this Zwinktopia-cookie… I am not really excited about even the prospect of young teens… 13, 14, 15 years of age swapping personal information.  But I’m also a safety zealot.  I do know that they keep transcipts of everything.  I suppose that’s a strong step in the right direction.  Time will tell… and perhaps they do indeed deserve the benefit of the doubt (as long as they stay stronger about their U13 restrictions).

They are very good at offering parental advice and safety tips (do kids really read these? Seriously, I don’t know).  They might not talk a lot about their own practicies, but they do make great points for parents like:

  • Consider keeping the computer in a family area of your home and not
    in your child’s room so you can keep an eye on your child’s Internet
    use.

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  1. May 4, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    Ok, Izzy, I did NOT find that blog (Europe?) you mentioned above, so as I said in the comments on Shaping Youth, you are GOLD, “safety queen.”

    And though your visual of the face pressed up against the glass with shut-out-eager tweens is hilarious, I totally concur with your carnival ride analogy, they’ll tiptoe, work around it and get in with ease, especially since these guys have left the door wide open with a gold-leaf invitation via site design and appeal.

    It’s like they sent a fancy invitation directly to tweens and mined them with pop-ups to secure the brand, and then put a teeny weeny “RSVP disclaimer” in the corner that’s a CYA for the COPPA/under 13 policy!

    I don’t know of ONE tween that thinks this is an ‘over 13’ playground. Not one.

    Oh! And by the way, in our counter-marketing session in the Title One school of 4th & 5th graders, I asked how many knew of Zwinky/had an avatar of their own? 6 out of 63 “use it often.” It’s the ‘dress-up’ paperdolls side…I’m going to ask today about ‘Zwinktopia’ and see what they say and how many have visited already…Stay tuned.

  2. vanneyat
    July 2, 2007 at 7:07 am

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  1. May 4, 2007 at 4:31 pm

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