Noteworthy: Weplay.com, and smart real world social networking

The venture, WePlay.com, a social networking site for youth sports — something like Facebook for young athletes — is expected to start in mid-April. The site caters to youth athletes, parents and coaches — a vast audience. About 52 million children a year participate in organized sports leagues, according to the National Council of Youth Sports.

Young athletes will be able to set up a profile, post pictures, communicate with friends and share videos of games. Parents will be able to get practice schedules, coordinate car pools and find out which equipment to purchase. Coaches will be able to communicate with their players and parents, as well as learn about strategy and other skills.

“Two hundred forty million people in America are one degree of separation from youth sports,” said Steve Hansen, the chief executive of WePlay. “Youth sports is held together by e-mails, phone calls and clip boards. We want to change that.”

The videos of the athletes as children, as well as footage from recent shoots — a camera crew will join LeBron James at his high school gym in the coming weeks, for example — will surround the more traditional features of social media. The site will be mostly advertiser supported, initially in the form of sponsorships integrated in to the site, and later, banner ads.

Madison Avenue has long seen the value of aligning with sports teams, and over the years has been reaching further down the athletic food chain: first professional, then college, and more recently high school. Takkle, a social-networking site for high school athletes, is partially owned by Sports Illustrated. With WePlay, advertisers will have the chance to go even younger.

At the same time, WePlay can also be seen as an attempt on the part of the professional athletes to gain more control over how their images are used commercially — in other words, why let ESPN run video of their Little League games free, when they can do so and sell advertising alongside it?

Social Site’s New Friends Are Athletes – New York Times

The site seems really safe. I’ve done a good deal of poking and prodding, and they’ve gone the extra measures to ensure boundaries are raised. It takes some effort to get a parents’ permission and extra features, which is grand! And they have separated folks into categories from the start, and seem to be keepin’ an eagle’s eye for safety & privacy.

Doin’ a bit of research, I just found this gem in the Privacy Policy :

Except as outlined above, we do not collect personal information from kids unless they complete registration on the Site with prior verifiable parental consent. If a kid attempts to register and indicates that his or her age is under 13, the account will automatically be flagged as a limited access account that restricts access to certain weplay features and we will inform the kid that verifiable parental consent is required before he or she may have a -access account. If a kid would like a full-access account, we will ask the kid to provide us with his or her first name and their parent’s email address so that we may contact them to request consent. Until verifiable parental consent is obtained, the child will only have access to certain features of the Site and will not be able to post content or free form comments in user forums on the Site.

So far, it reminds me a lot of Imbee (which is brillzville), and could be a solid site. (P.s. within seconds Brandi Chastain friended me, and if you know how much I love soccer – especially the world champ US Woman’s team – you’ll know how giddy I got… now where’s Cindy Parlow my doppleganger on the field?).They– WePlay– have a HECK of a job on their hands though. Why?

As a community manager for youth online thinking about a kid’s social network which encourages those tater tots to talk about their REAL world/real life — GAAAAAAAK. It makes my muscles tense up thinking about the level of PRIVATE INFORMATION is easily shared with youth & sports in a SIMPLE team picture.

WePlay seems to understand this, and hopefully will continue growing – opening up new ways for private communication about public life for youth.

But heed this as a warning, learning moment, or typical izzy rant — there will be other sites and other ways offered for youth to share info. Especially now, when marketing to kids is at a height, web buzz is what makes money, and education & understanding of this medium = wishy washy at best. More real world based social opportunities will arise – I’m not talking virtual fantasy lands nearly as much as social networking opportunities for real identities. In which case, I’ll use sports as an example of WHY we all must stay EVER VIGILANT (as channeled by Mad Eye Moody):

In a kid’s sports profile, you can get visual (pic of kid), favorite sport, jersey number, team name, youth organization (which also links to hometown/area), calendar of events (times & places), friends, etc– all REAL identities… REAL kids, REAL events, REAL moments in time, not pseudo-avatar fantasy personas running around in a virtual environment, or questionable myspace profiles of kids who could be lying about themselves.

Parents who are just now starting to adapt to the idea of “social networking” and all this safety raw-raw on the web, how are they to know that a site for promoting their child’s awesomeness (all the brag worthy things parents like to share about their child’s achievements) could actually backfire in regards to giving up their privacy?

Who doesn’t want to share with the world all the feats and amazements their child has engaged in??? Kids rock! Especially when the kids are one’s own… Look at the length in which parents will go to prove their child is number one– pageants, television shows, etc…
And if there is a website created by super star athletes who may or may not wander through the network, checkin’ on the awesomeness of kids? Parents would love that opp to get a chance for their kid, and that’s great, rock on… but what happens to the importance level of privacy & personal identity, oh clark kent?

And there’s always the question – if you post a photo of the team, or groups of kids, will the other parents be happy to know their child’s image is on the world wide web? But that’s a subject that’s still far from the pitchforks and bandwagons (me and my gut feel it coming though… still a few years off, but it’ll be here).

I love sports, and they’re HUGELY influential on a child’s physical, mental, and social growth. To this day I STILL find that lessons I learned within my team, on the field, working as a team, etc have shaped who I am and how I do things.

This could be said for music, kids who want to act, kid biz geniuses, etc. Any activity that solicits passion, creativity, and an opportunity to excel not just on a small platform, but a world’s stage? You just got to know what to expect, form opinions and ideas about that information, and step forward knowing the full choice you made.

Make an educated decisions about full results & consequences before you let the excitement & possibility swallow you & rationality up like Venom with Spiderman.

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  1. March 28, 2008 at 12:48 am

    Izzy you bring up all the points we’ve just been confronting here re: teams/volleyball girls’ sports stuff…

    We’ve been testing ‘peer to peer’ safety word of mouth blasts, where one kid tells another (in heads up fashion) about finding themselves on YouTube.

    In this case, a post-event party shot of girls all clowning around on the trampoline, w/their team jerseys/names/numbers clearly visible) We got quite a bit of traction (kids forwarding it to other team-mates to remind them that it’s ‘outing by association’ in terms of privacy issues) and it seemed to ‘stick’ much better than parental clucking and finger-wagging…

    (Highly recommend Chip Heath’s book “Made to Stick” along these lines). Overall, you’re right tho, we all need to put some brainpower behind this one to ‘think ahead’ in the social media/sports/safety arena (esp. when team rivalries/tournaments and other opps for social nasties could come into play bleh…)

    Did Anne et al at ConnectSafely have any ideas on this one?

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