A Survey of Kids’ Social Networking Sites

After reading about the recent acquisition of social networking superstar Club Penguin by Disney, I started taking stock of other social networking sites available for kids. I have my long-term favorites like Whyville because of its educational mission, and Webkinz because of their tangible toy / virtual world business model. But after digging through dozens of websites that claim to have a social networking component, I realize that many of these sites apply this term loosely. For example, if a website allows a user to play many different games and activities online, complete with a customized avatar, and allows a user the ability to see other user’s avatars in games, without communication occuring between community members, does this constitute a social networking environment? If the communication occurs outside of a virtual world’s website, in the form of an email to and from members, does this mean such a service has a social networking component?

I assembled a list of kids’ social networking websites I’m currently watching. Each site has a very defined method of communicating with its members. They include the following:


Site Ages Launched Ads Cost How is it social?
BarbieGirls 7 – 12 Apr 2007 Yes* Free / $60 Filtered chat
Club Penguin 7 – 14 Oct 2005 No Free / $6 per month Filtered chat
imbee 8 – 14 Jun 2006 No Free All correspondence can be parent approved
Neopets 8 + Nov 1999 Yes Free / $7.99 per month No chat / Filtered chat
Nicktropolis 6 – 14 Jan 2007 Yes Free Canned chat / Filtered chat
Runescape Teen + Jan 2001 Yes Free / $5 per month Filtered chat
Stardoll 9 – 17 May 2004 Yes Depends on items you buy Filtered chat
ToonTown 8 – 13 Jun 2003 No Free / $9.95 per month Canned chat
Webkinz 6 + Apr 2005 Yes* $14 or $8 per doll Canned chat
Whyville 10 – 15 Mar 1999 No Free No chat / Filtered chat

This list defines social networking sites that are just for kids ages 12 and under, though some sites creep up a little beyond 12 years of age. The only exception I added to this list is Runescape. Runescape is a very popular massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) that was not specifically developed for kids, but kids have found it and they flock to it. Runescape is not for all kids, and parents should judge for themselves about whether it’s right or not for their own child. Runescape is a battle-like virtual world environment, and chat can occur with anyone who plays online, even though it is filtered and monitored. Since no age is recommended by the site, I recommend ages 11 or 12 and higher.

A few notes about my chart.

  • Any site that includes ads and is marked with an asterisk (“*”) means that this site has ads only related to the products this company offers (i.e. Webkinz ads are just for other Webkinz items).
  • In terms of cost, most sites have a free to use or a monthly fee component. Sometimes these sites have two tiers of service where the paid service offers more bells and whistles. Sometimes a product needs to be purchased instead of paying a monthly subscription in order to reach the higher tiered service.
  • How communication occurs with community members varies. “Canned chat” means users can communicate with each other through a short list of pre-approved words and phrases. Nothing else. (Click here to see an example of ToonTown’s canned chat in action, or here for the history behind the development of this version of chat called “SpeedChat”.) “Filtered chat” relies on software tools to strip out bad words, names, locations, and inappropriate content. Many times a live monitor oversees all communication written back and forth to users, in addition to these software filtering tools. imbee is unique in that any messages that are sent to your child have the option of being approved by the parent before being forwarded on.

There are other sites worth knowing about, but span ages from older teen to adult. Sites like Piczo, Dubit, Faketown, and CyWorld (all ages). Generally I find the older the demographic, the less monitoring and filtering of messages between users.

If you’re aware of other social networking sites for kids or teens please do share here with similar details about target age, cost, and how members socialize with each other.

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21 Responses to “A Survey of Kids’ Social Networking Sites”

  1. tim Says:

    Hi Scott,

    Great post and thanks for mentioning imbee.com.

    I have a couple comments. First imbee.com is 100% free to join. We made a conscience decision to make our site available at no cost, to any kid / parent who might be interested in exploring social media.

    The second comment I would like to make is that most of the sites you listed above, are for the most part, virtual worlds that offer aspects of social networking.

    In our opinion, we think that a general definition of social networking means “real people gathered in community, sharing the content they create”.

    That was pretty much the idea behind MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, Xanga and the rest when the term “social networking” was originally coined.

    While all of these virtual worlds have purpose and value, at some point young users won’t want to wear the veneer of a penguin, a sponge with pants, a digital paper doll or some fantasy based creature.

    Instead, young users (just like their teenage and adult counterparts) will just want to be themselves – – communicating, collaborating and connecting with their friends and family members online.

    Cheers,

    Tim D
    Imbee.com, cofounder

  2. Scott Says:

    Thanks for your note Tim. I updated the chart above to reflect the correct cost info. In compiling this list I noticed that while some sites are great at building a community of folks with common interests, and other are strong on the social aspect, its not always a guarantee that one company will be strong in both of these areas. This seems an especially hard balance to achieve with such sites that target kids.

  3. Gina Harris Says:

    Check out YoKidsYo.com. It is a kids communication site including private email and chat. The site has lot’s of cool features, most importantly a child can speak with only parent approved children on their child’s buddlist.

  4. Scott Says:

    Thanks Gina. An interview with the founder of YoKidsYo, Mark Trudeau, can be found here. (run time 13:09). While not a lot of information is available about this new venture, it appears that YoKidsYo is ad free, is free to sign up and become a member, and I estimate the date of its launch in December, 2006. No specific age range is offered but it feels like kids ages 6 – 12. Communication between members also looks like it is parent approved and parent monitored.

  5. Jim Bower Says:

    Scott,

    Thanks for a useful and valuable summary of some of the on-line spaces now supporting (I prefer to “targeting”) safe use of the Internet by children. When Whyville was launched as one of the first such sites in 1999, the term “social networking” or for that matter, “User-contributed content” or “virtual worlds” hadn’t yet been coined – As is usually the case, once such terms come into common practice they almost always loose their meaning — especially if they produce a ‘band-wagon’ effect (now accelerated by the purchase of Club Penguin by Disney).

    I did want to comment on Tim’s (Imbee’s) post however. It is our view that the use of the Internet by kids (as adults) is an enormous space. I doubt that anyone will get tired soon of the growing richness that can be found there in how one can interact, represent themselves, or contribute from their own imaginations. It is Numedeon’s view, of course, that Whyville’s mix of a 3-D landscape, rich community features (including everything from jobs on the site to a representative government), and the endless opportunities to both contribute and importantly also learn, will keep driving kids (and parents and grandparents) to the site. Our latest stats show, on average, 300 page views per month per user, and perhaps more importantly because our site is NOT designed to generate page views, more than 3.5 contact hours per user per month. These are web leading statistics.

    It is also worth pointing out that the identity issues surrounding the construction of avatars are now becoming a subject of real academic research. I can point you to the work of Dr. Yasmin Kafai, for example, at UCLA. One of her students has just completed a very interesting master’s degree thesis on diversity issues in Whyville, where the kids make almost all the parts from which their avatars are constructed. One can obtain fascinating insights into both “kid” culture as well as self image formation and identification from studying this rich subject which goes far beyond dressing up as “paper dolls”

    Of course, to be interested in such things, it helps to actually be interested in education, child development and learning. It is our view that learning is the “killer ap” for virtual worlds and probably for the Internet as a whole — a self serving opinion, as Whyville is the only one of the spaces you list, and still the only virtual world, whose explicit purpose is to educate.

    Jim Bower
    CEO Numedeon Inc.
    the founders of Whyville.net

  6. Nelson Heller Says:

    Scott – Our antennae have been focused in a similar direction. In fact, I’ve been looking into this area in conjunction with my annual View From the Catbird Seat presentation for our upcoming EdNET conference (Sept. 9-11, Chicago). In addition to the sites you’ve tallied, some others I’ve found are: Gaia Online, SuperClubsPlus, Habbo, Postopia, Millsville and Zwinky (or Zwinktopia). Thanks for this useful info. Hope to see you at EdNET!

    Nelson Heller, President
    The Heller Reports, a QED Company

  7. Scott Says:

    Thanks Nelson. Yes, you have some nice additions.

    Gaia and Habbo are good examples as well, but do target an older demographic.

    I did not include Millsberry on my list because, while its a virtual world with games and activities that encouraging social conciousness, it appears that users cannot communicate with one another within the service. It is a free site but does rely on product placement advertising throughout. The Millsberry service launched in August, 2004.

    I missed SuperClubsPlus. An excellent find in the education category! Targetting teachers and students ages 6 – 11 , SuperClubsPlus was originally launched in the UK in January, 2001 and then updated in April, 2006. This service charges a mimimum fee for at least 10 students at Ł5 per student (or roughly $10 US per student). Communication between students is monitored and versions of the service are said to be available for mobile devices like the PSP and Nintendo DS. A special version of the service is also available for kids 11 – 14. SuperClubsPlus is ad free and has won numerous awards!

    I’ve held back from commenting on Postopia and Zwinky. Could someone share some insights here? Thanks again Nelson.

  8. Lauren Trudeau Says:

    Dear Scott-

    As a co-founder of YokidsYo.com, I created the site in response to my own children’s (ages 9 + 10) desire for “real” email and chat capabilities. As a parent, I wanted to give them this but in a controlled environment. After researching many children’s “networking” sites, I realized there was a need for true interactive communication for our savvy generation of kids today.

    The site is unique in many ways in that it was created by parents for parents (not by a corporation) and we have not taken in any institutional funding to build the site. This is important because it ensures that the parents involved in the creation of the site are the ones driving the direction and not a larger entity. One point of clarification is that we do accept advertising and sponsorships on the “parents” side of the site. The kids will not see advertising. A key point of distinction is that the site is totally free to users…to our knowledge it’s the first truly free email and chat for kids which gives parents full control over who their kids communicate with… (via a white list technology). It also gives parents full visibility into their kid’s chat or email text. We’ve consulted with law enforcement, educators and numerous parents to build the site. Since YokidsYo.com was started as a “grass roots effort” we are carefully rolling out new features and capabilities in response to our users needs and desires. To this end, we are continually evolving the site and look forward to providing the YKY community with the latest technology advances that are suitable for children.

    We at YKY appreciate your efforts and attention to this most important issue facing our children today.

    Lauren Trudeau
    Co-founder, YoKidsYo.com

  9. Scott Says:

    Thank you Lauren. The additional details you have provided are very helpful. There are many wonderful and unique qualities to your service that are a benefit to both kids and parents. I wish you all the success you seek!

  10. Brian Says:

    I agree with Tim’s general definition of social networking. Yomod.com should be added to the list. Yomod is a safe social media site for the youngest kids on the Internet:

    Ages: 14 and under
    Launch: May 2007
    Ads: No
    Cost: Free
    How Social: Kids post, rate and comment on age-appropriate media and manage a profile in a secure community.

    Thanks!

    Brian
    Yomod, co-founder

  11. Greg Writer Says:

    Well after reading your post I wanted to share with you my idea for competing in this space. I have recently launched a beta version of Club TUKI. TUKI stands for The Ultimate Kids Internet and is very comprehensive in a number of different areas.

    It is a kid’s membership site with many free components and is designed to teach kids about Internet Safety, among other things, with the use of our Educational Arcade and reward them with our form of online currency, we call TUKI Moola.

    Now that’s not new but what is, is our reward system! Kids can then take their Moola and bid on real items in an auction. For the 1st time that I am aware a child is rewarded with real stuff for playing educational games, and all the while learning about money and finance. Our currency system follows the US dollar and is deposited in to their TUKI Bank account where kids can learn about debits, credits and balances.

    So we feel very confident that this model will prove to be very viral and successful as we appeal to both the kids (for fun) and the parents (for education).

    We also offer a line of Kid Safe Browsers that are themed and work off an include list technology so kids only can surf pre-approved web sites. Our latest release was the Shrek Browser for Kids see http://www.ShrekBrowser.com .

    It is a very unique way to protect kids online and we are stand alone in this area with the absolute best Kid Safe Browser on the market.

    Well, we hope we are on the right track as our mission is to build the world’s largest online community for kids built on safety and education. And really make a difference in the lives of families.

    Greg Writer
    CEO & Founder
    Children’s Educational Network
    http://www.ChildrensEducationalNetwork.com

  12. Big A Says:

    While we are on the topic of kid friendly virtual worlds, I would highly recommend checking out http://www.citypixel.com where my 12 year old twins can’t seem to stop exploring. They even convinced me to sign up and customize my virtual life. Pretty neat if you ask me. I really enjoyed leasing out an apartment and customizing it to my liking!

  13. Dan Says:

    You left Virtual Magic Kingdom off of your list. It’s been running since the summer of 2005, has a regular audience of hundreds of thousands of kids aged from around 8 to around 12, plus quite a few Disney ‘philes, and is totally free. The chat model is a form of filtered chat.

  14. Mom Says:

    Looking for an alternative to the overly priced Toontown and I saw this blog. I checked out Whyville.net on your suggestion and liked the educational aspect of it, but overall I’m not sure I like this site. I have an 8 year old and I was on the page for 15 minutes and watched how the kids were talking back and forth. “Hell” may not be a bad curse words in some circles, but for my 8 year old it is. Another user was being rude to another and it seems this may be a place for older kids. Once you “pass” a chat test, you are allowed to chat freely…somehow, those girls passed the test and were speaking very freely. This is just a comment on my observation. I will check out the other sites suggested here.

  15. Scott Says:

    Thank you for your post. You have observed a problem that many children’s sites have that include social networking components. Even child friendly sites that are known to have heavy monitoring and have other controls to eliminate bad words and behavior are at best not 100% perfect. For example, I was recently on a popular children’s social networking site (I will intentionally leave out the name) and was video taping activity on the site to share in a lecture I was giving. When I reviewed the video at a later time, I couldn’t believe the conversation that was going on. Clearly not acceptable and clearly slipping through site monitoring. I’m also aware that this one site has heavy live monitoring by many adults and very strong software filters and still unacceptable conversation and words slip through. I don’t have an answer, but an equally surprised with all sites for kids, small and large, and what can slip through for all children to see. Clearly unacceptable.

  16. Mom Says:

    I appreciate your response. If only more parent’s would monitor their children a bit more closely it could help. I know kids will be kids, but there are other ways to express themselves without having to result to such behavior. I do appreciate your efforts in putting this list together, as I am always searching for safe, educational and fun things for my daughter to do.

  17. peter Says:

    thanks. There are many wonderful and unique qualities to your service that are a benefit to both kids and parents.

  18. Scott Says:

    Thanks Peter. I wish you success at http://www.thekidzhome.com

  19. statistics help Says:

    Very very good list of social networking sites. Probably the best so far i have seen on the internet.
    Thank you so much

  20. Amber25595 Says:

    there are two more that i know about…they are http://www.Togetherville.com and http://www.kidswirl.com

  21. Chris Getman Says:

    Hi Scott,

    Given the conversation happening here in this comment string, I believe you’ll find http://www.WhatsWhat.Me interesting.

    WhatsWhat.Me (BETA) is a safe, secure, “kids-only” social network for “tweens” ages 7-13 which uses patent-pending facial recognition technology, moderation and kid-friendly features to teach kids positive online behavior, Internet safety and related life skills. Here’s a link to our recent press release that provides a more detailed background on What’s What: http://multivu.prnewswire.com/mnr/whatswhat/48109/

    I hope you find WhatsWhat.Me to be a valuable resource.

    Thanks,
    Chris

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