Archive for August, 2007

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

Earlier in the year, I posted an article about a neat electronic toy called the Eyeclops that’s bound to be a big seller later this year. This $50 dollar handheld plug-and-play device was created by toy company Jakks Pacific and will start appearing in stores any day now. Once plugged in, this toy turns your television set into a powerful 200x microscope. Warren Buckleitner, editor of Children’s Technology Review magazine, recently posted a video of this toy product in action (the video is included below.) While this toy is not specifically positioned as a learning product I can see it finding its way into many a classroom. Watch this toy turn your child into a junior scientist with simple everyday objects found in the home. Recommended for children (and interested adults) ages 6 and older.

Also, take a look at this video of the EyeClops in action. Item’s being explored close up include:
Table salt, kosher salt, sugar, organic sugar, soap bubbles, lint from a clothes dryer, blue jeans, fish food, mosquito, head lice egg shell, man’s facial hair, sand paper, US Penny, and a feather

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 172 user reviews.

Sunday, August 5th, 2007

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.

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 221 user reviews.

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

It’s official. Acquisition season in the children’s social networking world has begun. Moments ago, Disney acquired the wildly successful children’s social networking site Club Penguin for $350 million dollars. Club Penguin launched its unique online service for children in October 2005, just six months after another wildly successful social networking website for children, Webkinz. This past June, Club Penguin reached 4.7 million unique visitors to it site according to comScore Media Metrix.

While the folks at Club Penguin have recently been in discussion with Sony regarding the sale of the company, negotiations broke down just a few short weeks ago with the technology giant.

There has been a buzz of activity related to social networking in the last year and we’ve yet to hear the end of it. What’s noteworthy about this particular deal? Here are a few of my predictions:

  • This is the first major acquisition in the children’s social networking space. Plan to see similar acquisitions soon.
  • Many more social networking site for kids have launched in the last two months, with many more yet to be announced.
  • So much activity is occurring in the kids’ social networking environment, that this specific online activity for children is positioned to become very crowded over the next six months.

Stay tuned for lots more activity and news in this space! (For related blog articles, see my posts in April and May of 2007.)

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 210 user reviews.