Business Week continues its observant coverage of social networking sites and young people with MySpace For The Sandlot Set (see my earlier post on their MySpace article). This article however is not about MySpace. It is about Club Penguin a MySpace-esque social networking site for 8-12 year olds. Yes you read correctly – 8-12 year olds. In August Club Penguin reported 2.1 million visitors.
Basic access to the site is free, but they sell memberships which give you access to advanced features (jee, do you think your 10 year old will want that?). When you sign up, you can choose 8 and under, 9-12, 13-17 and 18 and over. If you choose to sign up as an adult you get this message:
You also have to agree to a set of rules:
They mention that the entire website is moderated by their staff. It is amazing to me that people are willing to take such risks setting up a site where young people could be vulnerable. I would rather see groups who are interested in getting kids online to work with schools and teachers to create spaces where classes could safely and effectively connect with other classrooms around the world. These sites unfortunately just seem like market-research tools. What do 8-12 years olds like? Once we find out, let’s sell it to them.
Groups in the process of making a profit while “helping” young people put themselves in a challenging ethical situation. They are for-profit groups who as a mission want to help kids. I wonder if those two goals often find themselves in direct or partial opposition. Anyone think they can hold on to their ideals while still trying to land a profit?
On a side note: when I asked my 5th grade class at the beginning of the year to introduce themselves along with something they love to do on the computer at least half of them said Club Penguin.