There really is a social network for everyone, and as I have reported previously, companies are taking steps to loop kids into online socialization at an early age. The newest player is ToonsTunes, a virtual world where kids can create their own music by mixing samples from well-known musicians. And because this is a social network, kids can share their musical creations with each other via virtual concerts. The network has also taken steps to keep kids "plugged in" by integrating their application into other aspects of life, both online and offline: users can post their creations to Facebook or use their tunes as ringtones. The site targets kids ages six to fourteen and it seems that ToonsTunes is looking to be an major element in their introduction to the web.
Players start the game as alien avatars, and ToonsTunes follows the norm of social gaming for kids by offering a slew of activities where players can earn currency to customize their avatars, purchase pets, and decorate their "pods." Where it differs is in its moderation platform:
In order to provide a safe online environment for kids ToonsTunes uses live moderation as well as chat bans. Players who use profanity are often punished by an automatic 15 minute chat ban. Players found by live moderators to have broken ToonsTunes rules and regulations are punished by a ban lasting anywhere from one hour to forever depending on the offense.
While kids still need their parents' permission to sign up, unlike Togetherville which seems to require greater parental involvement in establishing the parameters for the user's involvement, kids learn how to negotiate the social sphere here largely alone—under the watchful eye of a moderator. Granted, Togetherville targets a younger audience but it also allows for a guided introduction into the world of social networking applications like Facebook. In this case, ToonsTunes integrates into already existing accounts where there may not be any sort of moderation—parental or otherwise. This may not necessarily be a bad thing provided that children have been receiving guidance on netiquette and digital sociality all along. Children who straddle both worlds simultaneously can benefit from the reinforcements they receive on ToonsTunes and may carry that behavior outward with them. Pure speculation of course, but it is a possibility.
ToonsTunes' approach suggests a far greater infiltration than perhaps we've been willing to recognize. They're tapping a rather young user base using media like Twitter, which suggests a familiarity with technology and an acceptance that kids will have cell phones and Facebook accounts at this age. It's not an unrealistic view, but for me at least, it represents a shift in the way we've approached children and technology so far.
ToonsTunes wants to emphasize the ways in which they connect children to music—and then to others. The press release states:
utilizing music-sharing features gives players a chance to expand their audience through email and social networks.
Are these types of networks the means of educating children about social technologies?
You can view my other thoughts on this topic here, and then let me know your own below.