Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Web Playgrounds of the Very Young

Club Penguin, Webkinz, et al... social networking is starting young and making them web conscious and comfortable. And while Webkinz at least gives you a tangible return in the form of a stuffed animal, Club Penguin believes in the subscription model. Can we as parents and adults trust that the advertising won't kill the golden goose. How can we as parents control the web while allowing our children to become most comfortable with its potential. As my five year old "surfs", she begins to get more computer literate, learning more about Barbie's world and the Nick universe. At the same time, I worry that the ad message becomes so strong that she gets crazy asking for more Barbie stuff. My biggest concern remains the interactive issue; will she realize that she might be a click away from buying something, and I am not close enough to stop it. Is it truly smart marketing to focus the ad message on the under 9 crowd.

My son is 8 and also a fan of the web although his Nintendo DS takes up enough of his time. We purchased a 3 month membership on Club Penguin and while he occasionally goes to the site, when his membership expires, I am not sure I will be quick to renew. One there are too many other sites that offer content for free, two, he is not that active on the site, and three, if I said he could renew but it would come out of his allowance, I am not sure he would want to continue. Kids attention spans are short and this particular playground, while unique today, may not be at the same interest level in a year. Wii, Nintendo, Playstation, and the future of interactive TV could change the level of interest quickly. As an adult, I like the games that are more cooperative than combative, but more so, the games that are played with someone else, rather than alone. Social interaction over the web is nice for now, but I prefer when the real friends come over to play.