November 13, 2007 at 12:41 am (social sites)
Well, i signed up for a Zwinky profile to see what that’s all about, but ran into some grief because it wanted to download some stuff to my computer. In Firefox, i was able to get it to work until i wanted to build and clothe my avatar – then it wouldn’t work. In IE it wouldn’t work either, because i don’t have the latest ActiveX installed. So it could be a little while before that comes my way.
I might try it out at home, now that i’ve started the process. I was thinking about looking at some of these sites that target younger audiences, and seeing how they compare with each other, and what the “creep factor” is – like, is there open chat and things like that.
I’ve seen Webkinz in action, and it’s not so bad – you can play lots of games, get cool things for your virtual house, and get stuff for your pet. You can wander around the Webkinz world and meet other webkinz in and around their houses. When you want to chat with someone, you can’t type a message – you have to select things to say from a list, like “let’s play a game,” or “see you later” or something like that. I’m not sure if more open chat is available to other users or not, but i don’t think that it is.
I’ve been hearing about another site like Webkinz, called Club Penguin, in which kids get a penguin avatar, and wander around playing games and meeting other penguins. There is chat available, but apparently it’s monitored in some way. I haven’t tried it out yet, and i’m not sure i’m allowed, seeing as how I’m 32 and all.
Then there’s Gaia Online, which has few restrictions. This is a popular site with the middle school aged set, and was built around the topic of anime and manga, but has since spread out to cover everything. You can get an avatar with some basic clothing. To get more clothes and things for your apartment, you need money. To get Gaia money, you have to post things on messageboards and move around Gaia. The more you post and move, the more money you get. There are some really expensive items to get for your avatar, and even the cheap stuff is pretty spendy. The result is that in order to make your avatar look cool, you have to chat and post hundreds of times, or thousands, even. The need to post in quantity does little for quality, and there are a lot of non-substantive posts. Of course, the topics are ones that no middle school aged kid could tire of talking about, so there are a lot of substantive posts, too. Even though the target audience appears to be low teens, users can be of any age, and there’s not a lot in the way of moderation or monitoring, unless it’s by the community at large.