On paper, Togetherville.com sounds like the social network that Mr. Rogers would have created. The site, which launched last night, is looking to provide a safe environment for children to become “digital citizens” and experience what it’s like to be a member of a social network. Unlike popular sites like Facebook and MySpace (which have age requirements of 13 and 14, respectively), this site puts parents in charge and lets them pick out the friends that their kids can talk to online in order to provide a safer environment.
“Togetherville allows parents to build a social circle for their children based on their own collection of Facebook friends,” The New York Times reports. “The children can then interact with the children of their parents’ friends, and specific adults that their parents have chosen, in a semiprivate environment.” In other words, it’s like an online version of play dates arranged by your parents.
According to the site’s description, the goal of Togetherville is to provide more of a “neighborhood” feel. The founder of the site, Mandeep Singh Dhillon, emphasized this fact in an interview today with CNN. "We built Togetherville using the spirit of the neighborhoods most of us remember when we were kids, where everyone knows everyone else and watches out for each other,” he said.
Togetherville also features games, tools to make designs and "kid-safe messaging."
There are a couple of other sites out there that hope to expose kids to social networks. There is the ridiculous example of Twoddler, which is supposed to be a Twitter account for very young kids, and then there is Club Penguin, which is also targeted at children. However, as Togetherville notes on its Twitter page, Club Penguin allows kids to remain anonymous, while Togetherville requires users to give their real names, just like the big kids have to do on Facebook.
The site certainly has gone to great lengths to make itself as safe as possible, but even if there’s little to no risk of predators and cyber bullying, the very existence of Togetherville raises a prickly issue. The site contends that kids should be allowed to dip their toes into the online world at a young age since they will depend on digital skills later in life. Yet, some will likely argue that in spending more time on sites like these early on, kids risk losing some very valuable real-world development. Togetherville may educate kids on social networks, but it could also prove to be an early gateway to Facebook addiction.
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