Togetherville brings social networking to children

Thanks to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, social-networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are off-limits to kids under 13. That’s not to say that preteens aren’t using these sites–many are–but they have to lie about their age to sign up.

Aside from being “against the rules,” there are some real problems with younger kids using sites designed for teens and adults. For one thing, signing up requires lying, which is bad in itself. But, as many adults are finding out, knowing how to protect one’s privacy on a site like Facebook can be daunting and most young children are not developmentally ready to use these services. There are other issues as well; including how easy it is for kids to cyberbully each other on social-networking sites.

Finally, sites like Facebook just don’t have the resources for younger children, including the types of videos, games, and experiences that 6- to 10-year-olds find compelling.

Enter Togetherville.com, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based company that has built what founder Mandeep Singh Dhillon calls a “neighborhood” aimed at “kids and their grownups.” The site is set to come out of beta Tuesday evening.

In an interview (scroll down to listen to podcast) Dhillon called Togetherville “the first platform that really integrates young children’s ability to use the Web with their grownups close by.” Unlike some virtual words aimed at children, Togetherville uses the child’s real identity. Anonymity, said Dhillon is not allowed. The site encourages parents “to create neighborhoods of the real people in their child’s life to be around their kid as they grow up online.”

The free site, which does not display advertising to children, lets kids play games, watch videos, and create and share art. There is a “chat” function but neither kids nor adults can type in text. The only way to say something to another Togetherville participant is to select a prescreened “quip” as the site refers to text that has been approved by Togetherville staff. This greatly reduces the chances of cyberbullying and abuse and eliminates the ability for a child to reveal personal information other than what is already available on the service.

Videos, which can come from a variety of sources including YouTube, are also prescreened by staff to make sure that they are age appropriate.

Finally, sites like Facebook just don’t have the resources for younger children, including the types of videos, games, and experiences that 6- to 10-year-olds find compelling.

Enter Togetherville.com, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based company that has built what founder Mandeep Singh Dhillon calls a “neighborhood” aimed at “kids and their grownups.” The site is set to come out of beta Tuesday evening.

In an interview (scroll down to listen to podcast) Dhillon called Togetherville “the first platform that really integrates young children’s ability to use the Web with their grownups close by.” Unlike some virtual words aimed at children, Togetherville uses the child’s real identity. Anonymity, said Dhillon is not allowed. The site encourages parents “to create neighborhoods of the real people in their child’s life to be around their kid as they grow up online.”

The free site, which does not display advertising to children, lets kids play games, watch videos, and create and share art. There is a “chat” function but neither kids nor adults can type in text. The only way to say something to another Togetherville participant is to select a prescreened “quip” as the site refers to text that has been approved by Togetherville staff. This greatly reduces the chances of cyberbullying and abuse and eliminates the ability for a child to reveal personal information other than what is already available on the service.

Videos, which can come from a variety of sources including YouTube, are also prescreened by staff to make sure that they are age appropriate.

Listen to my interview with Togetherville CEO Mandeep Dhillon

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