Togetherville: Walled Garden Social Networking for the Younger Set

BlogHer Original Post

If it takes a village to raise a child in the real world, then in the virtual world, according to Togetherville, it takes a neighborhood.

 

Togetherville is the new social network for young kids six to 10 years old. It is not only designed as a Facebook alternative for kids who are perhaps too young to be thrust into the murky waters of adult social media, but it is also intended to be a learning tool. Those of us even remotely involved with social media know that social media is here to stay, and that children are becoming more and more involved at increasingly early ages. We parents can try to stop our children from going online. We can attempt to delay them. Or we can grab them up (or allow ourselves to be grabbed) and jump in together.

Togetherville was created with the latter choice in mind. Creator Mandeep Singh Dhillon suggests during an indepth podcast interview with CBS News and CNET.com, that the avoid and delay approaches are perhaps not the optimal way to raise a budding social networker. Instead of encouraging kids to wait until they are older and then approach social media anonymously, he believes it better to begin young with parental supervision, site controls and using the true identity of the child so that they learn accountability.

In order to achieve this, Dhillon tells CNET.com, Togetherville allows parents "to create neighborhoods of the real people in their child's life to be around their kid as they grow up online." On Togetherville, children can interact with a social circle of hand-picked friends, but on a curated site that only allows them to comment directly to friends from a drop-down menu of preselected phrases. In this way, Dhillon says, kids can develop social skills, avoid cyberbullying and learn to restrain from over-sharing personal information.

With Togetherville, designers sought to improve on such juvi-networks as the popular Club Penguin, where children can interact more freely through anonymous avatars and are thus less connected to the consequences of their words and actions. Also, with the Togetherville neighborhood concept, children interact with people they actually know in the real world. They are not encouraged to go find and pursue new online friends.

Togetherville just launched this past Tuesday. Beforehand, the Togetherville folks teamed up with Connectsafety.org and Family Online Safety Institute to optimize their safety and privacy features. Only a parent can sign up and enter personal information for their child. And there are no advertisements on the kid's pages. A parent must be a Facebook member to join.

Will parents opt for this intermediate step before setting their kids free online? Some parents, like Andre Strumer, don’t think the Togetherville model is safe enough. Strumer who told ABC26 News in New Orleans, "It seems unnecessary and potentially quite dangerous to open up a situation where there's no end or no possibility of serious monitoring."

But for the young children who are chomping at the bit to participate online, this may be a willing parent's answer. The site offers lots for children to do -- play games, watch and share videos and create art projects -- in an age-appropriate environment. The "status" function allows them to pick a "quip" from such choices as "I got a haircut," "school wiped me out" or "I am soooooooooooo awesome!"

When they want to add a friend, they are prompted to type in the name and click "Add Friend," just like Facebook. Only in the Togetherville scenario, the request goes to their parents, who have to do the adding.

That's plenty of parental control ... if you're up for it!

Would you use Togetherville with your young child?

Contributing Editor Gina Carroll also blogs at Think Act: Proactive Black Parenting and Tortured By Teenagers

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