When I was a youngster there wasn’t much you could do to block me from accessing most websites out there, and there certainly weren’t a lot of websites designed specifically for the kids or teen demographics. But now, with child safety being an important parental concern for online activity and the potential for massive marketing to kids and teens, a plethora of sites, browsers, software and tools have emerged in the years since worrying about what someone will say to me in an AOL chat room.
Below is a list of the top ten sites and browsers out there for the kids and teens of today.
Downloading an entire browser is one of the safest ways to keep kids from stumbling across the wrong URL. Many have disabled the ability to even view a URL for the current web page, and have parental settings that allow only accepted websites to be accessed at all. Browsers also prove useful for establishing platforms through which other sites, educational programs and games can be marketed and accessed. But just because child safety comes in the form of a browser doesn’t mean that there aren’t social media and networking attributes.
Kido’z has a community for children where they’re able to set up very basic profiles and chat with other users in a protected environment. These profiles also prove helpful for the parents, who may want to monitor the bulk of their child’s web activity within the Kido’z browser.
Kido’z is also a great platform for introducing other games, software and tools created for kids. While Kido’z doesn’t yet have an established marketplace for targeted products, the existing features on Kido’z is a really good way to get your kids started on the Internet in a safe and effective way.
Glubble transforms your Firefox browser into a family-friendly environment with a focus on sharing media and interacting with those you know. Designed for family use, Glubble features a family homepage, and various ways in which to securely share media amongst family members.
Seeing as Glubble is a browser for the whole family, it’s fairly customizable in terms of what each user can get out of the Glubble experience. Parents can also be quite involved from both a social and protective stance, which may be particularly important in preparing kids for an age where teens and young adults are having to learn to share their online social spaces with their parents and colleagues.
Buddy Browser is also another tool designed with kids in mind. Internet safety filters, a lack of chat rooms and disabled web surfing seem to deter social interaction, but Buddy Browser has its own Safe Buddy Messenger created specifically for its young users.
The social features included in Buddy Browser are good ways in which to introduce proper Internet behavior and etiquette for our youngsters without having o worry about online predators.
Top Virtual Worlds and Sites
Sites for younger demographics are important for many reasons, from education to sheer fun in a safe environment. Interestingly enough, if you do a quick search for kids social networking, you’ll find that many of the results also come in the form of virtual worlds. Why?
Because role-playing comes naturally to youngsters, and virtual worlds often provide a rather confined environment that can be fun and even sometimes educational. While there are several virtual worlds out there that are designed for adult use or are simply not targeted towards the younger demographics, more than enough of today’s virtual worlds cater to kids and teens.
See below for some sites and virtual environments that are designed for our youth.
Sites for Kids
As I mentioned before, kids should have a safe place to interact in the online world. I don’t really need to be redundant here, so we’ll just dive right into some of the sites out there that are geared towards children.
Webkinz is one cute social network, with a number of animal-theme avatars to choose from, and even more interactive options for site participation. Games, trading cards, news and craft ideas are some of the features found on Webkinz. As the online portion of a physical toy product, the Webkinz community acts as an extension of the Webkinz retail brand.
The benefit of creating Webkinz’s online destination as an extension of its physical toys is a level of branding that is more likely to become a comfortable medium for parents and kids alike. Disney has taken a similar approach to bridging the tangible and digital worlds with browsers and online communities for kids, including Club Penguin.
Moshi Monsters is one of my favorite sites. With irresistible avatars, you get to create and care for the pet you’ve created. Keep it happy with food and a cool pad, and interact with other Moshi Monsters by visiting their pads. You can leave notes, explore with others and play games on Moshi as well.
Moshi’s entire format builds off the popular trend that’s spanned the past decade, with digital pets that need care and attention. This is a good format for children’s online environments as they don’t reveal any personal information and encourage repeat behavior and site visits. The social interaction between Moshi monsters is rather passive and centered around the avatar.
Another branded online destination, Club Penguin is a game site for kids, launched by Disney. This virtual environment features a world of avatars where users can play games, interact through filtered chat, and contribute their own media to the Club Penguin marketplace.
The marketplace doesn’t necessarily require payments, but it is a great opportunity for kids to create media (i.e. wallpaper, fan art, etc.), offer it to others for their own use, and learn how online interactions can occur around such media sharing. This concept also ties in well with the virtual environments that users can create for their penguin avatars, which are similar to those virtual environments found in Moshi Monsters or WeeWorld.
Sites for Teens
I find it particularly important for teens to have accessible online environments as well, even though this is a tricky age to target and control from a product and parental perspective. But any teen-centric site that can combine advice, education and fun is a site that I can appreciate.
GirlSense is one of my favorites for this reason, as it layers in advice for things like basic budgeting and financial planning while keeping things fun. GirlSense provides virtual shops for its users, where they can learn a little bit more than just the affects of supply and demand. Couple this with advice and discussion boards on everything from dating to makeup for prom, and you get a pretty useful website.
Creating a marketplace around the GirlSense social network is making great use of online social interaction, media creation and sharing. Having a safe environment to discuss pertinent issues with each other is also important for girl teens and even pre-teens, especially as they are becoming more adept at utilizing online forums and networks.
myYearbook doesn’t get the same type of press that MySpace and Facebook receives, but this social network was created by teens, for teens. A high school theme for myYearbook keeps the overall feel of the site pretty targeted. This may limit growth to a certain degree but it also provides the platform for launching the very specific features found on myYearbook, such as sections for secret admirers, quizzes and matchmakers.
Earlier this year myYearbook teamed with Meebo to offer instant messaging tools, increasing the type of social interaction that can occur directly within the myYearbook site. Though this is a feature with a broader appeal than just the teen demographic, the partnership between myYearbook and Meebo will make for longer site visits, which many teens can afford to do.
There.com is one such social network that combines customizable avatars with online shopping, social interaction, games, and environment creation. Having such an inclusive feature set, along with the more sophisticated graphics, There.com is ideal for the teenage crowd.
As one of the more popular social virtual worlds, There.com has a large user base and is constantly being updated with new custom options for environment creation, game play and social interaction. This is all important as virtual worlds are primed for virtual goods exchange, which is becoming an integral aspect of social networking overall.
Gaia is another virtual world with a very specific social networking motif. Between its virtual world, forums and guilds, Gaia involves a lot of role-playing and games, with direct interaction between users as a necessary medium for enjoying the Gaia environment.
Having an overlap of so many different aspects of virtual social interactions is a good way to enjoy the social media formats that can be provided via the web. Many virtual environments for adults are built around forums and guilds, so Gaia offers an interesting stepping stone for the teen demographic.