We keep hearing that the youngest generation are going to be the real Internet power-users. They already are. I got a dose of that firsthand over the Thanksgiving holidays when my grandneices ages 10 and 8 visited me in New York City. As we toured Manhattan, with special focus on toy stores, the girls spotted Webkinz stuffed animals on several occasions. They explained to me in detail how they each owned more than one Webkinz and how they played with them virtually online. Today the New York Times is reporting what the girls described to me:
Forget Second Life. The real virtual world gold rush centers on the grammar-school set.
Trying to duplicate the success of blockbuster Web sites like Club Penguin and Webkinz, children’s entertainment companies are greatly accelerating efforts to build virtual worlds for children. Media conglomerates in particular think these sites — part online role-playing game and part social scene — can deliver quick growth, help keep movie franchises alive and instill brand loyalty in a generation of new customers.
Second Life and other virtual worlds for grown-ups have enjoyed intense media attention in the last year but fallen far short of breathless expectations. The children’s versions are proving much more popular, to the dismay of some parents and child advocacy groups.