Virtual worlds of the grammar school set
December 31st, 2007

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.

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1 - Jonathan Trenn

While I do see a trend toward virtual world participation, I can’t imagine children will move away from their natural needs to socialize in person.

I’m doing some work with New York Kids Club and we’ve got tons of activities for infants from 6 months right up to 12 year old. From exercising to music to cultural activities and I’ve yet to see any fall off of interest. In fact, while we have several locations throughout Manhattan, we’re opening one up in Brooklyn this April.

Our site is

You know, one thing I hope that the virtual arena really contributes to our children is that it makes them curious about other places. As they meet other children from throughout the world, they’ll see there’s more than just what they have. It could make us understand one other that much more.

Certainly, you are correct that children need to socialize in person. I have worked a lot with New York City public school kids, mostly at the high school level and some with middle school. My experience is that many of them have very limited personal social circles and I think there are ways that virtual socialization expands their contacts and interest in broader groups even if they are not physically present. I look forward to reading Rich Long’s book that Howard previewed in a recent SmartMobs content.

Your curiosity point is a good one, I think. Thanks for your thoughts!


3 - Jonathan Trenn

I’ll look for Rich Long’s book. Thanks for pointing it out.

You’e right abut the virtual world concept of expanding social circles. It’s my guess companies are, right now, creating education settings for virtual worlds.

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