First and second-graders, even third-graders who haven’t gotten to be Facebook regulars yet, can now Have Fun Online Together and Share Proud Moments With Friends through their Togetherville social network accounts.
God help us.
With the brewing controversies about Facebook and privacy, not to mention news stories about the dangers of cyberabuse, the last thing parents might want to do is let their children get into online social networking.
But Togetherville Inc., a Palo Alto startup that finished a test run last week, hopes to alleviate those fears with a social-networking service tailored to children ages 6 through 10.
The free service creates a secure network that gives children access to the benefits of social networking while giving parents oversight to make sure their kids are shielded from potential dangers until they are old enough to handle the Web.
No offense to Dhillon and his investors, but are we really ready to offer up a new generation to be “shielded from potential dangers…” by the operators of a social network while they are having fun sitting in front of a small screen all day sharing proud moments with their friends? Did Alice just fall down the rabbit hole?
On Togetherville, no one who is not authorized by the parent can contact the child. Nor can anyone outside the network gain access to a child’s information or postings, including through search engines.
There are adult Facebook members who are pressing for that same level of privacy. Parents create the account using their Facebook login information, but the Togetherville site operates in a separate world outside of Facebook.
However, children can exchange text messages with other friends in their Togetherville “neighborhood” and with authorized grown-ups through Facebook Connect. The text comes from a pre-written selection of “quips” like “Cool,” “Random” and “What planet are you from?”
The kids can create digital greeting cards, play games and watch approved video. But they can’t share links to outside sites or, for now at least, photos.
Dhillon said the company is working on generating revenue by buying and sharing virtual goods.
It is not Dhillon’s fault, I suppose, that Togetherville is launching into the world at a time when faith in Facebook is not exactly on an all-time high. If there are parents of 6- to 10-year-olds ready to believe that their children can be shielded from potential dangers once tethered to Togetherville, they must surely have spent the past few years in Wonderland with Alice.
Social networks unquestionably have benefits. Just don’t try to convince people right now that those benefits come without perils and frustrations. If they are shielded from dangers, are 6-year-olds ready for the frustrations? For instance. A few months ago, Facebook decided it didn’t want me to have access to my Friends any more. Oh, they can send me messages, and presumably if they haven’t hidden me they get my status updates. I get a few of their status updates too. I just can no longer access my Friend list because it has disappeared somewhere. Have you ever tried to find a real person involved with Facebook? The people behind the software are utterly unreachable.
This is the world to which 6- to 10-year olds will now be introduced. Fully shielded from danger, their parents are told…