By Stefanie Olsen
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Published: June 15, 2006 2:00 PM PDT
Younger kids now have their own online club for blogging, sharing photos and socializing--without the privacy hazards parents worry about in connection to hip communities like MySpace, where children under 14 aren't welcome but often sneak in anyway.
On Thursday, Industrious Kids, a privately held company in Emeryville, Calif., introduced Imbee.com, one of the first social networks for kids aged 8 to 14, and one that promotes security and parental controls. The network requires parents to authorize a child's membership with a valid credit card, by first authenticating their own identity. Information posted to the site by children is viewable only to invited friends and family, and not available for indexing by search engines like Google.
For a membership with a personal blog, Imbee costs $3.95 a month (for two kids and one adult). It's free for members who want just to e-mail.
Industrious Kids said this summer that it will promote Imbee in partnership with Paramount Parks. It plans visits to three Paramount amusement parks, including Great America in San Jose, Calif., to sign up kids and parents and give away prizes.
With Imbee, Industrious is aiming to appeal to "tweens"--a booming portion of the population, with an estimated 30 million kids between the ages of 8 and 14--while also attracting parents with a viable safe haven on the Web.
Awareness of the perils the Internet can present to impressionable minds has heightened with the rising popularity of sites like MySpace and YouTube, and the knowledge that ever-younger kids are attracted to them. Despite enforcing decency standards, sites like MySpace have had trouble with risque material being posted, predators taking advantage of children's personal information, and underage children masquerading as adults in order to join.
Take Olivia, a 13-year-old from Seattle--she spends one to two hours a day online during the week and between four and five hours a day online on the weekends.
"Most of the time I spend working on my own page and commenting on other people's pages" on MySpace, Olivia said this week at the Piper Jaffray Global Internet Summit in Laguna Beach, Calif.
There's a question as to whether kids like Olivia would be attracted to a secure, parent-authenticated community.
With Imbee, parents can have an active or passive role in their child's membership, meaning they can choose to be notified of, and retain approval power over, new-friend invitations, e-mails and blog posts. Or, by maintaining the default setting, they can choose to just monitor the activity in the background, via a daily Imbee e-mail. In the intermediary role, parents must decide to approve or disapprove blog posts, for example, before they go up on the site. If the child doesn't like a parent's decision, it could be what Tim Donovan, a founding member of Imbee, called a "teachable moment."
"It becomes a tool for parents to engage in dialogue with the child about online etiquette, like what to post and who to talk to, so that when they've grown out of it, they go out of it with some real fundamental skill sets," said Donovan.
"To some degree, parents have been hands-off to their kids online, probably because they don't know when things happen. This makes it immediate," he added.
Like many social networks, Imbee's benefits include libraries of graphics such as avatars and "skins" kids can choose from to personalize their pages. Children can also upload their own graphics, as well as pictures, and the site will eventually host motion graphics and instant messaging.
The site also lets members print personalized cards to hand out to friends, and even earn "points" for blogging, which can add up to prizes like limited-edition skins or skateboards.Video frenzy
Meanwhile, more organizations are warning parents about the dangers that popular video-upload sites can present to kids.
This week, the New York State Consumer Protection Board issued a statement about how simple it is for kids to find and watch racy videos on Google Video, which hosts video submitted by users, entertainment companies and others. Despite policies against violent or pornographic clips, such material still ends up on Google Video, according to the Consumer Protection Board. One video it described, labeled as "funny," depicted a man setting himself on fire.
"It may surprise parents that Google openly presents videos--with many containing strong sexual content and violence--without a child having to first search for these videos," Teresa Santiago, executive director of the board, said in a statement.
According to Santiago, Google had said it would restrict its "Top 100" list and its most-popular video section to only family-friendly videos. And Google said it is working on a safe-search feature for videos that would restrict viewing by kids, if parents applied the filtering tools.
The concerns are real. But judging from this week's Global Internet Summit, many older kids say they aren't watching much at Google Video.
Zach, a 17-year-old from Newport Beach, Calif., said he largely visits YouTube and wasn't even aware of Google Video. What's more, Yasmin, an 18-year-old from the area, called sites like MySpace "overrated," indicating that MySpace could be a fad for younger kids.
So what's the latest fad for college-bound kids? Ravelinks.com, according to CK, a 17-year-old headed to Chapman University next fall.
"That's where I find out about parties," he said.
Send insights or tips on this topic to email@example.com.
Stefanie Olsen covers science and technology for CNET News.com. In this series, she examines the young generation's unique immersion in the Web, cell phones, IM and online communities.
Sit down with children when they're online, and make sure they visit only Web sites that are parent-approved. The American Library Association lists great sites for kids on its Web site.
Use child-friendly search engines or one with parental controls. KidsClick, for example, is a Web search site by librarians.
Establish a family e-mail account.
Talk to children about their online activities and online friends because to them, the Internet is an extension of the real world.
Establish rules for the Internet. Studies from Canada's Media Awareness group have shown that children respond positively to established rules.
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