Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What is Togetherville?

Ever since Facebook has come under the microscope for various privacy issues, many parents are worried that their children are not safe using the social networking site.  In reality, Facebook is only for teenagers and adults 13 and over, but kids can easily circumnavigate this rule and create a page for themselves. In response, some social networking sites have been created that are specifically for younger audiences and provide a great deal of privacy for them.
One such site,  Togetherville, was launched on May 19, I spent some time going through the site and doing some research on the company, and here is a quick overview of what I found:

What is Togetherville?
Togetherville is a social networking site created just for kids. Co-founded by the father of three kids under 10, the site aims to connect kids and their parents in a digital way and promote the proper and safe usage of technology by children.

How does it work?
Togetherville is a separate company from Facebook, but works through an application and uses an adult's Facebook account to create account for kids. For example, parents or guardians with a Facebook can register on Togetherville, which then accesses the parent's Facebook account to give the parent the option of selecting acceptable friends from her  account for the child. The child can only be friends with children of your friends of your friends themselves. One interesting thing to note about Togetherville is that it asks the parents to give their childrens' real names. The owners wanted to create something in which the child was not hidden behind an avatar (such as in Club Penguin) and known only by usernames such as "kittylover66." I created a fake account for my "daughter" Sophia, and the screenshot below shows how the opening page of the site appears.  When creating an account it does ask for a username, but this name is not often used, so I am not exactly sure of its purpose.

How do the Privacy settings work?
The adult has complete control over the account, and can monitor their child's actions by logging onto the site themselves at various times. The adult controls all of the privacy settings, and even gives her child a virtual allowance to buy certain apps and games for their account. The site is also ad-free, which decreases the chances of the child clicking out of the site and venturing to less protected and monitored sites. Further, even though you set up the account with your Facebook account, your child cannot access your Facebook. The two sites are completely separate, Togetherville is just working off of Facebook to make it easier for adults to sign their kids up for the site. As you can see below, I am the owner of the account, and control everything Sophia does. 

What can kids do on Togetherville?
 Togetherville is a fun and interactive environment in which kids can connect with their friends, play games, and watch videos.  Once again, all of the friends the child has are pre-approved by the parent, and the child can only friend friends of the parent or children of the parents' friends. The games are fun things that children would like, such as race cars or dressing up dolls.  One of the games, "Lil' Dress Up Time" is actually a lot of fun.  You pick out the style of eye, makeup, clothing, hair, etc., that you want to have.  But, you also have to iron your clothes and use a hair-dryer to fix your unruly mop!!

Further, each video on the site has been pre-approved and deemed acceptable for viewing by younger audiences.  Most of the videos involve animals, such as this cat one shown below.  However, interestingly enough, there was a video of Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart." I guess Miley isn't the only Cyrus popular with the under 10 set!

So, What's the Verdict on Togetherville?
After playing around with it a bit, I can say that Togetherville does seem like a fun and safe site for kids.  The fact that it links from Facebook is not ideal, but it does not have any connection to the social networking giant other than the use of the parent's account to create a child's account and locate friends for them. Joshua Brunstein of the New York Times calls the Togetherville a "social network with training wheels," and I think this is a great way to describe the site. It allows kids to connect with their friends without advertisements getting in the way, and the site is controlled by adults. However, some kids might not enjoy the site for this simple fact.  I also worry that some kids under 10 are actually more internet savy than their parents, and will be able to somehow hack into their parents Facebook sites.


techiegirl said...

Hi Lindsey, this is Erika at Togetherville.

Thanks for this great overview of Togetherville - we're glad you enjoyed it.

To address your question about why kids create a username (i.e. "kittylover"):

Each child has to have a unique identifier in order to log in to the kid's site. There are many Sophies in the world, so it would be impossible to use the first name for the child to log in.

Hope this helps!