Saturday, July 30, 2011

Social Networking Sites for Kids

>>For a more recent post on this topic see: Online Tools: Biblionasium (1/21/13)<<

Inspired by NYPL's summer reading site, I've been checking out different social networking sites for kids. I'd like to teach my students how to "social network" safely, and of course, developing my own online playground seems like the most awesome way, so I was curious about what the standards were for developing safe sites.

I like how the NYPL and Scholastic "Stacks" site have username generators that let kids pick an animal, color, or adjective, but don't let kids put any of their personal information in their username. I also appreciate that they don't require an email address, which kids are practically discouraged from having in public elementary schools (not that I agree with that).

I noticed that other sites have controlled vocabularies kids can use in their posts--and sometimes even prefab statements they can use, like those comments teachers put on report cards. So kids can't really chat freely, but they can respond to other people's, you know, stuff.

With a lot of these SVEs*, the emphasis really isn't on communicating with other kids, as far as I can tell. On sites like WebKinz and StarDoll, you're creating and maintaining an online creature--it might be an avatar, but it's not necessarily a representation of you--it's more a representation of a pet or toy you wish you had.

I haven't spent a lot of time playing around these sites yet, but I did explore StarDoll's Mortal Kiss site--apparently the publisher collaborated with an existing kids' social networking site to promote a particular title. Is this a model for libraries?

I'm cautious about partnering with commercial sites, but I wonder how many libraries have the capacity to develop and maintain their own social networking sites. On the other hand, I know very little about programming. I just know that when I tried out BuddyPress on my other site, I got malware the first week, so I just deleted the whole thing. I think it happened because I removed the email validation.

I also noticed that Follett offers something like social networking as part of its Destiny Quest--not that it's turned on for my library's catalog. This makes the most sense to me: have social networking be part of the online catalog, a database which already includes peoples' personal information as well as access to the collection. Now that RI public libraries have Encore, you can tag books and see a Google preview. Soon, can we write reviews? And will any aspect of this be designed with kids in mind?

Other sites to check out:

The Doll Palace
Club Penguin

*Like how I threw that in there? It stands for "Shared Virtual Environments" and I got it from "Tip of the Iceberg: Meaning, Identity, and Literacy in Preteen Virtual Worlds," by Eric M. Myers. This article was published in the Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, Vol. 50, No. 4--Fall 2009. I got it through URI's access to Ebsco's URI only Library/Information Science & Technology Abstracts.

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