Growing Up with Social Networks

I was celebrating the Holiday with my sister, friends and a bunch of kids (two of whom were my niece and nephew). They were playing Guitar Hero 3 on the Wii, when I overheard this conversation (which I Twittered), “Club Penguin was last year. WebKinz is now”.

About this time, my nephew (who’s eight today), sits next to me, takes my iPhone and shows me all the sites he visits everyday. Most of the adults there were intimidated by technology, most used the Internet at work and only a bit at home.  They couldn’t get how to use the iPhone. Their kids (no older than 10) were all over it. They passed my iPhone around discussing their favorite websites and communities and answering my questions about what they liked about each. They all own iPods and can connect to iTunes and either buy music, or make a list of songs for their parents to buy. Most had their own cellphones and were adept at taking pictures and video and sharing that media with friends and relatives. None had been on Amazon.com.

They all knew MySpace and most had been on the site or knew kids that had set up profiles – 2 knew of kids who had posted profiles saying that they were 21 (they ARE 10). My niece told me that she has a defined number of sites that she can visit, but if she tries to surf outside the list, she’s blocked and her parents are notified by email. She can’t look at the site until her parents confirm that it’s ok (an email verification).

All the kids talked to me about WebKinz.com, where you register toy animals bought offline and where you can build rooms for these pets and interact with other owners. Club Penguin is still around, but it doesn’t interest them (maybe they grew out of the demographic?).

All the kids were really excited about these new toys they all got for Easter – U.B. Funkeys.

UB Funkeys
From Amazon.com:

“This specialty starter kit will have you well on your way to U.B. Funkey world — and a possible collection addiction. Funkeys are creative vinyl characters that plug into a larger Funkey hub attached to a computer in order to travel around their virtual world, play games, build a “crib,” and interact with other Funkeys. This starter kit includes the 5-inch-tall white Funkey hub, USB cable, two 2.75-inch-tall Funkeys, and installation software. All in all there are 42 different Funkey characters: three different colors in 14 different designs. Of the three in each design, one is quite common, one is rare, and the third is very rare by collection standards.

By playing games in the U.B. Funkeys world, characters earn coins that they can then use for purchasing items for their “crib.” These rooms are customizable, from wall colors to furniture and plants to accessories, and can also be uploaded for friends to see. Just give your “crib” a name, share it with your friends, and they can visit anytime they’re logged on. There are four zones that offer a total of 16 games for players to conquer, and 30 stores where they can spend their hard earned coins on more than 1,000 virtual items. Now the question is: Are you Funkey?”

This is Second Life for the Tween-crowd, with a level of marketing, engagement and commerce that SL has yet to achieve. This makes (uneasy) sense to me – their parents understand collecting – from Beenie Babies to baseball cards, which is passed down to their children.

One of the things that interest me is the complete play between offline and online. These kids may need help getting on the Web, permission and (hopefully) supervision once they are on – but they know how to interact and how to become part of the community. They know how to make and share media, email and text message. They all wanted my Gmail address to keep in touch.

These kids never knew a time that computers, cell phones and even DVD’s did not exist. They aren’t cynical over the effects of technology, it’s a part of their everyday life and they are much more comfortable handing the overload and overstimulation of information.

I’m excited to keep this particular conversation going.

Comments

11 Comments so far. Comments are closed.
  1. This is obviously one great post. Thanks for the valuable information and insights you have so provided here. Keep it up!

  2. This is a brilliant way to turn a boring holiday spent with relatives into an interesting marketing research expedition. Thanks for the insight and I’m kicking myself for not spending my time with those kids learning more about what they’re into.

    Chris

  3. Wow. Funkeys are really interesting, Makes me think of mimbots.

    http://www.mimoco.com/

  4. Jane,

    Thanks for sharing your holiday experience with this great post. Its a perfect real-life example of why corporate executives need to pay more attention to their company’s participation on social networks. These kids are their future employees, and online communities are in their blood..!

    Jeff

  5. Wow. Funkeys are really interesting, Makes me think of mimbots.

    http://www.mimoco.com/

  6. Jane,

    Thanks for sharing your holiday experience with this great post. Its a perfect real-life example of why corporate executives need to pay more attention to their company’s participation on social networks. These kids are their future employees, and online communities are in their blood..!

    Jeff

  7. I took the opportunity to share this at Shashi Bellamkonda’s (@shashib) blog:
    http://readythoughts.blogspot.com/2008/03/websites-to-keep-kids-occupied.html

    Did you see Ann Handley’s (@marketingprofs)post on this topic:
    http://www.annhandley.com/2008/03/16/what-is-a-friend/

  8. I took the opportunity to share this at Shashi Bellamkonda’s (@shashib) blog:
    http://readythoughts.blogspot.com/2008/03/websites-to-keep-kids-occupied.html

    Did you see Ann Handley’s (@marketingprofs)post on this topic:
    http://www.annhandley.com/2008/03/16/what-is-a-friend/

  9. @Steve Garfield – Thanks for stopping by. I love mimbots. AT SXSW I bought the 2nd series Star Wars and the 1st series R2D2. They made great gifts. Hope you’re well!

    @Jeff – Looking forward to seeing you at Podcamp NYC. I always talk to our clients about how the employees who have used social media are the ones that have just been promoted – they are the ones who will lead their companies in the next 3 to 5 years!

    @Linda – Thanks for sharing the post and connecting on our various channels. It’s great to meet you!

  10. Wow. I can’t believe that this post is as old as it is, because I’ve just found out what Webkinz are. lol. It is amazing what the children today are capable of. I know adults that barely know how to move around in their Contacts on their cellphones. Most people are afraid of change and like you said this is all the younger generation knows.

  11. Anon,

    Wow. I can't believe that this post is as old as it is, because I've just found out what Webkinz are. lol. It is amazing what the children today are capable of. I know adults that barely know how to move around in their Contacts on their cellphones. Most people are afraid of change and like you said this is all the younger generation knows.