By Anne Collier
Everloop, a new social site aimed at kids 8-13, is not just another virtual world. Or social network site. It’s not a kids’ Facebook or alternative to Whyville.net or LEGO Universe, contrary to what’s being reported (see Mashable). But it’s also not just an online space. What it is depends on who’s looking at it. To kids and parents, it’s like a virtual-world and/or social-network mall that’s pulling together lots of “worlds” and games into one place the way a shopping mall does stores, an early one being PlanetCazmo.com. But it also builds the “stores” for third parties – other kids media and publishing companies. So it’s B2C (in this case the “C” is for child “consumers”) and B2B (providing a social-network engine for other businesses).
One of those businesses – the one just announced – is i-SAFE, an online-safety-ed company, which claims to bring to its partner distribution in 56,000 schools. It’s not clear to me whether that means Everloop is developing a safe, ad-free social network for all sorts of school purposes and classrooms (which would be kind of cool) or if it’s just developing an i-SAFE-branded “social network” for the teaching of i-SAFE’s curriculum packaged as CIPA-compliant (something schools naturally want to be made easy – CIPA being the Children’s Internet Protection Act, which now requires schools to teach appropriate online behavior if they want federal connectivity funding). But if what we’re talking about, here, is an online-safety specialty “store” (or class) for the Everloop mall, accessed from school, this is not a good deal – no matter how safe it is. Surely it’s a relevancy play for i-SAFE – bringing social media into the teaching of online safety so students can practice it – and this would make sense 1) if the curriculum is good (curriculum and risk-prevention experts really need to look into that) and 2) if the premise is that online safety or digital citizenship and literacy are special courses that need to be taught in addition to the curriculum. The jury’s out on the first one; the premise that special additional courses are needed is wrong, and I think risk-prevention experts and researchers are beginning to see this.
Citizenship and media literacy – online now as well as offline – need to be a natural part of everyday core classes as much now as they’ve always been (or should’ve been), not special courses. That’s what makes them relevant to students, who already use social media for formal and informal learning as well as entertainment and socializing, as part of life outside of school. What would make digital citizenship and literacy even more relevant to students is if we took this a step further: if they were part of using social media in core-curriculum classes (like Twitter for real-time news curation, or “current events” in Social Studies). So I’m waiting to see if Everloop for school will really be useful to the education process and not just “digital citizenship ed” (for which i-Safe has some serious competition in Common Sense Media’s curriculum) or if it’s a way to aggregate students as well as “stores” at its virtual mall. Nothing wrong with that last model, but not in school. QuestAtlantis.org is a virtual world that belongs in school.
* Virtual world market research firm KZERO Worldswide in the UK says there are about 500 virtual worlds right now, worldwide, with “the Kids, Tweens and Teens sector leading the charge in terms of new offerings. As for user numbers, KZERO says that, in the 10-15 age group alone there were 468 million VW accounts, third quarter last year (that’s accounts, not kids; lots of kids have multiple accounts).
* Student-produced online-safety education described in the Generation YES blog
* Here’s a take on Everloop from Steve Dembo of Discovery Education. He ably illustrates how kids can get around kid-authentication processes online, but I wouldn’t worry too much about the requirement of a parent’s credit card or partial SS#; that’s meant as an extra safety measure. Just know that kids have workarounds!
* “The learning power of a virtual world”
* “Why digital citizenship’s a hot topic (globally)”