Disney’s smart to acquire Togetherville, which I called social-networking training wheels for families last spring, when the kids’ social site launched. Why families and not just kids? Because kids under 13 hardly need training in online socializing – most start that at young ages, in online games and virtual worlds (like Disney’s Club Penguin, which it acquired from a smart Canadian startup in 2007). But Togetherville also isn’t just training wheels for parents; a lot of parents are now friends with their children in Facebook (see this). The magic, here, is the opportunity for young kids and parents to be hanging out together online as well as offline – to figure out online social networking as a family – before middle school and kids’ big developmental dive into (what seems to many parents to be full-time) online and offline socializing. This is as much social networking in the family context as the other way around, showing parents in real time, learning as they go, what the research shows, how embedded online socializing is in “real life.”
So that’s one reason why Disney was smart to buy Togetherville. PaidContent.com, a news site about the digital content business, put the acquisition in the context of Disney’s plans to “dominate the market for websites targeting mothers and their children” and “make changes at what’s been called the Disney Mom and Family portfolio of sites, which include FamilyFun.com, Kaboose.com and BabyZone.com.” Togetherville certainly fits well into those plans, but another key reason is Togetherville founder Mandeep Dhillon, now a vice president at Disney. Why? Because Disney, which totally gets cross-media content, has some things to learn about helping kids and parents navigate and prepare for the positives and negatives of “pure” social networking (socializing embedded in everyday life, without the avatars, mini-games, and virtual objects), and Dhillon’s a visionary in that space. Whether or not the site he founded remains a brand at Disney, Togetherville’s much more about community (family and school) than content, and this is where Disney – even with all the brands in the Disney Interactive Media Group – has been behind the curve. It’s brilliant at creating imaginative worlds for kids, not at building on their real-world communities, expressed and shared online. I love Cars and Club Penguin, but I’ve been waiting to see kids’ real-world community truly embraced in Disney media. Maybe that will happen, now, with Togetherville people at Disney. [See also my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid’s coverage at CNET.]
Togetherville acquisition is a good idea? Social networking for kids under 10? Think again. The success behind Facebook (and social networking) is that it allows networking spanning geographies. A 10-year old has hardly encountered enough “friends” to validate social networking at this age range. Plus, shouldn’t these kids be socializing in person and focussing on school/sports rather than waste hours “voyeuring” others or soliciting attention through how many “likes” from others?
If you have tried Togetherville, the notion of having parents use Facebook for their kids to access Togetherville is almost laughable. This acquisition is likely more about putting a checklist (for headline bites) or getting a respectable headline exit for Togetherville’s investors and its founder.
Thanks for your comment. Yes, because social networking is here to stay and very attractive to kids as they near middle-school age, a very social phase of child development, it’s good for them to learn how to engage in it constructively with their parents engaged too before they dive into Facebook. I think it’s a good idea for Disney, which works hard to protect its brands and thus for kids, to offer social networking training wheels for families. Best,