Monday, 31 October 2011

Lizmundo's Research Into Kids' Websites: Club Penguin

Me again! Today I've been looking into the Club Penguin site from Disney which is aimed at 6-14 year olds, although any age can join.

“Club Penguin is a snow-covered, virtual world where children play games and interact with friends in the guise of colourful penguin avatars. “ - Club Penguin Website.

The main features of the Club Penguin site are similar to that of other childrens' sites such as Moshi Monsters in the sense that users can create an avatar to walk around the virtual world and communicate with others. One of the differences I noticed with Club Penguin was that they offer a “standard safe chat” and an “ultimate safe chat”. Ultimate chat prevents users from engaging in ANY chat with other players apart from sending set phrases and emoticons to each other. As well as these two options, the site also filters messages to prevent telephone numbers & other personal info from being revealed to other players. However users can add each other to their friends lists and send private messages. I'm unsure If the private messages are filtered too but after some searching around online – apparently they are, although there has been an odd occasion when the filter system has been down and players have then gone on to swear at eachother just for the sake of it.

The only downside to these safety features are when they backfire. I found out from this page: and the comments left from young players of Club Penguin that they have worked their way around the filters, and have learnt how to create their own “games” (some with more adult themes) within Club Penguin, such as having babies with other penguins, entering “slip” (strip) clubs etc. Although these things are banned within the game, the majority of the players seem to know about these things and have also created codes to “swear” e.g. “beach” is supposed to mean b*tch and so on. Using codes like this makes it hard for the moderators to moderate the chat as players aren't technically breaking the rules.

Maybe the reason why players are creating games like this within the world is due to the filter being so strict within Club Penguin in the first place that kids feel they have to come up with other ways to feel grown up? The sad thing about this is, kids are growing up before their years and moving on from sites like Club Penguin onto older social networking sites where they don't have such strict rules (allbeit they may have to lie about their age to get on them!)

Thanks for still coming back to read my posts & please let me know if there are any websites for kids/tweens or teens you'd like me to review!

Club Penguin's playable characters

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Lizmundo's Research Into Kids' Websites: Moshi Monsters

Hi again, I've been working in my new role at for about a week now and so far it's been fantastic! I've been helping to monitor the site and researching into childrens' websites. Following on from my last post with regards to the safety of other websites for children including Social Networking sites that children may use (even though they're underage), I've been asked to review “Moshi Monsters” by a user on one of my other blogs.

This is a little background info on Moshi Monsters that I have pulled from their site:
Moshi Monsters is a free online game for kids, where they may adopt a monster and look after it. Kids whose parents give us their approval can become 'users' on our site, and can adopt a Moshi Monster. Kids care for their monster by solving puzzle games, which earn their monster virtual rewards called Rox. Kids can spend Rox on virtual items like food, furniture and other treats and toys for their monster. Over time their monster will increase in level, be able to visit new locations in Monstro City, and earn all kinds of in-game rewards for playing. Monster owners will also be able to make friends with other owners and leave messages on their pages. “

I created an account with Moshi Monsters (which I have since deleted) to have a look around the site to see what sort of features they have, all I had to do was enter a username, an email address and my age (I even entered my age as 22). Next I had to click an activation link in my email address which gave me access to the website. Once activated, you can create a virtual monster (called a Moshi) to “adopt” and look after.

Once you have created your monster, you are then taken to your “house” where you can keep items you may buy in the online gift shop or bring your virtual friends around. You can meet friends by using the map on the side of the screen to navigate around the site. Navigating around the site was quite easy, you can enter places to meet other users (Moshi's) and request to add them as a friend. Once you have friends on the site you can send them messages on the pin board in their “houses”. (These messages are supposed to be filtered through their system, however users can choose to report anything they don't like to the moderating team who will review the message). Users can also post on forums and respond to each others posts. These also go though a review before being posted.

Disadvantages (in my opinion) of Moshi Monsters were:
  • The site is very childlike, this may be what younger children are looking for generally, but children who like to act a little more grown up will end up going in search of other websites that older relatives or friends may be on.
  • The website is supposed to only be available to a new user once parents have activated the link in their own email account, however if a child has their own account or has access to their parent's then they could easily gain access themselves without consulting anyone that they're signing up.
  • Only basic features of the site are free. If a child wants to have the full features of the site, e.g. customising your character, having the ability to have more than 16 friends then they have to pay a fee (£4.95 one month subscription, 6 months £23.95 or yearly £29.95). This may not be suitable for households on low income or with more than one child.
  • I saw a post on the forum from a user that was titled: “i havent eaten 4 17hrs!!!!!!!” and then commented on the post saying “i dont eat anything frm 5pm”, later on in the post after being questioned why they were posting that information, the user simply said “i jsut fink im fat but im thin thats the reason y i dont eat and im starving now but i wont eat”. Although I reported this comment to the “Moshi Monsters Team”, I do wonder what support that child will have, if their parents know about the problem, and what impact it will have on the other users on the site.
Advantages (in my opinion) of Moshi Monsters were:
  • Moshi Monsters currently has 50 m users worldwide – and UK based Mind Candy is estimated to pull in over US$100m
  • The colours & the fact children can look after a “pet” on the site will keep them entertained while possibly teaching them responsibility & educating them at the same time.
  • The cheapest subscription to Moshi Monsters is only £4.95 a month & you can also buy game cards so kids could buy these out of their pocket money if they wanted to.
  • Possibly a good way of introducing very small children how to use the computer/internet in a safe way.
How I think this site compares to
  • The site has a more grown up feel to it, similar to other big social networking sites.
  • Anyone under 18 can have access to the website for free however nobody will be able to communicate until the members have been verified (checked to see if they are who they say they are) via a third party, like a school/club leader or via a webcam. NOT by a parent.
  • All users will have access to a panic button, so even though the site is moderated, if a child did feel unsafe, they could report their concerns to CEOP, The Samaritans or Childline. In the instance of the child above, they probably could have spoken to Childline to get help or contacted a Cyber Mentor on the website (Cyber Mentors are trained members of the site that have been given guidance on counselling and how to help other users that want to speak to someone).

A big thanks to those who have already been in touch and asked questions. I'm interested in your thoughts or opinions you may have on the site and also recommendations of other websites your kids may use, so I can review them next time too. Thanks!

Characters players can name & look after on the site.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Lizmundo Asks - "How Safe Are Social Networking Sites For Kids?"

This is possibly my third attempt at a blog now. I've always promised myself I'll keep on top of them & up-to-date but it's never happened, so I'm starting again! Anyway my name is Liz, I'm 22 years old, still living at home with my two dogs & my cat (my babies). I'm engaged & have been in a relationship for 5 years but sadly we can't afford a place of our own yet. I've just started working for an under 18's social networking site called which has made me think about kids (particularly those under 13 that have lied about their age to get an account) using sites such as Facebook & Bebo.

I'm finding it a bit disturbing at the amount of kids (even ones I know of!) that are using sites like these. I know parents can look at their kid's profile etc but are they really that safe? I suppose I can't really blame the parents though, I know there is a lot of peer pressure on kids to “fit in” with their school friends and act more grown up and I guess that some parents may not even know their kids have an account if they're not very computer literate. They may even think that their child could be perfectly safe as long as their account is checked every so often, however I know from personal experience that if a child wants to hide something, delete messages, change passwords etc then they know exactly how to do it.

After doing a little bit of personal research (with the help of my nieces & nephew!) I've found that the only other sites I think are appropriate for under 18's have quite a few drawbacks too, so maybe this is why they have resorted to using Facebook.

As I've mentioned above though, the website I'm currently working for is a FREE social networking site for under 18s. It has a more grown up appearance and it is much safer as the site is monitored closely and you can only get full access to the site  if you have been verified. Members can be verified by an appointed member of staff that has been CRB checked in a school or club e.g. Guides or football club, or via webcam video verification by a GBK Cyber Security Officer so even if someone lied about their age to get access into the site, they wouldn't be able to communicate with other members until we confirm they are who they say they are. There are a load of other benefits to the website but I don't want this to sound like I'm selling it, I'm just very excited about my new job. For anyone reading this that may be interested in this site, you can visit or have a look at this article to get a bit more information:

I'd love to hear what everyone thinks of and what other sites your children use so I can try and do a little more research on them & how they compare to GBK site, and then I’ll repost my findings in the near future. I look forward to hearing any opinions or thoughts you may have. Thanks for taking the time to read my post too!

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