Kiwi mum creates Facebook for kids
13 Jul 2010
A Kiwi online social network dubbed ‘Facebook for five-year-olds’ is taking off overseas - with more than 21,000 members globally while still in its test stage.
MiniMonos.com, founded by Wellington eco-Mum Melissa Clark-Reynolds, was inspired by the idea of creating an online sanctuary for kids - a virtual haven where they can play safely and receive positive reinforcement and messages along the way.
An entrepreneur and climate change activist, Clark-Reynolds is a Kiwi mum who plans to make a difference in the world, starting with the MiniMonos network.
"We wanted to create a world so children could have a place of their own, a place that allows them to explore and grow without constant pressure to buy stuff," said Clark-Reynolds.
The name MiniMonos means ‘little monkeys’ in Spanish, and each website user creates a monkey character or avatar to represent their online self.
The monkey avatar is the means to exploring a virtual island where the young member can meet and chat with other players.
Clark-Reynolds says the site is aimed at users under 13-years-old - who
are not quite old enough for Facebook, but still want their own online
Before anyone can begin playing, an email is sent to the parents requesting permission.
Clark-Reynolds says that she hopes to sign up one million global users over the next few years.
"Children today are digital natives. They want to use the internet like we do, and Twitter and blog. We wanted to make sure there was somewhere safe for them to do that and that it had a good values base and was not about killing stuff or buying stuff."
The website’s young members can try their hand at ‘green games’ - such as Treehouse Recycle, where kids learn to sort their rubbish to keep the island clean and Monkey Flight, where users collect enough white clouds to provide green energy to the island.
Educating the next generation
MiniMonos marketing chief Kaila Colbin says that although users pay a small monthly subscription to the site, it is otherwise free from any other form of consumer advertising or marketing.
"Most virtual worlds for kids are brand extensions of major corporations. Club Penguin, for example, was bought by Disney three years ago, and for pretty much everything you can do on Club Penguin, there’s an accompanying soft toy you can buy," Colbin says.
In many ways, MiniMonos is about educating the next generation and making them aware of their social and environmental responsibilities.
"We also wanted them to have a place that embodies core values, such as sustainability and generosity, without turning those values into a boring lecture," says Clark-Reynolds.
School without classes
The MiniMonos website is like a school without the classes, where children are rewarded for ‘good behaviour’ such as being charitable and being nice to each other.
Users agree to a list of rules when signing up that ranges from speaking nicely to each other and not bullying to being honest and not giving out personal details online.
"We don’t offer any lesson plans about recycling. However, the kids quickly learn that if they don’t play the recycling game enough, the rubbish starts to pile up in their treehouses," Colbin said.
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