News about Facebook exploring the possibilities of launching a kid-friendly version of the social networking site has some parents thinking about whether or not they want their own kids logging on to be social.
Tim and Dave Dyer, brothers and founders of Manifesto in Milwaukee and Portland, Ore., have long thought there is some benefit to kids being social online and recently launched Proxy People Inc., a social networking toy for kids that turns the world into a virtual game board by collecting friends and earning points by helping and meeting others.
“We were driven to create Proxy because we realized that on some level kids have a desire to be social and have that online, offline connectivity,” said Dave, co-founder and chief executive officer of Proxy People Inc. “We felt that the toy industry was lagging behind a little, and as parents of young kids we felt like we had something to offer.”
Proxy offers kids a way to connect the offline world with a virtual world they are trying to save, said Tim, co-founder and chief creative officer.
“We wanted Proxy to emulate the type of social currency that kids already experience with trading cards, silly bands (small rubber bands shaped like different objects that kids often trade) and other games, but go even further to bring that real life connection online,” Tim said. “The rich story line behind the virtual world allows children to learn social responsibility, give back to the community and at the same time they are doing all that, ‘network’ with their friends.”
Children, with the help of their parents can sign up for a Proxy account at www.proxypeople.com. Children will be able to select from a variety of different “Proxy” people they would like to be. Once that is done, parents can purchase a Proxy People USB toy that will be shipped to users directly in the mail. The Proxy toy will sell for approximately $15, but will be equipped with technology and a USB drive for connecting.
“Our goal is to make it as natural and as easy as possible for kids to connect,” Dave said. Users will simply tap Proxys together to make an introduction and a light on the toy will indicate that a friend has been made. Once friends have been made, kids can insert the Proxy USB back into the computer and upload the information to their virtual world.
Last year, Consumer Reports indicated that 7.5 million of the 20 million active minors on Facebook were younger than age 13, even though Facebook policy does not allow them to be.
“Kids have a desire to be social so they are simply lying about their age,” Dave said “Proxy would provide them with their own, safe environment to interact online and offline.”
Traditional social networks are not designed for kids, Tim said.
Proxy is safe for children because no personal information is collected when children sign up. Kids online in Proxy assume the identity of their Proxy character, Dave said.
“The birthday listed is the birthday of the Proxy and geographic location is only used to determine location in comparison to other Proxy’s.”
In addition, the Proxy environment provides a back story and an interactive environment more suitable for children. Proxy plans to target parents with kids ages 7 to 13, Dave said.
“We’ve found that kids who are using Facebook or other social networking sites don’t really have much to share,” Tim said. “They just want to be online and virtually playing with their friends. That’s why we’ve created such a robust story line within Proxy.”
Once a user signs up for Proxy they will be given their own Planet Proxy, a world that is slowly deteriorating, Dave said.
“Users are charged with the mission of working to save the planet, eliminating pollution, and working together with friends they meet to accomplish different tasks to bring the ecosystem back to life,” Dave added.
Proxy took a cue from interactive game giant Zenga who created Farmville and other virtual worlds where people spend actual dollars to make gardens and worlds come to life.
“Our primary goal was to teach social responsibility while also creating ways for kids to be social,” Dave said. “In existing virtual worlds there’s no benefit to someone spending that time online. There’s no social good and no tangible benefit to the world. With Proxy we hope to educate children and bring in a charity aspect and work so kids can really feel like they are saving the world when they play Proxy.”
Some of the challenges faced on Planet Proxy will mimic issues the Earth and our society are facing, Dave said.
The more friends you make in the real world, the more connections you have online and the more combined skills you have to get the work done in your virtual planet.
“Our hope is that a mundane trip to the grocery store with their parents could be more of an adventure for kids because they could meet another Proxy in the store. We want kids to be more engaged with the real world around them too,” Tim said.
Proxy is still in the initial stages and hopes to receive funding soon to develop more patent pending Proxy People prototypes, Dave said.
“We feel like this has so much potential to grow,” Dave said. “We can expand into more mobile applications and wireless technology and more offline Proxy events and gatherings. It gives parents a chance to allow their kids to explore the world of social networks safely, but it provides children an opportunity to see the world as a bigger place than just their street, their neighborhood or even their city.”