This week Disney acquired Togetherville, the tween social networking site that enables parents to build a social circle for their children based on their own collection of Facebook friends. The Togetherville online community was designed to protect the privacy of children under age 13. The site allows children to connect with their real-world friends in its virtual neighborhood while allowing parents to monitor what their kids are doing.
Togetherville has been described as “training wheels for social networks.” The idea behind Togetherville is to create online “neighborhoods” similar to real-life neighborhoods where children interact with each other and the adults they know.
Kids are looking for ways to express themselves and pursue their interests in an online social network that is safe. Togetherville founder, Mandeep Dhillon, identified this growing need for a safe online social network, but he did not want to make kids hide behind an avatar. Mr. Dhillon believed that open (yet monitored) online interaction would help children develop social skills that they can’t get from virtual worlds like Club Penguin.
The intent of Togetherville is to keep younger children off Facebook, where they are more likely to connect with strangers or encounter cyber-bullying. The site offers kids the videos, games and activities they seek on larger sites like YouTube or gaming sites while protecting them from inappropriate content.
The Togetherville acquisition is the latest move in Disney’s quest to dominate the market for websites targeting families with children. Their first steps to building out their online family network with social media ties began in in 2007 when they acquired Club Penguin, and continued in 2009 when they scooped up Kaboose.com. Last July Disney acquired social gaming company Playdom for $563 million. Togetherville adds a COPPA-compliant social media platform to Disney’s family-friendly online offering. With Club Penguin Disney quickly gained the trust of parents who were happy to shell out $60 a year in CP subscription fees to know their kids are “protected” from inappropriate content. Togetherville seems destined for a similar business model.
The Togetherville site just launched last May and had a lot of promise. On the horizon lies a less creative, yet more profitable future. The question remains: What price would parents be willing to pay to protect their kids from commercialism?