Everyone is familiar with social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, or virtual world environments like Second Life, but the chances are you have not heard of Club Penguin With the acquisition of this virtual world for kids today by the Walt Disney Company, that is all about to change.

Daring to be different, and taking the virtual meeting spaces concept to the 6-14 year old age group, Club Penguin has gone from zero to hero in less than two short years, growing to a current subscriber base of some 700,000 paid up members from 12 million activated users. This apparent disparity in the numbers can be explained by the velvet rope usage model which allows free unlimited usage of part of the world, the rest becoming available only to subscribers. Such things as buying furnishings for your igloo home or gaining status within the environment.

The exclusive focus on providing a safe online world just for kids, featuring animated penguin avatars inhabiting a snow-covered environment where kids can meet up, chat, participate in group activities and furnish their virtual home with currency that can be earned inside the world, obviously appeals to the Disney view.

“This acquisition is consistent with our strategy of leveraging technology to create and deliver high-quality entertainment around the world and our commitment to investing our capital to generate growth and value for our shareholders,” said Bob Iger, Disney president and CEO. “Club Penguin embodies principles that are of the utmost importance to Disney – providing high-quality family entertainment and fostering parental trust. The founders have woven together new technologies and creativity to build an incredibly compelling, immersive entertainment experience for kids and families.”

Of course, when any company the size of Club Penguin gets absorbed by one the size of Disney there is always a certain amount of rebranding involved. As such it will now be known as Disney’s Club Penguin, which will certainly do it no harm in reaching out to an even wider young audience. Especially when viewed alongside other Disney properties in its expanding virtual world portfolio such as Toontown Online which will soon be joined by Pirates of the Caribbean Online and Disney Fairies. The latter will allow users to create, outfit and name fairy avatars, as well as obtain and decorate a home for the avatar, all in the familiar world of Tinker Bell.

One cannot help but wonder just how healthy it is to be encouraging children as young as 6 to be spending time within a virtual environment though. Time which obviously must come at the expense of putting that energy into developing real world relationships, a vital part of the emotional growth experience.

I think a virtual world might be good for children in the respect that it gives them something to do where the parents know where and what they are doing. Of course it is not as good as getting outside and using up some of their energy or as is becoming more and more the case using up all those calories that are causing them to be heavier than in previouse generations. However Children are going to spend time in front of television or computer anyway why not have a safe environment for them? Thinking in this respect I am al for this new safe virtual world for our children.

My kids love Club Penguin - it's a fabulous fun and educational site for kids with excellent graphics. You do need a newer computer (with enough memory) though - our old computer would freeze up often on this site but no problems since we bought a newer one.

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