ScuttlePad, "Safe" Social Network for Kids, Needs a Perv Gate

A former Boy Scout leader tracks his troop's Facebook updates to develop a new social network for kids. But is it fertile ground for strangers with candy?

ScuttlePad, a New York-based startup started by a Cub Scoutmaster, promises to be the Internet's newest safe social network for kids. But it's more like a playground without a fence in a neighborhood known for creeps.

ScuttlePad offers children, age 6-11, the opportunity to create a profile with the supervision of their parents. In order to create an account, a child must submit one parent's e-mail address and provide a favorite color, along with age and birthday. (This site is strictly a social networking site, not a social gaming site like other sites for children.)

But there is no review process for creating a profile other than having the adult confirm the child's account and receive all the passwords. The child, or anyone really, could easily put his own e-mail address in the slot and confirm it himself. Founder Chad Perry admits that he has no way of preventing someone who is not in the targeted age range from joining the site.

"We can do what we can do like everyone else," Perry says. "Until there are other technologies out there to say this is not adult, we are going to have to use some of these backend checks and balances."

Those checks and balances include limited vocabulary for status updates and screening for all posted photos. Perry got the idea for the site through Boy Scouts, where he was a Cubmaster. To develop the site, he spent nine to 10 months tracking his Scouts status updates on Facebook.

On the network, members — we hesitate to limit the demographic to children — can upload pictures and interact with their friends through status updates. (A human being must approve all images, a plus.) Our personal favorite feature is the status update. Members can choose from pre-approved words to create these phrases, and examples include anything from "I'm at a birthday party" to "I'm arguing an bagpipe." All statuses are limited to 3-4 words, and it seems like the only threat to kids is quirky grammar.

And as far as learning social networking skills goes, our question is: Who's teaching whom here, parents or kids of a generation born with Facebook logons? Perry hopes that the design will attract children and deter adults from creating profiles. "Facebook and MySpace are more adult-oriented," he says.

ScuttlePad claims 27% of children age 9-17 are serious users of social media. So some of these students are already using existing social networking sites. Other childrens' online social sites include Webkinz, which is linked to those highly-annoying stuffed animals; Togetherville, a network for kids and their grownups; and Disney's Club Penguin. Though we assume that many of these children are on sites like Facebook and MySpace.

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