Now or in the near future, Facebook wants your kids. And your kids, face it, want their Facebook.
Last month, Mark Zuckerberg made headlines for saying Facebook should, eventually, be a place for pre-teens, a controversial declaration in light of recent evidence that 43% of European pre-teens have illegally skirted the social network's limit on users under 13.
As parents worry about Facebook's unfiltered news stream of NC-17 college weekends, adult advertisements, and child predators that evade monitoring, an alternative tween social network, Everloop, has developed what it says is a range of parent-friendly features. Whether Everloop is blazing a trail of its own or setting itself up for a pricey buyout by Facebook itself, its likely to lay groundwork for Zuckerberg's inevitable foray into social networking's youth demo.
Inside Everloop, parents are authenticated through a series of questions and verifications before any interaction is permitted, and then they are given options to switch on their kids' features such as email, friending, and chatting as the young ones grow into their digital britches.
Everloop CEO, Hillary DeCesare, tells Fast Company that parents will often want initially to be very restrictive. As children age or demonstrate responsible use, parents can allow more slack and allow children to chat and join groups of like-minded peers, called a "loop."
Everloop might be more 1984 than Lord of The Flies.Messages can snooped without the child's consent and parents can opt to personally approve every friend request. DeCesare argues that such measures are not violations of privacy, because the terms of service give ample warning to young users that "their parents are involved." However, she says, Everloop is still a nascent platform, and she looks favorably on a system where children are fully aware of what parents can--and cannot--view.
The full-transparency philosophy has been embraced by social networking giants mostly after the government announces it's monitoring them, with Twitter notifying users when authorities indict them based on alleged violations of law. Everloop gains the moral support of the safety-first parent demographic by ceding control to them right off the bat.
Then again, Everloop has even more restrictions on parents than they do on children: Anyone over 15 is forbidden from interacting with other users. Except in the rare exception of a something like a verified Girl Scout leader messaging users in a parent-approved group, adults are restricted to their own households and can only monitor and approve activity as their own children venture out into the virtual world.
"This is a kid's world," DeCesare tells Fast Company. "The way adults correspond, communicate, and post information is very different than children. We want them to be comfortable acting as children while becoming comfortable with social tools." Everloop, does, in the end, need to be appealing to kids, and talkative adults might seriously kill the buzz of Bieber-themed, abbreviation-laden chatter.
However, in this case, a mini-me Facebook-owned site for kids might make up for one of Everloop's impending problems: Children who transition from age 14 to 15 are severed from the younger friends. DeCesare hints to Fast Company that she's in negotiations for some kind of "age-up" strategy that seamlessly transitions 15-year-olds to "other" social networking sites, but, ultimately, communication must be blocked by older users.
If Facebook were to ape this--or even buy it--it could easily develop a special communication bridge between pre-friended teenagers as they move through transition years.
A sophisticated censorship algorithm scrubs pictures and text before they're even posted by haphazard tweens. The swear words, personal addresses, and bullying that do slip by are mopped up by human moderators (video below of the cheeriest hall monitor ever: "Another cool thing you can do on Everloop is chat with all your loopy friends, but make sure it's good, clean fun, or the MOD Squad will shut your chat like that."
As any teacher or parent knows, prohibition ignites rebellion, so Everloop adds an education piece by automatically placing informative reputation management blog posts into the news stream of its users. Some type of ubiquitous education system will likely be put in place as training wheels for young users on future social media platforms.
"Once they learn how to behave on the Internet, then, by all means, send them off," DeCesare says. She acknowledges that young users are destined for Facebook. "Let's just make sure when they get there, they're ready for it."
[Image: Flickr user JasonTromm]