A Socially Networked Town That Puts Education and Safety First

Media Morph: Whyville.net

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Every week Ad Age Digital's Media Morph looks at how emerging technology is changing the way consumers get their information and media companies and advertisers present their messages. This week: Whyville.net

What it is: You may have heard of this educationally focused virtual world for kids, as it's received lots of positive press. Whyville attracts tweens and young teens -- and their parents -- with the promise of fun and safety. Marketers look at the socially networked town as a way to reach kids without the usual hassle of internet-security issues.

Who's using it: More than 1.7 million villagers populate Whyville, mostly kids and teens ages 8 to 15. When they sign up at Whyville, notification e-mails are sent to their parents. Whyville also has instant 911 "crime" reporting and a chat test kids have to pass before they can talk to others.

How it works: Kids log in and create avatars to represent them in Whyville. After they've logged in responsibly three consecutive times and get perfect scores on the "Chat License" test, they are free to roam and interact. They can visit the art museum, write for the Whyville newspaper, play sports, start a business and earn "clams," the local currency, by playing educational games.

Who's behind it: Whyville, now part of new-media company Numedeon, was invented by scientists at Cal Tech in 1999 as an educational experiment. Education remains central to the concept and is included even in such mundane tasks as eating: If a child loads up on virtual junk food or skips his daily orange juice, Whyville administrators will give his alter ego a disease, such as scurvy.

Advertising: Toyota is one of the highest-profile marketers to set up shop in Whyville, via virtual car dealerships and a hip nightclub, "Club Scion." Other advertisers include Adobe, NASA and the Getty Museum, which sponsors the art museum.

Price tag: Cost-per-thousand rates range from $6 to $30, while one-time sponsorship set-up fees range from $25,000 to $250,000, depending on the complexity of the campaign.
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