Imbee goes where Disney, AOL failed

Tech Culture

If youths are a driving force behind the , then it's only logical to reach them at their earliest ages.

Imbee, a network for children aged 8 to 14 that launched a few months ago, is attempting to do just that while amassing as broad a membership as possible before the competition gets too hot. Today it announced a "strategic safety partnership" with Web Wise Kids, an organization that teaches online safety to children through the use of computer games based on true criminal cases.

Although Web Wise Kids is a .org non-profit, it claims to have taught 2 million youths, which presumably translates into traffic and growth as well as valuable information. The alignment with Imbee is designed "to provide young Internet users, their families, and educators with the resources and tools necessary for a complete online solution that includes access to vital Internet safety information and a fun, secure interactive destination for kids."

What's remarkable about the push into this market is twofold: First, it's amazing that it has taken so long to develop; second, it's not being led by major media players that should have locked up the children's business a decade ago. The values espoused by Imbee and Web Wise Kids, for example, sound remarkably like those of a certain Magic Kingdom.

Going as far back as 1996 with its Daily Blast online service, Disney has tried and failed repeatedly--to create the ultimate online community for children. And it was hardly alone in this dubious distinction. Other large players also have struggled despite early leads with children's initiatives, such as Yahoo's Yahooligans and AOL's Kids Only Channel.

Many of these early services suffered various problems ranging from privacy issues to business strategies. Concerns were raised in about the collection of marketing information through children, for instance, while Disney and others insisted on charging for memberships at a time when free Web sites were proliferating geometrically.

For whatever reason, none of these leaders ever recovered sufficiently to dominate the children's market. But talk about lost opportunities: The grade schoolers targeted back then are populating the MySpaces of the world today.

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