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The Internet's Next Big Thing


Millions of children and adolescents are spending a tremendous amount of time on interactive play sites for a young generation of Internet users, in particular girls, according to the New York Times

The New York Times reports that "millions of children and adolescents" are spending a tremendous amount of time on "interactive play sites for a young generation of Internet users, in particular girls."

The article quotes Hitwise, a traffic measurement company, as saying visits to virtual-world sites grew 68% over the past twelve months. Gartner Research estimates these sites have attracted 20 million users.

Some of the big players in the space include Webkinz, Stardoll, Club Penguin, and Cartoon Doll Emporium, which charges $8/month for access to extra doll clothes and other premium services.

But, while some compare these sites to social networking sites like Newscorp's (NWS) MySpace (which gets two-and-a-half times as many daily hits as Google (GOOG)), industry insiders are desperate to maintain a more wholesome image.

"We're the antithesis of MySpace," said Lane Merrifield, CEO of Club Penguin.

The desire for companies to distance themselves from MySpace stems from widespread concerns about sexually explicit and inappropriate content widely available to minors who log on to the service.

Last year, Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly called on MySpace to make broad changes to its site, saying that the company doesn't "protect children from being exposed to inappropriate content they just shouldn't see."

MySpace has removed over 200,000 profiles that they deemed "objectionable," including ones that included "risqué material."

A MySpace representative said monitors over 3 million posted images a day, using both manpower and technology. If objectionable material is found, the user is either warned, banned, or in extreme cases, reported to law enforcement.

Here's a picture from Hillary Clinton's MySpace page at:

Seems perfectly appropriate.

I navigated over to, where kids can dress virtual paper dolls of entertainers, cartoon characters, even politicians.

Here's the Hillary Clinton doll, to which kids can add skirts, pantsuits, and accessories:

Let me point out, the dolls don't come with clothes that one can swap out for others. This is what you get when you open up the doll in the first place.

Take a look at an image from the Giuliani for President page at MySpace at:

Wholesome, no?

Well, take a look at the Rudy doll at

Even after adding clothes to the Rudy doll, things don't get much better:

Barack Obama has a MySpace page:


He also has a Cartoon Doll Emporium page:

Is that Barack Obama or some guy that hangs out around schoolyards?

Even mega-businesswoman Oprah Winfrey has her own customizable doll:

Arch-conservative Bill O'Reilly's doll is, um, less than conservative:

Granted, I'm not part of the target market, but is this what eight year-olds are into these days?

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