Based on a tip from a reader who happened to notice that the company's Terms of Service had changed to mention the Walt Disney Internet Group, Techcrunch's Leena Rao broke the story yesterday that the children's social network Togetherville has been acquired by Disney. Both businesses confirm the deal.
PaidContent.org's Andrew Wallenstein says that "the purchase falls right in line with two of the priorities Disney set forward at its investors conference last week: dominate the market for websites targeting mothers and their children and maintain high visibility across social media." Disney already owns the popular virtual world Club Penguin, whose target age group is 6-14.
Togetherville, which launched last spring, is an online community designed for children under age 10. Although some parents might be reluctant to introduce children this young to a social network, Togetherville says it wants to help parents raise responsible digital citizens. Part of the impetus behind Togetherville is that children should learn how to navigate online worlds in a safe environment alongside their parents, so that when they make a move into other social networks, they're better equipped to do so safely.
There is no anonymity on Togetherville. No strangers. No avatars. A parent has to create a child's account (using their own Facebook profile) and populates the child's social network based on real-world relationships -- friends and their parents from school and from their neighborhood.
Due to privacy concerns around Facebook, Togetherville has had to reassure parents that none of their children's information would be shared with the social networking giant. Nor, it has said, is the site crawlable by search engines, meaning kids' activities won't appear on Google and the like. Personal information is collected, of course, in order to help "personalize children's online experiences in art creation, content favorites, comment forums" and to "deliver virtual rewards to children for positive online performance, such as winning games or challenges."
(How) Will a relationship with Disney change this? Does the acquisition make parents feel more or less comfortable about their wee ones online?