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Imbee, the chaperoned social networking site, launches

Imbee, the new social networking site for kids aged 8 to 14, will launch sometime tonight. Imbee, owned by parent company Industrious Kid, is betting parents of these youngsters want a safer alternative to the more liberal MySpace. With Imbee, parents get to set the rules about who is allowed to connect with their kids. It is a closed site, not accessible from the wider Web

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Co-founder Jeanette Symons conceived of the idea for Imbee after her 8-year-old son wanted to start his own blog. Imbee.com lets kids do most of the stuff they can at other popular sites -- create blogs, add images and music files, and so on.

There's one powerful force behind this company that many others don't have:

A significant glue among its management team. The leading crew, Jeanette Symons, (CEO), Lori Brown (COO), Tim Donovan (VP of Marketing) and Ann Kveglis (Dir. of Business Services) have all worked earlier in management roles at Ascend Communications (sold for big bucks to Lucent), and then later at Zhone. Imbee, a spin off the word "imbue" (the URL for imbue.com was taken), is Industrious Kids' first product.

The company gave us an early peak at the site last week (click on image below for the main page).

The site will charge $3.95 a month if you want your own blog. If you want to just leave comments or send email through the system, it is free. The company recognizes that blogging software is widely available elsewhere on the net for free. But it says the charge is for the parental control capabilities. A credit card is required for registration, which allows imbee to gather and authenticate information about the parent/guardian and their child. This requirement is why imbee says it is different from other youth-oriented sites, such as YFly, Tagged and Xanga. (Most of these other sites, provide tips to younger users, for example, that they shouldn't give out telephone numbers to strangers, but none of it is binding).

Kids can only network with real people they know. An invitation can come in from someone wanting to talk with a child, and the guardian can see it, and decide to approve it or reject it.
But you can䴜t search for people to network with by hobby, geography, high-school or other general category. The only way to connect is to have pre-existing relationship with the person, and send them an email to request the connection.

It's got some very useful dashboards to let parents look at what their kids are doing on the site. There are all kinds of parameters a parent can set. For example, if a child wants to post something to their blog, a parent can set defaults on their dashboard (see below) that allow them to either pre-approve the post, simply monitor it after the post is made, or to disable blogging altogether. Similarly, parents can decide whether they want to pre-approve or merely monitor a child's change to their avatar.

Oh, and parents can also let their hair down and try out this social networking thing -- they can use the site too.

The company has signed a deal with Paramount Theme parks to let it run membership registration events at parks across the nation this summer. The kick-off is at Paramount䴜s Great America in Santa Clara, here in Silicon Valley, on Monday.

As mentioned before, the company says it has raised $6 million in financial backing (scroll down), but hasn't disclosed investors.


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Comments

Sounds great, went to try it and they say it only supports Firefox and not IE. I think they might miss one or two potential users that way.

Rod Recker on June 16, 2006 12:44 PM
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Hi Matt,

Here are my thoughts on Imbee, which I also posted here:

http://www.mrmarkets.com/2006/06/substitutes_and.html

Substitutes and business model flaws could stall kid social network

Imbee is the new kid social networking service from Industrious Kid, and I just do not see this service getting traction. Why?

Let's start with competitors. Think about their target audience of ages 8 to 14. Assuming the parents have miraculously prevented their child from getting a MySpace account, just consider the substitutes such as AOL Instant Messenger. Maybe it was just me, but I have been using AIM since I was 10 years old, and it was socially acceptable then amongst parents.

There were still parental concerns about the internet back then, and perhaps in some ways it was greater because it was quite new, and it is only human to be wary of new things.

Importantly, Imbee requires that all friendships be approved by the family. I am not a degree-holding social psychologist, but that is a problem for the kids because it is unnatural for Mom and Dad to pick your friends by that age. Sure, at age 5 the parents are mostly responsible for organizing social gatherings, but soon thereafter the kid takes control.

Even if you are among the few kids who do not have AIM, just talk to the friend in person. After all, do you really want Mom and Dad scrutinizing your correspondence?

For real evaluation, clearly there is need for disambiguation about the state of the market for Imbee. If AIM use is high and parents are letting kids get MySpace profiles, Imbee has major problems.

Consider the pricing model. It does not cost much per month, but it ignores the reality of friendships as a two-way street. Not all parents have the time or the inclination to police what their kids are doing online. Say a kid named Billy has controlling parents, so they get Imbee, but what about Billy's friend Tommy. His parents let him on MySpace and AIM, so they see no reason to pay for this service.

After all, it takes two to tango, and even if Imbee appeals to 25% to 50% of parents, 50% to 75% of parents are not going to sign up, and thus the utility to Billy is significantly diminished because he cannot communicate with his friends anyway. Is Billy going to tolerate only being able to talk to a fraction of his friends?

One alternative is include two extra accounts for each subscription account. One could be used for Tommy so Billy has at least one person to talk to!

I was surprised this company got $6 million in funding until I read the company is operated and funded by people who are independently wealthy thanks to their success building and selling Ascend Communications. For their sake, I hope it works out.

Do you think I am on the right track, a little bit wrong or dead-wrong, perhaps? Please post in the comments.

Doug Sherrets on June 20, 2006 9:34 AM
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Doesn't work on IE??? Guess that'll cut down on the number of potential predators right there! Lame site for control freaks.

Steven on June 30, 2006 4:50 PM
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