As any visitor to this blog knows, I am a huge fan of independent children’s music and enjoy following the ever-changing world of social media. It is rare these come together, outside of the typical Twitter and Facebook Pages. However, earlier this month saw the launch of a new vertical social network, WiggleNation.com, dedicated solely to discovering and promoting children’s music.

WiggleNation.com is the creation of entertainment marketing professional Jesse Atwell. Previously an employee of Razor & Tie Entertainment (Kidz Bop), Atwell used his experience with children’s music brands to bring this new project to fruition. According to the official press release, Atwell is hoping to offer one of the most comprehensive catalogues of indie kid’s music on the web while creating a niche online community that serves a growing genre.

The site has two audiences, both independent children’s musicians looking to get their music heard and listeners looking for cool, new family-friendly sounds. The platform is built on Ning, a white label social network system sure to be familiar to many users. Musicians build a custom WiggleNation “artist” profile page where they post streaming audio, share music videos and utilize social networking tools. Listeners create their own profile, connect with other members and take advantage of Ning’s social networking and app tools. As another perk for members, WiggleNation distributes a free weekly MP3 download from selected artist members.

WiggleNation is set up to be a great discovery tool for parents and another way for artists, who may not have the A&R of a major-label artist, to get their music out to receptive fans. I look forward to tracking its growth in the upcoming year at a time when both social networking and kid’s music are continuing to grow.

Zev, Gustafer and Debbie Welcome Users

I was recently quite surprised to find out I had some family members and friends who allowed their children to have profiles on Facebook. Checking out the Facebook policy, it is quite clear that this not a social network that wants children under 13 as members. For obvious reasons that can be hashed out on your nightly news show, an open social network may not be the best place for children.

Since Maia is only three, it will be a while before she pops me the “Can I sign up for Facebook?” question. However, for parents dealing with that issue now, a site like FaceChipz.com may be a good solution.

FaceChipz add some color to the endcaps

Described as a “secure social network for kids” or “social networking with training wheels,” FaceChipz integrates most communication and sharing features that make Facebook so popular, but only allows kids to communicate with people they have exchanged a FaceChipz token with. Simply purchase a 5 pack of Facechipz at stores like Toys “R” Us, and then register each colorful, emoticon-decorated token online with a unique code. Once the code has been registered, the “Giver” passes each token to a “Receiver” friend who also registers online and confirms the friendship. The token’s code is then invalid so no stranger can be part of the online network. The site also integrates a basic game mechanic with the tokens where each one has a point value attached to it when registered. As for site registration costs, there is a one-time validation cost of $1, simply to prove parental approval.

The features that are sure to appeal to burgeoning social networkers include customizable profile pages, instant messaging, photo sharing, status updates, mood indicators, a “Secret Message” box, an “About Me” section, “My 11′s” list maker and a personal FaceChipz collection viewer. Upcoming features promised include virtual gifts, games, more profile customizations and new FaceChipz token concepts to collect.

FaceChipz was created by parents of tweens who were more comfortable with the idea of their children participating in a closed, safe social network. So, in true entrepreneurial spirit, they created one. On top of working in accordance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, the site creators have a bulleted list of Safety & Privacy Highlights to make you feel comfortable allowing your children on the site. (Read more about the experienced management team here.)

This company is still in its early stages and the site is in beta phase, but I look forward to seeing it grow so that when I do get that inevitable question, I can go pick up a few brightly colored chips and hand them over. Or, if the company has truly been realized by the time and Maia is interested in interacting online, she will instead be asking me for her first pack of FaceChipz.

FaceChipz code for entering
Tween-friendly profile design

PocoyologoAs hashed out in my previous post, I am quite a fan of Zinkia’s refreshingly unique toon Pocoyo. Unfortunately, with only DVD distribution in the United States, this show hasn’t really found a proper following here. However, not too long after my plea for a TV deal, it was announced that my favorite CGI fella was making his way to US airwaves. ITV Studios Global Entertainment and Zinkia announced a deal with Univision for Spanish-language broadcast and WGBH Boston for English-language broadcast. Finally, this Stephen Fry-narrated, BAFTA award-winning show has a shot at an audience beyond the few who have discovered it on YouTube, Netflix or Redbox. Of course, with it may come some licensed products that I am likely to scoop up. (Maia already sleeps with her Pocoyo doll every night, but I had to ask my UK-based aunt to ship it over.)

Other news coming out of the Pocoyo camp is the launch of Pocoyo World, a themed virtual world for toddlers and younger children. Following the same theme as the TV show (“learning through laughter”), visitors to the site will be able to interact with lead characters Pocoyo, Pato the duck, Elly the Elephant and Sleepy Bird. Like most virtual worlds, users create an avatar and then visit different locations including a zoo, amusement park, cinema, and playground. Each area has different activities for kids, including educational games, puzzles, virtual pet adoptions, streaming media, printables and music. Unlike some of the older-skewing virtual worlds, kids are not allowed to chat with each other but basic interaction is allowed. Maia got a kick out of the playground area where she was able to share a see-saw with another live player. Many of the activities require a membership fee, but for 3.90 Euros a month (that’s about $5.75 USD), it a cheap price to pay for some substantial content. Apparently the world was built for $3 million, and it shows with the breadth of content and detail put into the site.

A promo image for Pocoyo World
A promo image for Pocoyo World
Map of virtual world environment
Map of virtual world environment