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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Website of the Week: 2/4/2010

Fantage



In the virtual world of social networking for tweens, there is Club Penguin, there is Webkinz – and then there is everything else.

Many start-ups have tried to join the market leaders – at the beginning of last year there were over 200 virtual worlds either on the web or in development – but very few have survived the fierce competition and the constant cash drain that comes with the territory.

One virtual world that is making a good run at the Big Two is Fantage, a relative newcomer that now boasts over 1.5 million unique monthly visitors.



Initial sign-up for Fantage is free, although to access many of the more enjoyable features of the site you will need a premium membership. More about that later.

When you first sign-up, you are asked to identify yourself as a boy or a girl. You then get an opportunity to customize a simple avatar. Next, you are asked for your age. In one of the many quirks of the site, Fantage gives you a choice of anything between 3 and 120 years old! I tried registering as a 117-year-old boy and Fantage was more than happy to accept me!

In fact, the whole registration process is a little mystifying. You are asked for a parent's e-mail, although there is no requirement for confirmation or verification before your registration is complete. You are also asked to select a Chat Mode. The Fantage Chat mode is only recommended for users aged 13 and older but no attempt is made to match that up to the age previously entered.

Once on the site, you will see your avatar riding on a "hover board", which can take you to any one of eight destinations in the "Fantastic Age". In each area, you will be able to play games or go on missions to earn Stars and Gems, which in turn can be used to shop for clothes, accessories or furniture for your home. You can also enter Fashion Shows, which are a big part of the experience and one of the reasons why Fantage appears to appeal more to girls than to boys.

On entering the Downtown or Uptown areas, you will be met by dozens of other avatars, representing the other kids that are currently logged on. This chaotic scene can be slightly alarming for parents but kids seem to love the feeling of milling-around in a crowd.

The social networking tools are basic but cleverly done. At any time, you can ask other avatars to be your buddies. You can also chat to everyone in your room or area. Here, Fantage displays more of its quirkiness. Chat is initially limited to premium members or anyone that has played on the site for more than an hour. Why Fantage uses this qualifying period they don't say, but it may have more to do with boosting their engagement stats than screening out any undesirables!

Once you have earned your chat privileges – and assuming you didn't select No Chat at registration – you can start typing away. Safe Chat mode allows you to select from a pre-determined list of basic sentences – like "Hello" or "How are you?" – while Fantage Chat allows more creative freedom.

In the parents section, Fantage makes much of its chat moderators and filters and they appear to work well. Most "bad" words are intercepted before being broadcast and suspensions of an hour are liberally handed down if you try to slip in something naughty.

As is usually the case with these virtual worlds for kids, you will find that your "free" membership doesn't get your child very far, so be prepared for those inevitable pleas for an upgrade. Memberships are right in line with Club Penguin at $5.99 per month, $29.99 for 6 months or $54.99 for a year.

All in all, Fantage provides a fun and creative environment for kids, with all the characters and chaos reminding you of your best days at the municipal playground. And despite some of the odd registration and chat rules, it appears safe and well-regulated.



And be sure check out previous Websites of the Week:

Baby Connect: 12/4/2009

Kickstarter: 9/15/2009

Drop.io: 9/8/2009

Kiva: 8/31/2009

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