'

Whyville targets schools with its safe networking site

Site offers game-like experience, where parents are notified, kids must be chat-licensed, and there's a virtual 911.

To capitalize on the tremendous popularity of social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, several new "safe" social networking sites been launched to address security concerns, reports eSchool News.

Sites such as Whyville.net and others address safety issues, while also educating its youthful audience on how to behave online. The interface is a video game-like experience, where players must manage money, make sure they eat properly, and have the ability to communicate with others.

The majority of users are 8 to 15 years old. When registering they must supply a parent's email address. The parent is then notified of the registration.

Before children can even participate, they must pass a test to get their "chat license." Users must spend three days becoming familiar with the website before they have full access to its chat features. All these security measures should limit pedophiles from entering the site, but "it's not technically impossible for that creepy, bad adult to do some creepy, bad things," said Jay Goss, Whyville.net's COO. Whyville users can dial a virtual "911" if they suspect any predatory activity. Whyville also has an educational element and has been training teachers to introduce it to their classrooms.

"We see schools as a great opportunity for [teaching] kids to stay safe online," he said, adding that schools have been great avenues for past crusades against things such as drugs and alcohol. "It's about time that we start teaching children these same common-sense procedures in the online world," said Ron Teixeira, executive director of The National Cyber Security Alliance.