Disney has gotten lots of press in recent days for the news that they’re finally redesigning their website, a site that’s looked the same for many, many years now. One of the key components to the site will be more social networking functionality that tries to emulate MySpace and position Disney as the place for kids and teens to hang out. I have to believe this was at least in part spurred by the success Disney had with its TV-movie-turned-brandname “High School Musical,” the campaign for which connected well with teens and kids by including a number of online components.
The problem, though, is that the social aspects of the new site are restricted to an extent that users might not find acceptable. Basically Disney wants parents to feel good about their kids spending time there and so have limited what users can put on their profiles and what kinds of appropriate subjects can be discussed in the chat areas.
It seems that, for all the marketing power they possess, Disney execs have not studied recent history. If they had, they would have realized that Wal-Mart’s attempt to create a content-restricted social network flopped because of those restrictions. They also would have read this story on how kids were abandoning rules-laden sites for ones that don’t suffer from the pressures of parental approval and corporate ownership, something that’s recapped well here (via Brian).
I know that social networking is a great idea, as is the desire to protect kids from less savory parts of the online world. But imagine creating a coffee house where a chaperone stands at every table making sure no one introduces any new ideas and no one uses any course language. Does that sound like the kind of place where a kid – or an adult for that matter – would want to spend large amounts of time? Neither do I.
If you want a 2007 prediction from me, it’s that we’ll be writing about Disney shutting down the social networking parts of this site by, say, June due to lack of use or complaints.