Meet the Mayor of Togetherville, a Friendly Online Community for Kids

Filed under: In The News, Media, Gadgets

Welcome to Togetherville.

This is a friendly community. Everyone knows everyone else. People look out for each other. Kids play in the street unafraid. The traffic is light, and bad people are stopped at the city limits.

So, you and your kids want to live here? You can. It's just a few mouse clicks down the information superhighway.

Mandeep Singh Dhillon, a California lawyer and father of two, founded Togetherville as a kid-friendly version of Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites.
Kids are not supposed to be on those sites anyway. They are off limits to children younger than 13 under the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998. But that doesn't stop kids from lying about their age and swimming in the sites' predator-filled waters.

"Togetherville tries to take the best of the social Web that parents are used to, which is primarily Facebook, and build a separate experience for children on a Togetherville platform that allows them to have a lot more flexibility while parents maintain control," Dhillon explains in an interview on YouTube with the website CNET.

He says kids create accounts on Togetherville much as they would on Facebook. Actually, parents must create the account for the child. Then, children are free to share messages and images and generally interact with family and friends.

However, Dhillon says, there's a difference between posts on Facebook and posts on Togetherville.

"We filter these to make sure they're content-appropriate and they're not releasing personally identifying information," he says.

Parents also have control over who the child befriends. The rules state friends must be people the parents know in the real world. It cannot just be a person the child or parent met online.

"Within that context, we still provide a lot of flexibility," Dhillon says.

Dhillon says his son has a Togetherville account, and adds that he and his wife are able to keep tabs on his online friends.

"Anyone who is in Togetherville in my child's neighborhood are people we know in the real world," he says.

Togetherville also offers the kinds of videos, games and experiences not found on Facebook, but are nonetheless interesting to 6- to 10-year-olds.

A member of the Sikh faith, Dhillon was raised in North Carolina and studied at law at the University of Virginia. He and his family moved to California in 2000. He has since worked to increase people's understanding of his religion. One of his other projects is "The Sikh Next Door," a multimedia curriculum program designed specifically for American schools.

Dhillon tells YouTube viewers that he has been trying to make the Internet a nicer place for children for three years. But the tech world changes fast. Just three years ago, his big push was creating safer Web browsers.

Then social networking sites took off.

The challenge became providing social networking for kids. Dhillon says he's succeeded.

"We believe that it provides the best view, the best engaging social interaction between adults and children using the social Web while still keeping kids safe online," he says.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.