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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this website.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this site requires users to download software to participate in its virtual world. The chat has a profanity filter, and users who curse excessively, bother other users, or violate other terms of service can be suspended or banned; this is enforced. However, the site also has a browser-based social networking feature that has fewer restrictions -- there's cursing and rude behavior in profiles and forums, and forums encourage users to upload real photos of themselves. Users can by virtual things with virtual points or by purchasing "vbucks" with a credit card. The virtual world has a ton of embedded advertising, as well as several clubs with bars. (The terms note that users should be 13 or older.)
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's it about?
From the developers of VLES comes VSIDE.COM, a virtual world that teens access through downloadable software. Users can explore three virtual cities that feature clubs and stores, special event spaces (like the Tyra Banks Studio or the Pussycat Dolls' loft), and apartments, which vSide residents can "pimp" -- as the site puts it -- to their liking, using either vpoints (earned through interactivity) or vbucks (purchased with real money). There's also a browser-based component of user profiles and forums.
Is it any good?
Like VLES, vSide suffers from a bit of an attitude problem. Even the bots (planted characters) can get mouthy -- one of them tells you right off the bat that your look is a little "tired" and you should buy some new clothes. Accordingly, most of the content is based around shopping, clubbing, and looking cool. Teens who are looking for "a place to party online" may enjoy hanging out with their friends in this sleekly designed environment, but others may prefer a virtual world with a bit more substance.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about safety with social networking sites. How do you know if you can trust someone online? What are the potential pitfalls of sharing personal information online? What kind of information and images are off limits? Families can also talk about virtual communities and identity. What appeals to teens about using an avatar rather than a true identity? What does an avatar tell you about the real person behind it? What kind of identity does this site seem to think is cool?