Facebook for the Next Generation

Jess TonnI can’t seem to open my Google Reader these days without seeing a story about kids using social media, sometimes for good and sometimes not. And I can’t log in to my Gmail account without seeing a notification about the end of Google Buzz.

These two things, which often happen in tandem, have me asking: Why do companies spend so much time and money trying to cater to the same audience? Instead, why not spend our energy developing a social media site for a whole different audience, one that (in theory) doesn’t have access to social media in the first place: the under-13 crowd?

Think Facebook sans ads, and with a greater level of administrator approval required for posting pictures, comments, etc. Keep the games—heck, add more of them!—but make them more educational than Farmville or Mafia Wars. I’m envisioning kindergartners at the keyboard, learning proper netiquette as they learn their ABCs, and a school day where kids learn how to treat one another with respect, both on the playground and on the Internet.

All too often, educators shy away from—or are prohibited from—using social media with kids. But the answer to the perceived dangers of social media is not to limit kids’ access to it. Our kids already are living their lives online, and today’s kindergarteners likely will one day live in a world where they will be expected to use social media both personally and professionally. Let’s teach them how to use it responsibly.