Social Networking and The Key To Anne’s Diary…Biometrics

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I had a great chat this week with Emily Want, CEO of Anne’s Diary.  A subsidiary of Logica Holdings Group, the site launched in November and quickly gained the valuable reputation of becoming one of the Internet’s "super-safest social networks". Inspired by one of Canada’s cultural literary gems, Anne of Green Gables, it’s not hard to see why safety is critical for its chosen demographic.

The Toronto-based site’s commitment to providing a safe environment for girls between 6 and 14 is echoed in their partnerships with Fujitsu Microelectronics and123ID to provide biometric login kits for fingerprint authentication that replaces password authentication for each incoming member on the network.

The biometric solution uses Novell’s Modular Authentication Service to enroll users into Novell "eDirectory", eliminating the children’s need to remember logins or risk intrusion from outsiders.

To sign up, users pay a fee of $119.25 US per year or $12.95 US per month and receive a starter kit.  The starter kit includes a fingerprint reader that is tied to the member’s identity once it has been approved.  As part of the approval process, parents must submit contact details for a guarantor (similar to a passport process).  Once the guarantor is contacted through Anne’s Diary, the member is given an ID and may join the site.

One of the site’s features is a direct line into the Ontario Provincial Police representative Robyn MacEachern.  Robyn is a Police Officer and a specialist in Youth Crime Prevention. She has partnered with Anne’s Diary to help not only keep the site as safe as possible, but also to give advice to other people about how to stay safe online.

The site provides young girls with an opportunity to connect with
one another around the world as modern day pen pals.  The site also
offers a private diary area, games, e-cards and a book club to promote
interactivity.  Another focus of the site is the theme of empowerment
where girls are given guides on self-esteem and career tips.  The chat
area of the site is monitored for inappropriate contact and due to its
tight security, the source of inappropriate content is quickly
established and removed.

Partnered with Simon & Schuster, the site has a strong pipeline
for new material to share among its members.  A boys’ version of the
platform is currently in development and will focus on being a
playhouse of sorts.  I won’t give away the chosen book for the site but
it’s equally clean in content and just as magical in terms of childhood
favourites.

Currently, the small but growing membership of Anne’s Diary is
Canadian but Emily confirmed plans to roll out globally.
Interestingly, Japan appears to be one of the most attractive markets
for the site as Anne of Green Gables has consistently been one
of the top ten selling books in the country.  The books are widely used
as a language-teaching tool due to its easy reading and downright clean
content.  In this vein, the site holds a lot of potential to become a
learning tool in itself, connecting young people globally in chat
forums where they can take their vocabularies for a spin in real time.

Currently, the business model is focused on membership but
sponsorship opportunities are available on the site and Emily is
working on affiliate programs to generate traffic to the network.

One of the obvious challenges faced by the site is its rate of
growth. Delivery of the starter kits can take a minimum of 2-3 weeks.
The laborious process involved with the validation of each member makes
for slower adoption but as Emily pointed out, it’s well worth the
trouble.

Taking every precaution to provide a safe, monitored environment is
coming into vogue.  Although MySpace has recently announced its plan to
work towards creating safer environments (see this CBC article),
this process would create an enormous stumbling block for the networks
that have based their success on the "everyone can join" platforms.
For now, the alternative measures are still in development and each
have their own drawbacks.

Anne’s Diary is certainly an experiment of quality vs. quantity
online.  Time will tell if the slowed adoption rate will be an
impediment or the winning factor for the network.  In any case, it’s a
network to watch. In a competitive environment where most social
networks merely pay lip service to security, Anne’s Diary is walking
the talk.

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9 thoughts on “Social Networking and The Key To Anne’s Diary…Biometrics

  1. Ashleigh

    I found this to be an interesting article about how the Internet is evolving to protect a more vulnerable generation of users. As I was reading, I was thinking about what type of advertising (if any) would be featured on this site. When I read the part stating
    “Currently, the business model is focused on membership but sponsorship opportunities are available on the site and Emily is working on affiliate programs to generate traffic to the network”
    I thought about what type of impression it would leave on these young girls. One would think that this type of advertising or “sponsorship” would come at a premium because of the nature of site and its focus on safety and security. As someone interested in the evolution of social media, some further information along these lines would be helpful.
    How much (if any) will company ethics and reputation play into their ability to sponsor the site? How would these criteria be established?
    Will their affiliation with the site undoubtedly win over the brand loyalty of these young viewers?
    Does this mean on some level the site is “selling out” like other social networking sites that now rely predominantly on advertising to generate profit? Will the site’s operators eventually cave under the pressures of high powered advertising sponsors (as has been the fate of other sites and media in general)?
    Perhaps these questions can’t be answered at this time, but it will be interesting to see how the site operators deal with advertisers and how the site’s mandate changes once these issues become more imminent.

  2. Soniac

    Thanks for your comment Ashleigh. You bring up a great point about how advertisers will want to align themselves with this demographic. The site will have to be selective about the types of sponsorships and affiliates it includes to the network.
    We might see bigger brands employing philanthropic approaches to their strategies. One example that comes to mind is Dove’s campaign for “Real Beauty” http://www.dove.ca/beauty/
    Again, Anne’s Diary and any other social network that is focusing on a sensitive demographic might have to reach out to national brands in a deeper way than media publishers have had to in the past. True partnerships will have to emerge in order to align content with advertising messages.
    You’re right though, time will tell.

  3. Janice Diner

    As both the mother of a young daughter and as a social media marketer, I must say I love this new site and the idea of safe social networking. I suspect an educational program to mothers and daughters to get adaptation of this site and idea is around the corner. I see young girls in my daughters peer group using social networking sites with limited knowledge of privacy controls and settings. Further the parents of these kids, my peers often know even less about it. Providing safe environments for our children on-line is all of our responsibility in this emerging media. Kudos to the site and its creators.

  4. Soniac

    Thanks for your comment Janice. It’s true that this is a dream parental solution to social networking. The marketing hat haunts me though, and the hurdles to join worry me a bit on the adoption side (is it a sustainable model?)
    They’ll need to build some critical mass quickly.

  5. Ethan

    So, while I think your review is fine, have you really ever read any of the Anne books?
    I agree that people everywhere love them, but the brand has exceeded the product in this case. The language is hardly easy to read. Montgomery is the Queen of run-on sentences. She woul dnever get published today. As much as I love them, having had to read all of the Anne books aloud to my kids over the past year has really brought home how archaic her language is.
    I look forward to seeing the boys’ site though. Definitely an interesting business model.

  6. Alicia

    This article is interesting because I feel it demonstrates a shift in social media. Social media/networking sites have typically developed and grown organically.
    This site has been created out of a necessity for a ‘child-safe’ social networking site. Consequently, all elements of it are pre-planned to the finest detail with restrictions on who can join. Therefore it does not have the absolute freedom to grow and reshape itself according to demand.
    I feel it brings up the question of where social media is heading. These sites used to be a haven for people looking to form organic, specialized communities free of corporate interjection. However, with any trend – once the masses become interested it evolves into a more sanitized version of its former self. Advertisers become involved and sponsorships develop.
    This site has obvious benefits and is a positive creation. However, I feel it is indicative of a greater shift in social media and was wondering what others thought about this issue.

  7. SoniaC

    @ Ethan – I think the appeal is in the content of the stories. Internationally, the character and the pure plots are appealing to young readers and educators.
    @ Alicia – I agree that the closed environment goes against the grain of social networks that exist today. Rather than leveraging the “social graph” for the sake of media, the site is establishing an environment to engage smaller numbers in a meaningful way. I sometimes think of it as the “Leapster” option of video games.
    If the site achieves in gaining any critical mass, the opportunity to network within a safe environment is quite valuable to the end users and advertisers.
    Social networks are now completely saturated with corporate injections. Over-advertising on the social networks is now becoming an issue for marketers.
    There’s definitely a trend towards niche networks (your point about the sanitized version of its former self). With a lot of “white labeling” solutions providing the tools to create micro social networks to companies as well as individuals, we’ll see an explosion of special interest networks created.
    Each will have challenges in gaining critical mass but few will be as protected as Anne’s Diary.
    I think there will always be advertisers interested in niche networks.

  8. Jane

    The idea of marketing this website and finding advertising is very interesting to me. The concept of the site is a good one, enabling youth to find their voices online in a secure environment. This is certainly a positive thing. However, authentic as it is, introducing advertising could change the dynamics of the site incorporating suggestive messages to these girls on a site where they are encouraged to be free-thinkers and express themselves without fear of judgment.
    I think that with the rise of the web and social networking it is a smart and necessary move for advertisers to pair their products to a niche market like Anne’s Diary. We live in a digital age and with that comes broad interests and segmented audiences. It is not enough anymore to simply have a product, do a 30 second spot on TV and then sell it. With today’s audiences, these tactics rarely reach anyone with the dawn of PVR devices that enable viewers to skip ads all together. Something like Anne’s Diary allows companies to market to a specialized group and tailor their messages accordingly.
    Is it possible then that in tailoring their messages their company risk the chance of coming off too forced in their efforts? Is it believable or simply a blatant plug for their product? Does Dove truly care about campaigning for real beauty or does Dove simply only care about campaigning for themselves. It all comes down to sales and companies cannot take lightly the power they possess when targeting such a young demographic. Sure Anne’s Diary is safe and secure but will they remain protected after clicking on that banner ad which takes them into a completely different window.
    Ultimately, advertising needs to maintain a clear and consistent message that lends itself to the site without compromising what the site stands for. I guess what I am saying is that advertisers have to genuinely (if that is possible) believe in the site and want to contribute to it positively. Time of course will tell but it is certainly interesting how Anne’s Diary will incorporate advertising and the standard they will impose with their advertisers.

  9. Craig Marsh

    I think biometric identification will become more pervasive as online identity theft becomes more of an issue.
    Anne’s Diary is a real pioneer of the technology and I am sure will welcome the seamlessness of solutions to come.
    It pleases me to see such innovation in a space that really takes society forward. The world has such an abandon for innovation today that consumer society is left holding the bag (of innovations that is). I hope to see more socially and environmentally engaged innovation as we move forward realizing that the bag we are holding is full useless trinkets that are dragging us down.

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