I just left this comment over at Coolest Gadgets and thought that other parents might be navigating this online world like we have here. It is THE thing as far as our two kids are concerned - they LOVE their webkins, and I love that they have pets that I don't have to care for! :)
It's really a brilliant marketing idea - beanie babies with an online personality - can you say "print your own money?" Somebody at Ganz is living large now!
My own two have entered this craze in a paced and monitored way. I have looked over the website and found that it is filled with fun games (some a bit too much like mini gambling for my liking) and building homes and shopping for your pet with money you earn by doing chores and playing games.
Two things of note is that Ganz had NO IDEA the kind of server capacity they needed to maintain the popularity - this is truly a brilliant marketing idea - instant pets that don't poop, eat or shed. My kids love them. It is frustrating for them though to regularly get the "servers down" error as they don't understand all that is involved in providing this huge interactive online experience.
When Ganz introduced it's "chat" capability the server didn't last more than one hour before it was shut down and hasn't been resurrected since. I'm sure it's pouring much of it's profits into maintaining and upgrading it's online capacity as quickly as humanly possible.
I was very skeptical of the chat function and did the research so that I'm ready when the servers are back online - there are two forms of chat available - one is pre-written code lines like "I like your hat" or "Cool" kind of phrases that kids can't change or interact with other than clicking on the phrase they want to "say".
The second level is only accessible with parental permission and numbers, body parts, personal details and names are all blocked from the library of available words. Each word must be spelled correctly to get through the filters and it seems as if they have really put some thought and effort into this so as to keep the predators at bay. It can't stop them from entering the chat area, but it can stop them from dialogging with your child in an inappropriate way.
I know that before I give my own children permission I will be "logging in" as them to navigate it before I give approval. Hope that might help other parents who are wondering about this too.