Philanthrokidz: Real World Results from Online Play

The Rift is a new website for pre-teens, the brain child of Tina Venema, a mother of two with a background in software development, whose interests in innovation, technology and a budding interest in philanthropy led her to explore the idea of creating a virtual world for children where they can socialise and, by playing online, contribute to community projects.

While her own children were avid users of technology, their one complaint was that for all the time they spent playing games online, nothing would happen. Her children would tell her they could decorate a room or feed an animal online and while this was fun for them, nothing else would happen — there were no visible consequences to their online presence.

Tina came to the conclusion that children in the tween demographic, between the ages of nine and thirteen, are equally involved in their online lives as they are in their real world lives, “Tweens live with one leg in the real world and one in the virtual world; virtual experience is very real for them but they are still in school every day in really concrete situations.”

“A theory I came up with is that there is no bridge between their real world experience and their virtual experience and how cool would it be to empower kids to do things virtually that they have currency in and the ability to play online and to transform that into something that they could be proud of creating in the real world.”

Thus The Rift was born.

It is Tina’s company, Philanthrokidz’, current project and is what Tina hopes will become, “the coolest place online for kids.” It differs from other tween sites such as Webkinz or Club Penguin in that by playing and taking part in activities online, kids can generate currency for themselves called Rifts which they can use to contribute to virtual community projects.

“Our special sauce is we have to have all the things a virtual world needs that keep kids coming back; which is fun and games and allowing them to be part of masterminding it. I think the one benefit we have which we haven’t seen in other places is the ability for them to turn their virtual currency and power into the real world things happening.

“Currently our users are building a virtual kids’ park in the Dominican Republic. What the kids are doing is all virtual and our corporate partners match with real currency in the real world what our kids are doing with virtual currency in the virtual world.”

On the website the Rift kids will find a toggle button where they can watch the real park as it’s being built and there they can see what is happening and how their real project is coming along be able to compare it with their virtual park on the website.

The benefit for investors is that they’re able to build their own customised space on The Rift where kids can go and sample their product, help them with development or design new packaging, and all of this information goes directly from the users on The Rift right back to the company.

The name for the site comes from a legend Tina and her team created for added intrigue and that added a spark of folklore to the idea of these children coming together to create their own world where play equals power.

The fictitious tale of The Rift goes that at one point in time an island existed out in the middle of the Atlantic which was governed by five guilds; entrepreneurs, builders, artists, intuit and scientists. The island was seen as the place that other people could go to seek help.

Then the rift happened and while no one knows how exactly this happened, the different tribes or guilds that had taken up residence on the island fled back to their countries of origin. The island turned in on itself and sank beneath the ocean.

Fast forward thousands of years: Five kids spread across the globe get together online via a blog that one of the girls starts; unknownst to themselves they are all descendants of the five guilds.

“So the idea is that The Rift is being rebuilt and at the same time we’re saving the world, kids are invited to become part of that endeavour through all the activities they do and by earning their virtual currency. This currency gives them virtual spending power and also status, so we’re encouraging healthy competition among kids to earn more but also to give more.”

As they play online, pre-teens can earn a virtual currency which they can use to build their kids’ park in the Dominican Republic. They purchase the land which then has to be sodded and grassed and as that happens in the virtual world it’s also happening in the real world, funded by real currency.

The beauty of this scheme is that children are being enforced with the idea from an early age that earning money and working towards a goal can be extremely rewarding. The Rift is gives them the experience of seeing their goals come to fruition through vicarious education.

“While we don’t want to be an educational site for kids we do think there are some important things that can be learned though this project around financial literacy, global issues, geography and languages.”

Another major part of Philanthrokidz and The Rift project for Tina is a desire to develop user generated content, “We’re seeking out feedback from our users to help us build the world in the way they want it to be, we really want it to be a world for kids, built by kids.”

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