Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Social Networking and The Key To Anne's Diary...Biometrics

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 gem’s 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 boy’s 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 vain, 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’s 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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