Sunday, August 02, 2009

Think beyond Build-A-BearVille (the Second Life for kids)

My daughter, Vania, loves to play Build-A-BearVille, the virtual world of Build-A-Bear Workshop, Inc. After watching her playing several times, I find that the game is truly addictive to kids (especially to the girls) as many adults have been addicted to Second Life.

I suppose all of the Thinking Space readers must have had more or less experiences on the online social networking communities. By contrast, there are indeed a few very interesting innovation in Build-A-BearVille that are worth of sharing and thinking. Build-A-BearVille demonstrates something beyond its domain.

1) Virtualize the real world into the virtual world, and monetize the connection between the two worlds

The most impressive service provided by the Build-A-BearVille is to build a stuff animal in the real Build-A-Bear workshop and it immediately becomes a living pet of yours in the virtual Build-A-BearVille world. More than that, after declaring the birth of the pet Build-A-BearVille automatically provides you a well-designed virtual condo that both of you and the pet may live happily ever after together in the virtual world. This is the primary business model of Build-A-BearVille. (And you can imagine, we build a bear for Vania because of this game.) But it means more than the bears.

What Build-A-BearVille suggests is indeed that there exists a bridge between the virtual world and the real world. Unlike Second Life which sells virtual lands or the traditional online shopping sites which sells only the real products, Build-A-BearVille monetizes the connection between the virtual world and the real world. That is, once we have a thing in the real world; we may also want it in the virtual world (and be more fancy since in the virtual world it can be given life that is impossible in the real world). In similar, once we have experienced a virtual product in the virtual world, we may want it in the real form in our real life as well. This connection between the real world and the virtual world could become an even greater market than simply the virtual world stuffs or purely the real world products.

Imagine it. In the future, whenever one buys a real thing, the thing automatically becomes part of his belongs in his virtual community. Whenever one tries to buy a real thing, however, she may first experience it with very cheap (or free) price in her virtual life until being satisfied.

Many times, we do not really want to have a very different second life in the virtual world, which is too much unrealistic. By contrast, what we often expect is to have an adjustable clone of our current real life. By this way the virtual life becomes an experimental bed of the real life in which we may try varied options that are too expensive to test in the real life. More importantly, by which we may test the consequence of many of our decisions before we truly make them real in the real world (which will be unchangeable).

2) Make vocabulary be controlled

Unlike the adult social networking sites, Build-A-BearVille does not allow "free" speech. By contrast, all the allowable sentences and phrases are pre-built. The users can choose the phrases they want to say by selecting instead of typing.

The motivation of this design is obvious to the kid sites such as Build-A-BearVille. First, many of its users (the young kids) may not even be able to type, or at least to type correctly. Second, it ensures that the community is well guarded in good manner, only! Therefore, the parents become more willing to allow their kids playing the game.

My thought is, however, why not make the vocabulary in the adult social sites be controlled as well. And there are reasons.

First, controlled vocabulary brings more discipline. A social site (unless it is Facebook) needs to have a focus. To allow anything often leads to do nothing well, and then the users are getting bored. The controlled vocabulary will force the users to the theme of the site. Although it looks like that the users lose the freedom of speech, it increases the efficiency of getting the work done.

Do not try to hold the users indefinitely in your site by adding many meaningless fancy services. Remember that time to anybody is precious. So speed up the process. Let the users know what they can do/say and what they cannot do/say immediately without exploration. When a site does this, it keeps the right users to itself and establishes a strong and stable community.

Second, controlled vocabulary preserves virtue online. It helps building a great environment so that every user comes with happiness and leave with delightfulness. The users can be certain on what will NOT occur when coming to the site. This effect could be much greater than it seems.

Third but definitely not the least, controlled vocabulary enables strong support on user data mining and many other user data analysis services. With controlled vocabulary, it is much easier to build a network of the linked data. Therefore, the site is able to develop much better domain-specific services for the users that are very hard to be implemented without the restriction of controlled vocabulary.


Since our Web itself is in its childhood, we often learn more from the design of the sites for kids than from the sites for adults. The intelligence of the machines that the Web is upon is closer to the kids than to the adults. This is thus why I feel the beauty of Build-A-BearVille. Try it you may get more inspiration.


Allen said...

While people may have different views still good things should always be appreciated. Yours is a nice blog. Liked it!!!

Yihong Ding said...

thank you, Allen.

Yihong Ding said...


thank you and welcome to comment your ideas.