Disney buys Indian-American’s social networking site

By Arun Kumar, IANS
Saturday, February 26, 2011

WASHINGTON - Entertainment giant Walt Disney Co has acquired Togetherville, a social network for elementary school-age children founded by an Indian American, to strengthen its offerings in online gaming.

Togetherville seeks to mimic the experiences of social networks such as Facebook, but in a way that’s protective of children younger than 10 and allows for parental supervision.

The site lets children connect with their real-world friends in its virtual neighbourhood, according to founder and Chief Executive Mandeep S. Dhillon.

“Togetherville is very focused on trying to really reflect what the adult community has been doing on the Web and build a real online experience that adults enjoy for kids, but do it in a safe, COPPA-compliant way,” he said referring to the safeguards established by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

Dhillon told the Los Angeles Times the acquisition, the terms of which were not disclosed, was completed Feb 18.

The Togetherville transaction is the latest digital acquisition by Disney, which in July bought social gaming company Playdom for $563 million and mobile application developer Tapulous.

Dhillon said he set out to create a safe online network where his three children - ages 9 and younger - could learn and play while under the watchful eyes of their parents.

The site offers a range of entertainment, including games that enable kids to have virtual snowball fights as well as music videos and animation snippets that have been prescreened as age-appropriate. Members of the community can also give virtual gifts such as greeting cards and works of art.

“What we try to do is reflect what kids’ real-world experiences are with the online environment,” Dhillon said.

Parents, meanwhile, can control whom the kids interact with; and Togetherville ensures that kids can’t leave the protected confines of the network to go to another site.

Dhillon said he was excited by the Disney purchase, noting, “They’re one of the most amazing family brands on Earth.”

Disney issued a statement Friday confirming that Togetherville will become a wholly owned subsidiary of the company’s interactive media group.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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