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Kai Ryssdal: Social networking sites, places like MySpace and Facebook, are used for all sorts of different things. College kids use them for everything from dating to just making friends. Struggling musicans put their songs up hoping to get noticed. Presidential candidates are there. Ten-year-old girls, though, don't want to do any of that stuff. As Marketplace's Lisa Napoli reports.
Lisa Napoli: You can thank "March of the Penguins" for making a pop culture phenomenon of the tuxedo-clad bird.
You can thank Club Penguin for taking the craze to a new level.
Lisa Napoli: What is Club Penguin?
Grace Slansky: Well, it's basically a virtual world.
That's Grace Slansky. She's almost 9 years old. Pretty much every day, she and millions of other kids her age log on and navigate their penguin avatars around a virtual world of igloos.
A big part of the fun of Club Penguin isn't just that your friends are on it. It's that you earn virtual money by doing virtual chores so you can go . . . virtual shopping.
Napoli: Tell me more about what I'm seeing in your igloo because, obviously, people can't see what we're looking at right now.
Slansky: Two coffee tables — purple and blue — a stove with a teapot on it, two lamps — blue and pink — and basically a fish.
Napoli: How did you get it all?
Slansky: I bought it.
Now, while the alluring subtext of this virtual world is that you get to consume, just like a grown-up, the people behind the site are dead-set against ads. Instead, they make their money because kids pay to be a member — or rather, their parents pay about six bucks a month.
Club Penguin officials won't say how many subscribers they have or how much money they make. But word in the trades is that big media companies have been looking to buy this little start-up Canadian company for something like half a billion dollars.
So eager are they to get their hands on this devoted audience of young consumers:
Rafat Ali: It is a cliche, but that is the power of the Internet.
Rafat Ali covers the phenomenon of social networking on his blog, Paid Content.
Ali: Especially with kids, thing catch on like wildfire. If one kid is doing it in his or her school, everybody has to do it. And that's why the market is so lucrative and it grows so fast.
And why so many people are jumping into the social networking game, hoping to find the next big thing. Because once they age out of Club Penguin, Grace and her friends will be looking for somewhere else to hang out online.
In Los Angeles, I'm Lisa Napoli for Marketplace.