Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Internet-connected plush toys

February 9th, 2007 by Seb Chan

First, Snarkmarket reports on a wonderful dialogue on Metafilter about a prototype from the late 90s – an internet connected teddy bear that would tell children stories from a central server, contributed by parents.

I came up with the (again, patented, but the patent dropped) idea of an internet-connected teddy bear that contacts a web site to tell stories. People would tell stories to the web site, and in return for these stories, they would be paid per listener. Bear purchasers would pay a monthly subscription fee. The child would get access to every single story ever told via the breadth of the lazyweb, and the parents could configure the bear to tell only certain kinds of stories (e.g. nonviolent, child age 4-6, Jewish, with a moral message, etc. Stories would be reviewed and tagged.)

Then it is on to the Washington Post reporting on Webkinz. Semi-internet connected plush toys that have unique IDs activated via the Webkinz site.

“Play always reflects the adult world,” said Christopher Byrne, an independent toy analyst who goes by the Toy Guy. “It’s kids aspiring to have a MySpace page, but cognitively and developmentally, they’re not ready for that. This gives them the experience of sharing and connecting with friends.”

Except that the life of your real world Webkinz is revealed in the virtual world. Nothing happens to the toys in the real world – that would make them too expensive and put them out of the price range of their target market. But like the proposed Teddy Bear 2.0, it is only a matter of time.

Difficultly in achieving the right price point is probably the main reason why the Chumby is not here yet.

These activities all remind me a lot of two things.

The first is that these are like a children’s version of the quintessentially Australian, and very successful, Talking Boony toys that a beer company has been using during the last two summers of cricket down here. The Talking Boony picks up a frequencies in the live TV broadcast via a microphone. Those frequencies trigger pre-recorded patterns in its memory, which are meant to synchronise with the action on screen, or are time sensitive.

The second is the ever growing trend towards real-world/online interactivity.

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