Zwinktopia:IAC’s Procrastination Heaven

    April 30, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

It’s a good thing I’m writing this instead of speaking it; no self-respecting 30-year-old man could bring himself to say "Zwinky" out loud – unless you work for Interactive Corp., where it’s you’re job to talk about Zwinktopia, a virtual online world that launched today.

IAC already has 4.7 million Zwinky users to open up to, automatically making Zwinktopia one of the largest virtual worlds at launch. Starting last summer, droves (packs?) of Zwinkies, the collective moniker IAC slapped upon the youth, used to create their own virtual avatars viewable across social networks.

The virtual world adds its hat to a ring that includes already-successful SecondLife, and to up-and-coming Gaia, which my 12-year-old stepson obsessed over for exactly five minutes before obsessing over an Xbox game for exactly five more minutes (his presence on Gaia was replaced by 10-year-old cousin).

As I indicated earlier, these worlds skew young, which should be marketing Utopia, given the early-adopting pattern of teens.

"Rather than build the virtual world first, we created Zwinky avatars for users to express themselves creatively and visually wherever they go online," said John Park, Executive Vice President and General Manager. "We then listened to our users to create the Zwinky Virtual World they wanted."

Inside that virtual world, users can choose between 29 separate hangouts and have access to dozens of games and activities. They can shop for the latest virtual fashions, accessories, or furniture for their dorm rooms using Zbucks they’ve earned through participation.

Yes, pretend money for pretend things that may one day be worth real money you can buy real things with. The world has taken a strange, strange turn and I’m already so old it’s pathetic.

"We are one of the fastest growing groups within IAC because of our ability to share highly personalized, relevant content such as Zwinkies, Webfetti, and Smiley Central with a ravenous, passionate audience," said Scott Garell, CEO IAC Consumer Applications and Portals.

And don’t forget how valuable all that information is to marketers, in case you had trouble reading between the lines in that press release quote. The reapers have already begun.

Writing for Giga Om, Wagner James Au calls the sudden advance of online kids’ worlds a "gold rush" and wonders why it’s taken the industry so long to notice.

At present, they’re actually the only reliably expanding niche in online worlds. After all, World of Warcraft remains the uncontested traditional fantasy MMORPG, dominating all its competitors (except in Asia), while Second Life remains unchallenged in the user-created 3D world sub-genre.