[Munchkins] They're here... 2-way text pagers for kids

Rohit Khare (rohit@uci.edu)
Fri, 26 Mar 1999 12:25:01 -0800

Well, I suppose this validates one of the diffusion models I've been
mumuring about all this time: aim at cohesive social groups that
physically reform ad-hoc networks on a periodic basis. IETF meetings
are one example: even at only three times a year, folks are
incentivized to invest $300 in wireless ethernet cards -- playgrounds
are at the other (daily frequency x much lower bandwidth). I suspect
high school kids are in the middle: would like cell-phone or
digcam-like bandwidth, and gather at school, at the mall, at games,
and in smaller subcliques. A fine bench test for
ad-hoc-net-marketing: because just like the first fax machines and
first phones, you've got to target a well-interconnected social
subgroup to create value. And worse, while faxes, in particular,
could be sold in pairs across a "universal" phone-net cloud, adhoc
wireless net relays have to be sold in such density as to make an
entire neighborhood online.

Anyway, the technical top-line on this device is that it's the first
tiny-range consumer digital data transceiver I've heard of.
It's gonna be a hit with drug dealers... I wonder if you can hop one
up with PGP -- it's already got simple "password" protection.

And what happens when the first boy lies and boots up a pager in
girl-mode and starts eavesdropping? Or is there a countermeasure
(girl-pagers are only in pink? :-)

The company's product page is attached at the end with [commentary]



Date: Thu, 25 Mar 1999 09:49:12 -0500 (EST)
From: Jeremie Kass <jeremie@umich.edu>
Subject: GeeK: 2-way text Pagers for kids

>From today's nytimes

Keychain Pager Is Aimed at the Playground Crowd

It's bad enough that pagers and cellular phones ring during the
opera. Now they might go off during nap time. Playmates Toys has just
released a just-for-children pager that is called Friend.link. The $20
keychain toy can send E-mail-style messages via radio waves to other
Friends.links within 25 feet. The messages are entered with a small
data wheel and can be up to 48 characters long. Children can also
enter personal information like their sex, age and hobbies. When that
device comes within range of another unit programmed with similar
interests, the pagers will ring, alerting the owners, much like last
year's Japanese toy matchmaker, the Love Getty.

An interesting feature of the Friend.link allows the recipient
list to be customized. Users can choose to send a message to a single
friend, to
all the Friend.links in the vicinity or to only boys or girls. The
last choice could be
an example of retrograde sexual stereotyping or enlightened
difference feminism, de
pending on your point of view. "We found that at the target age, 8
through 13, people tend to polarize into groups based on gender,"
said Tom McClure, director of marketing for Playmates Toys. "The
girls talk about the boys, and the boys talk about the girls." Now
the playground battle of the sexes can be waged
electronically. -- BRUCE HEADLAM

Playmates Toys page is at


Link up with your friends or make new ones!
At school, at parties or at the mall, Friend.Link is the fast and fun
way to send and receive messages with your friends.

[Aha! they do get the periodic-reformation meme]

Broadcast messages or send a secret to a friend!

[ah, but do they have anycast -- send it ot the first friend who reads it?]

Special passwords let you send messages to your closest friends.

[triple-DES? or rot-N?]

You can even use Friend.Link to make new friends! Enter your
interests into the "finder data'' and when they match another
person's interest--you'll hear the Beep!

[Mark my words, I think this could be a *huge* crossover hit with
18-24 year olds -- pick back up on the infantilization subtheme in
club culture, a few strategic product placements on MTV and some
summer horror flick, and...]

You can even play alone and seek your fortune.
[quotd rides again!]

Friend.Link is your very own, take-along e-message center! Broadcast
a message. Send it to lots of friends at one time--all boys, all
girls or everyone.
Send a private note. Special passwords lets you send private messages
to your closest friends. Password mailbox allows you to store up to 6
private e-messages.
Friend Finder features finds new friends automatically!
Fortune telling game for playing alone.

Requires 3 "AAA" batteries, not included.
Ages 8 and up.

[Meta question: is it important that this device NOT support
'regular' paging -- that it not be recontextualized as a "work" or
"adult" or "expensive" device? that it not be used by parents to
"control" the kid, but for them to create their own world?]

[Who'll be the first school principal to ban it? Will playmate's
stealth PR division be standing by to hype the flames and get the
ACLU involved without being seen as a direct actor? It's hard to
engineer yourself a subversive image...]

[I wonder if it's cheap enough to buy a box for the ICS department
and as party favors for the next IETF meeting. I wonder if they're
even RF-legal overseas -- Oslo, anyone? :-]

[None of the other links off their page work yet]

[But these are the folks, after all, who brought you
http://www.playmatestoys.com/html/lara_wetsuit.html :-]