How Lego Built a Social Network for Kids That’s Not Creepy

There are Lego bricks and Lego movies, Lego videogames and Lego volumes. The stackable, sortable plastic molds imbue all corners of society. Today, it engraves out a new space online: Lego Life, a social network built specifically for kids. The entire experience is contained within an app that’s available in the App Store and in Google Play.

A place for kids to share their Lego designs builds sense enough; niche communities offer the internets foundation. Whats most interesting about Lego Life, though, isnt that it exists. Its how Lego worked to create a pastoral place on the internet, one where the exchange of ideas and inventions remains unsullied by, well, the usual.

La Vida Lego

From far enough away, Lego Life appears a bit like a brick-themed Instagram. It has all the standard social network components: a newsfeed, profiles, and the ability to like and commentary. A closer seem, though, reveals a careful crafted ecosystem designed with safety at the top of mind.

Theres the sign-up process, for starters. Anyone under 13 — which is to say, the bulk of the core audience–needs permission from mothers to join, which is obtained by providing mom or dads email address and getting separate verification.( Lego doesnt explicitly keep people older than 13 out of Lego Life .)

Could a savvy nine-year-old fake her way through that process? Maybe! But the real run of constructing Lego kid-friendly comes after that initial hurdle.

For starters, Lego Life assigns new participants an anonymous, randomly produced user name. Rather than wandering the digital passageways as Johnny Tween, theyll go by three-word jumble, like DukeCharmingShrimp. They are no profile paintings here, either; instead, users can trick out minifig avatars with a range of apparel, hair, and accessories. Even if a kid did making such a avatar as close to their real appearance as is practicable, theres little danger of identifying features, unless that child has a lemon-yellow head the shape of a propane tank.

Then theres the newsfeed itself, inhabited by a mix of branded content( hello, Lego Batman !), indicated constructs to try, and user uploads of projects theyve worked on at home.

When you first use the feed, its various kinds of random, says Rob Lowe, who headed up Lego Life. Its a mixture of user-generated content, things they build themselves, and things that weve generated, like challenges that are the Lego version of a novelists inspire. Rather than let the possibilities of a pile of bricks overwhelm, Lego Life will suggest something as simple as build something green. If you put a little constraint in, it helps things creatively.

Theres even a visualized hashtag system, as Lowe calls it, that lets children promptly navigate to their favorite Lego defines or themes. As kids start to like certain types of content, or constructs from certain users, their feeds will start to adjust accordingly.

At this phase, and even more so if you have children, you may be cycling through all of the ways in which this could go terribly wrong. This is, after all, the internet, a place thats as reliably cruel as it is gross. Fear not! Lego knows this too. And while no digital parcel is genuinely horror-free, Lego Life has devised some clever safeguards.

A Safer Stream

Lego uploads a large amount of content to Lego Life immediately. These are the challenges, the recommended builds, the Ninjago tie-ins. That components easy to keep strictly PG. As you might suspect, user uploads are a whole other issue.

The types of content that need to stay off Lego Life arent merely those with adult themes; theyre the ones that say too much about members of the public who built them.

The first line of defense against adult content receiving its style into the Lego Life feed is also the most obvious: Lego has partnered with a content moderation company that blends algorithmic and human detection, to screen every single image before it goes on the site.

Simple enough, and also how Lego ensures that every image is Lego-specific. But Lego Life needs more robust protections than youd find on Facebook or Instagram. The types of content that need to stay off arent just those with adult themes; theyre the ones that say too much about members of the public who induced them. A minifig avatar isnt much good if a real-world selfie shows up on the site. And the cases merely get more fine-tuned from there.

There was some really interesting stuff where children were uploading selfies, which get rejected because they had their faces on them, says Lowe. Because children are devilishly adaptive, they took those same scenes, but put Lego minifig stickers over their faces in the app, leading to an extensive internal debate over whether even that was overly identifying. It was, says Lowe. We always err on the side of caution.

That applies too to the product roadmap, which includes the ability to upload user-generated videos. Again, standard moderation should keep things age-appropriate. But narrations a no-go for children under 13 without confirmed parental permission, an FTC-mandated process that involves a mother or father submitting a government-issued ID, as well as a digital photo, before certain permissions are granted. Thats something Lego Life will roll out at some point, but for now its focusing its video endeavors on stop-motion. Likewise, it wont roll out any kind of chat system until it decides on a route to confirm that two people know each other in real life.

In fact, Lego Lifes key innovation may be that in most cases, users cant type any terms at all. Instead, theyll.

Emojitown

Dont read the comments . Thats rightly a popular online refrain. Anywhere multiple people congregate to fire off missives into the dark, often anonymously, unavoidably devolves into a horrorscape insults and misanthropy. Which is not very Lego.

The Lego Life answer, which also happens to benefit a user group at differing reader comprehension levels? Leaving the comments, but limiting them to a range of carefully selected emoji.

LEGO

We went on a journey of testing out a bunch of different images, asking children how they would express a certain emotion, says James Lema, Lego Lifes creative director. We put a bunch of cards in front of the kids, and asked them to make a sentence using different emoji.

The range of responses was wide. Some kids meticulously tried to replicate a full suppose, while others slapped down three hearts and called it a day. The universal learning, though, was that the best style to foster positivity was to create a wordless speech immersed in it.

Theres no thumbs down in Lego Life, for instance, and Lema says certain combinations of emoji that could be construed as negative have been removed.( He cant recollect which, specifically, but safe to say the keyboard has no .)

Thats all in addition to the more obvious, first-order benefits of emoji, which is that its a universal language–important for a social network thats launching in eight countries and multiple languages simultaneously, with more to come.

Most of all, the emoji keyboard, like Lego Life itself, should be adaptable. If children do find a way to be cruel to one another–they always do–Lego can snuff it out with a software update. Both Lowe and Lema ensure Lego Life as a continuous work in progress, as adaptable as its young user base.

Sometimes you have to put things out there and be surprised, and either pivot, improve, or take down, says Lema. Were absolutely building in the ability to be surprised.

Which doesn’t sound too different, actually, from how the very best Lego builds are made.

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