Club Penguin Makes It Easier for Kids to Chat Using Predictive Text

Club Penguin, the insanely popular Disney-owned virtual world that is accessible from the browser, has made it easier and safer for kids to communicate within the game.

Much like a Google search, Club Penguin’s new chat box allows kids to use predictive text to type in a message.

As shown in the screenshot, words appear as the user begins typing — in much the same way that Google tries to predict what you are searching for. But unlike Google, there’s a limited number of phrases kids are allowed to use, in compliance with Internet regulations concerning young children.

This is the first major change Club Penguin has made to its chat in six years, and Lane Merrifield, co-founder of Club Penguin and now EVP of Disney Online Studios, acknowledged that it’s a pretty obvious way to do it.

That’s because filtering, in particular, is really complicated, Merrifield said. Club Penguin has a team of 200 to 300 workers in seven countries which constantly monitors discussions and kicks out any kids who misbehave.

With this new system, Club Penguin has examined years of chat logs to discover how kids communicate and to learn what phrases they use on a regular basis. The predictive engine will have 300,000 phrases to start, and will support English, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

For instance, a kid may type in “Want to go to the … ” and the engine will suggest “dock, lighthouse, nightclub or beach.”

By using predictive text, kids who may not know how to type or even spell can communicate much quicker. The game’s core demographic is between the ages of 7 and 11; typing proficiency often doesn’t accelerate until the age of 10.

Using the old Club Penguin system, kids would type in a phrase, which then would have to be approved. Spelling errors could cause a completely innocent phrase to be rejected.

Chat has become one of the most popular features in Club Penguin, with kids exchanging more than 56 million chat messages a day.

In all, 150 million accounts have been created on Club Penguin, and more than 21,000 kids log in daily.

Along with the new chat system, Club Penguin is making a few other social changes.

It will now be easier to locate friends by adding them to a friend list. Previously, kids were spread out across 150 servers in order to properly balance the load of users. Now they can find friends and jump to their locations more easily.

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