Dunbar's, blogs, fans and community
Over the past few weeks, a few of my blogging colleagues have raised the issue of Dunbar's number in the context of establishing relationships with bloggers and communities. Among them Kami Huyse, Jen Zingsheim and David Wescott.
Dunbar's number? You may not know it by name, but you certainly do by reputation. The general gist is that the upper limit of a social circle is 150. It is often cited in discussions about community building; if 150 is an upper limit for relationships, how can social media scale? Of course, Dunbar's number has its origins in the study of primates and grooming circles, which is not completely extensible to human relationships and certainly not to online relationships, which are not subject to the limitations of the physical world.
Even online, though, one to one relationships don't scale. On either side, company or blogger. In this respect Dunbar's number is correct. We cannot be “best friends” with everyone.
Kami recently suggested that we think about social media outreach as building relationships with communities.
But we don't build relationships with entities; we build them with people.
A relationship with a person may be extended into the community if the reputation of the one merits it, but I'm hard pressed to call that a relationship in the strictest sense. The strength of the one person’s relationship with the rest of the community dictates whether this works. It all depends on how much the others in the group rely on her opinion, model themselves on her behavior etc.
The question isn’t, are they her friends? It is, are they her fans?
That’s why I think Kami is onto something, but I would cast it in a slightly different light. When we aim for scale, the answer isn't to focus on the community as an entity. It’s to understand that what we want are fans.
When we aim for scale, it is a one to many relationship. We will probably use some one to one relationships as the building blocks for the larger effort, but net net, it will be an entity – a company – trying to build or influence a community.
And really, what we are trying to do is turn our customers into our fans.
In order to do that, we have to tap into what makes people care. What makes them love.
Because community isn’t just about group dynamics, although they are part of it. Or the need to assemble in a collective, what Francois Gossieaux calls tribalism.
What brings, and keeps, a community together is love.
This is why when I think about building communities, no matter how dry the product may seem, I focus on what makes people care. What inspires them.
And why I think we can learn a lot about building communities from studying fandom.
What’s fandom? In the simplest sense, it is the informal and formal groups that spring up around entertainment -- an artist or a team or a television show or a movie franchise. It’s the passion that makes people paint their bodies red white and blue before a Patriot’s or Red Sox game. Dress up as Mr. Spock, Princess Leia or John Crichton for a “con.” Read and write fan fiction and spoiler sites. Buy boxes of pencils to send to media moguls during the writers strike.
Even though people have been collecting due to shared interests for as long as we've had society, fandom as we are discussing it here is mostly a 20th century phenomenon driven by mass entertainment like the movies and organized sports.
The shared interest and relationship to a franchise – show, artist, athlete or actor -- brings people together. Over time, the members develop relationships with each other. Sometimes those relationships last longer than the fan relationship, leading to a community that interacts on multiple dimensions – the initial thing that brought the folks together, and then all the other shared interests that the members find they have. As Shrek might say, like an onion, with layers.
While fandom existed well before the Internet, the Net and particularly social media have most definitely accelerated and expanded the fan effect.
If companies want to achieve a similar impact, by either building a new community or influencing an existing one, we need to understand more about what makes a fan.
Why are the fans so passionate?
It starts with the product – the quality TV series or the top sports team or the great band. But it's more than just the entertainment value that builds the passion of fans.
It's the relationship that the fan has with the franchise, which doesn't have to be “real” to have tremendous power. The fan doesn't “know” the artist, character or athlete, but she feels she does. The perceived relationship, the one way relationship is enough.
Not because she's delusional. Because the artist reaches out to fans in numerous ways that create a sufficient relationship for the fan. Starting with the performance and moving from there. Fan clubs. Conventions. Sports teams thanking the fans for their support.
Celebrities make personal appearances, attend conventions, authorize fan clubs, set up their own websites for communicating with fans. They share what they can to encourage the fan to feel like they know them, to stay invested in them, to appreciate their work. Joss Whedon is a great example of an artist who does this exceedingly well. Among other things, he participates regularly on fansite Whedonesque; his fans feel connected to him and every project he does has a built-in audience of viewers before it even hits a screen.
Even though we don't really know the artists, athletes or actors, we know they value and care about the fans. That they strive to deliver a good product that we will enjoy.
So the first two elements a company needs to deliver if it wants fans are:
- have a good product that meets their needs - Value;
- show you care about the fan and walk the talk – Engage.
Now, once you have fans you have to keep them. This is where Respect comes in.
Some artists and athletes forget that their power, their franchise, is fan supported. They may have the raw talent, but if people stop watching the show because the star is phoning it in or the producers replaced a fan favorite with another performer, it's hero to zero in a flash.
You must respect your fans. Don't stop listening and never think you don't need them. Because the last thing you want is fans gone mad.
Where does the love come in? It runs throughout.
Love your product and make sure it has what it needs to make your customers love it. LOVE IT.
Love and respect your fans as much as they love and respect you. You need them collectively far more than they need you. They can always find somebody to love. Doesn't need to be you.
So, if we believe that fandom will help us build community, how do we make that happen for our products? Most products aren't sexy or entertaining or funny, although advertising certainly tries to make us think they are, or that we will be if we buy them.
But that doesn't fly in social media, right? We cut through the bullshit or at least we like to think we do.
How do we find and feed our fans? That's the key to community.
And the topic for another day.
We will probably touch on some of these themes in the Social Media and the Writers Strike panels at BlogWorld Expo on Saturday. If you are in Vegas, hope to see you at one of them.
Blogging, social media & customer service (Part 6)
Part 6: Communities: Should you start one?
If your customers are already congregating online, in Twitter or Facebook or a private community, the best thing to do is to start participating there, following whatever guidelines the members set out for your participation. It may be your product, but it is their place. They aren’t going to want product pitches; they will want participation and they’ll likely expect help.
Before you build your own community, which can be an expensive proposition, make sure that your customers really want one. If there isn’t one already, the reason may be they don’t want a special place to speak with your company and each other online. Unless you are absolutely certain that your products engender that kind of loyalty, start small. Perhaps with a forum or suggestion box.
Starbucks and Dell have taken the suggestion box to the extreme, building sites on which customers can make public suggestions and vote on the ones they like best, but you don’t have to have something that complex. Start with a simple email alias for suggestions, and be sure someone responds quickly. What works about the Starbucks and Dell sites isn’t the voting. It’s that the companies are responding and taking action on suggestions.
Regardless of how much or how little technology you use, the key ingredient in customer care will always be the people interacting with your customers. Technology, whether the telephone, email or Twitter, is just the tool we use to do it. And the keys to success are the same as any other business endeavor: honesty, patience, consistency and commitment.
And that brings us to the end of the main article. There are two more short posts to follow on Sunday: microblogging considerations (Part 7) and some recommendations for next steps for both individuals and customer service groups just getting started with social media (Part 8).
Blogging, social media & customer service (Part 2)
Part 2: Social Networks, Communities, Aggregators and Wikis
The third social media space where you will find your customers are social networks. These range from public networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube to private branded networks. You need to understand if your customers are actively engaged in these networks, and participate accordingly.
The easiest way to understand LinkedIn and Facebook is to understand their roots. LinkedIn started as a way for business professionals to connect with each other through mutual connections. Facebook, as the name implies, was the Internet version of the ubiquitous college facebook. Although it started as a closed network for college and high school students, it’s been open to the general public since 2007 and really exploded that spring. Both networks offer numerous interactive features and interest groups in which members can collect around shared interests.
Flickr, YouTube and similar networks are more specific to a certain type of interest; Flickr is photography, YouTube is for video clips, and so on. Conversation happens but it is about the photo, about the video clip.
For the most part, though, these public social networks are more enablers of conversation and community than places where folks “hang out” for any length of time. In my opinion, they have a flatness that stems from their primary role as conveyers of information. However, you need to understand how your customers are participating in these spaces. Some Facebook and LinkedIn groups are very active; if your customers happen to have joined together in one, you should be aware and act accordingly.
Private branded communities, enabled by social software like Ning, let anyone build a community around a set of shared interests.
Companies may also launch their own communities using enterprise-level software. For example, Saturn recently launched a community that exceeded its six-month estimate of signups in the first three weeks.
When these communities succeed, whether consumer-driven or company supported, the conversation and engagement level is generally quite high because the distraction factor of other interests is absent.
Some of the other social media tools and terms you may hear of:
- Aggregators or memetrackers like Memeorandum and Tailrank collect the most linked/talked about posts of the day and present them in a threaded format – the original post and the follow-on ones so you can follow the online conversation. Another news aggregator site is Digg, which uses a voting system to promote articles to the front page.
- Wikis are simply websites edited by a group versus an individual using specialized software that tracks changes, updates and access rights. The best known public wiki is Wikipedia but increasingly wikis are used by companies for internal project management and support knowledge bases. You will often find them built into online communities.
- Podcasts and videocasts are online radio or video shows. They are typically pre-recorded. Unlike streaming audio or video, listeners/viewers can download the show to their computer or a portable device like an iPod and listen or watch whenever they want. Users can also sign up for regular updates.
In part 3, we'll discuss the impact of social media on customer care. If you'd like to read more about customer service issues, please check out my client Caras Training's blog For the Face of Your Business. Principal Ronna Caras has been focusing on customer service of late, and I think you'll enjoy her perspective. I certainly do!
SNCR research surveys that need your input
The Society for New Communications Research is doing two research projects right now that need your input.
I mentioned the survey with corporate partner Nuance on the impact of blogger/customer opinions a week or so ago here, and have some additional comments on customer satisfaction today at For the Face of Your Business.
The second survey, sponsored by SNCR, Deloitte and Beeline Labs, was designed to assess the effectiveness of online communities and learn how organizations are measuring the success and progress of their online communities. If you're involved in managing online communities for your organization, please give us about six minutes and take the 2008 Online Community Effectiveness Study at http://www.communityeffectiveness.com.
All participants who complete the surveys will receive a special discount to attend the Society's annual conference, New Communications Forum where the preliminary results of both surveys will be discussed.
Please help us with this important research, and when you are done with the surveys, pop on over to my personal blog, Snapshot Chronicles, for an early peek at Spring from the Boston Flower Show.
The 08 Meme
Todd Defren tagged me in the "08 for 08" meme. Tell eight things folks don't know about you and then tag the requisite eight more folks. Now, at this point, after blogging for three years, I can't imagine there is much you don't know about me. For goodness sake, just look at the masthead of my photo blog ...
However, since I haven't had time to write anything serious in 2008, I figured this was as good a chance as any to get something on the boards for the year.
1. As a child I hated athletics. I much preferred to read a book. The one time I went downhill skiing with family friends (in 3rd grade) I managed to fall down, ski under a picnic table and collide with a garbage can. Or at least that is how I remember it. As an adult, I've taken up downhill skiing, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, aerobics and have a treadmill that I use at least every other day. Go figure.
2. I'm trying to find time to write a book. And start a software business.
3. Of all the things I do professionally, public speaking is just about my favorite. Okay, if you know me this isn't MUCH of a surprise, but gimme a break, eight things people don't know is bloody hard when you've been active online since 1993.
4. I'm a really good cook and have subscribed to Bon Appetit for more than 20 years. Nearly all of those back issues are in the basement. Ref. item 3 above, one of the things you'll find if you "google" me is a recipe for German Chocolate Cake I posted in a newsgroup in the early 90s.
5. I got a Canon Digital Rebel for Christmas. And Santa brought the family a Flip camcorder. This is not news to folks who read Snapshot Chronicles as I am already inflicting my videos and pictures on them.
6. I just started working on a very cool project that will take me to the Sundance Film Festival later this month. More next week.
7. I love Christmas. Everything about it, including Christmas Carols. This year we had three full-size Christmas trees -- two at home and one at our vacation home in Vermont where we spent the holiday. My husband thinks I need professional help :-) I'm not sure whether he means to put up and take down the trees, or something else ... Pictures on Flickr.
8. Speaking of my husband ... While I write about my son often, and occasionally mention my mom, I rarely write about David here because he is a very private person and prefers to stay in the background. So, you don't know, until today, that without his love and support, it would have been very difficult for me to achieve what I have professionally, both in my past life as a software company executive, and now with my businesses, and still have a family and five dogs and three cats and everything else that we work so hard to enjoy.
I suspect that most of the people I would tag have already been tagged in this meme, so if you haven't and you'd like to tell us eight things for '08, consider yourself tagged.
Happy New Year.
Thanks-meme for Thanksgiving
Kami Huyse tagged me in her Thanksgiving meme: "Who had a big influence on you and how did that affect the direction of your life or career?"
Like some of my fellow "taggees," a few of the major influences on my career weren't terribly positive. Rather, it was my response to a negative or messy situation that moved me forward or helped me make an important decision.
Let's get these out of the way first, shall we. No names. If you are reading this and think it might be you, it probably is.
Thanks to the editor in my first job out of college who told me I couldn't write. Gave me the kick in the pants to evaluate what I really wanted to do. I got a new job and embarked on a career in marketing. And here I am writing. Nearly every day. Hmmm.
Thanks to the various managers in various corporate jobs who suffered from varying degrees of sexism and found it hard to promote me to the next level. No matter how good the performance or results. Especially the one who hired a super-duper idiot to take over a job I had been doing for years. Each and every time, I moved on to something better.
Now for the positive influences.
First and foremost my family, and most especially my mom Sandra Getgood. From her, I learned that there was nothing I couldn't do if I set my mind to it.
I had lots of wonderful teachers in high school, college and my MBA program, but three stand out: Jean St. Pierre (Andover), Jill Morawski (Wesleyan) and Cornelia Eschborn (Rivier).
Thanks to all the printers, advertising, marketing and PR folk who shared their expertise with me as I learned on the job, especially in the early years of my career.
Thanks to everyone who has ever worked for me for the privilege of working with you, learning from you and hopefully teaching you a few things as well.
Thanks to Gene Mehr, now a client, who years ago recognized that I had some talent and treated me like an equal when I was just a twenty-something who thought she knew more than she did. I still have the four-star "marketing general" helmet.
Thanks to Scott Murray, former CFO at The Learning Company, for re-assigning me to the Cyber Patrol unit in January 1999. And thanks to Greg Bestick, who worked with me to sell the Cyber Patrol business in 2000 for nearly 10x what TLC had paid for it in 1997. Managing the business unit and my involvement in the whole sales process, from road show to due diligence, was one of the highlights of my career. Maybe I'll do it again someday.
And finally, thanks to you, the readers of Marketing Roadmaps, for reading, for commenting, for making me part of your online conversation. You inspire me to be better.
David Wescott writes about campaigning for Steven Tolman for state rep nearly 20 years ago and how that influenced the way he approaches his work.
Julie Marsh says she "learned the most from those who played the part of supporters when times were good, but were nowhere to be found when times were bad."
Katie Paine, back from Thanksgiving in Islamabad, writes about how she became a "genetically unemployable serial entrepreneur."
Kelly (Mocha Momma) tells us what led her down the path to becoming a high school dean.
Christina (A Mommy Story) tells about women who have been positive role models for her: her aunts, mother and grandmother.
What does Facebook want to be when it grows up?
Facebook. It's hot. It's become one of the most popular social networking sites mere months after opening up to the masses. It's cozying up to, and getting tons of cash from the big boys.
But what does it want to be when it grows up?
Some of its recent actions suggest that it's a little confused.
If it wants to stay the adult equivalent of the college facebook, then I guess it makes sense to have a terms of service that requires that people use real first and last names on their accounts, a security measure that has its roots in Facebook's beginnings. And to boot off people using pseudonyms. But then it won't really be an inclusive social networking site, will it? Lots of "people" who would join, and bring their rich social interactions, will find someplace else to (net)work and play.
If it wants to enforce its own definition of obscenity on the entire community, in direct contradiction to US law, by banning photos of a legal act, breastfeeding, while allowing things like pro-anorexia groups, the company certainly has the right. It's not smart to alienate current and future customers, but it is their playground,so they can set the rules. They have every right to define obscenity as something that would make a 16 year old boy uncomfortable... in a bad way. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
Don't get me wrong, I like Facebook. It has tremendous potential as a social networking platform. But even as its valuation rises, it seems to be making short-sighted business decisions that will ultimately affect its future growth.
Personally I like the fact that I know my friends on Facebook are real, live people. I'm not likely to befriend an avatar. And I'm not a big fan of anonymous blogging. However, I do engage in other networks like Twitter with folks using pseudonyms. Sometimes I know their name "in real life" and sometimes I don't. And I don't care. Wouldn't the smarter decision be to allow pseudonyms, but require that it be acknowledged in the profile? Transparency. You have the right to know that Jon Swift is a pseudonym before you friend him, but it is ridiculous to require his real name. His online friends don't require it. Why should Facebook?
And the obscenity thing. The legal definition of obscenity is complex (and by the way, doesn't even apply to breastfeeding in public which is legal in all 50 US States.) In the US, we rely on the Miller test. Facebook on the other hand appears to be applying the frat boy test. Or something. Truly, they have to straighten this out. Either Facebook supports free speech or it doesn't. And "doesn't" is a really bad business decision which doesn't have to be made explicitly. Inconsistent application of community standards accomplishes the same thing.
It's time for Facebook to grow up. Think about the long term implications of its actions. Understand that the seemingly trivial issues of breastfeeding moms and anonymous avatars are fundamental business decisions that ultimately will affect its ability to become the preferred public social networking platform.
UPDATE 11/2: In this corner Microsoft and Facebook. And in this corner Google and everyone else. Ding Ding. Yesterday the Internet was abuzz with the Google OpenSocial announcement, and today the kids at Facebook are looking at a whole new world. They still have the users and a very powerful Big Brother in Redmond. But they can't afford to keep making stupid mistakes. Because it seems we have a viable alternative.
Thirteen to One
In honor of last night's stupendous Red Sox performance in game one of the World Series, here are 13 things that I've been meaning to write about. Mostly social media and marketing related and in no particular order.
1. A new social network The Point attempts to harness the power of collective action to bring causes to the tipping point. People and organizations post their causes on the site as an if/then. The basic idea is that if enough people do whatever the action is – if the cause tips, then some other thing would happen. Once it emerges from alpha, it could be an interesting vehicle for a company that is supporting a charitable cause. If enough individuals/customers do something (volunteer, quit smoking, whatever) then the company would do something as well -- donate money, sponsor an event, and so on. From Jeremy Pepper, who works for the company, via Twitter.
2. Last week Doug Haslam from Topaz Partners emailed me about a social media survey done by his client, community builder Prospero Technologies. What was most interesting about it, though, wasn't the survey. The sample size of 50 from a population of the company's customers is neither large nor random, and the results were pretty much what I'd expect given that population: generally positive about social media with no clear idea of what is working and what isn't. I do however give the company credit for actually asking its customers, rather than assuming. What was most interesting was that Doug was pitching other marketing and communications bloggers; both Shel Holtz and BL Ochman wrote about the survey. If you wanted more tangible proof that the media landscape is shifting, this is it. We aren't just the media relations folks. With a nod to Dan Gillmor, we are the media. Ain't that a kick. Doug also blogged about this phenomenon.
3. "You could be a Durex Condom Tester and Win $1000" Durex is
pimping for recruiting condom testers on-line. Must be that new form of word-of-mouth: virile marketing (seen on Media Buyer Planner).
4. Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules by Mike Moran. Not much news here for anyone already deep into social media marketing and communications, but a good read anyway. I'd recommend this as an intro text for experienced marketers who want to come up to speed quickly and get some practical advice on what they should do next. Plus Moran is funny and he says lots of things I agree with :-) (via pitch from Peter Himler)
5. Society for New Communications Research is holding its annual Research Symposium & Gala in Boston December 5-6.
9. I've been playing around a bit with Photrade, a new photo sharing site. It's now in closed beta but I have three invites. Email or twitter me if you want one.
10. Courtesy of Scott Baradell, a great example of why we should NOT write blog posts simply for search engine optimization.
12. Thank you to all the PR and marcom students who have been reading the blog and leaving comments. I love to hear from you, even if I disagree with you.
13. Are the comment spammers getting a little more clever? Check out this one on an old Marketing Roadmaps post, comment left up purely to use as an example. Someone less suspicious might not catch it as spam, as the comment is pretty innocuous. BUT: I almost always follow commenters back to their sites. It's a great way to discover new bloggers and get to know my readers better. AND: I am always a little suspicious when I get comments on really old posts.
Ways to grow your business? Piss off the moms? Not!
I do not have a lot to add to the growing controversy about Facebook banning photos of mothers breastfeeding, while still allowing the proliferation of things like pro-ana (anorexia) sites, other than to say
Come on, Facebook, our culture accepts far more titillating images on a regular basis in newspaper tabloids availiable on the newstand, for Christ's sake. Can you say "nipple slip" and "crotch shot?" Hell, you can probably get those in 10 seconds or less with Brittany, Paris, Lindsay or an inebriated coed, with no baby in sight.
Truly, it is time our culture got over the whole Madonna-Whore complex. Women are NOT simply one or the other. We are both mothers and sexual beings, and when a breastfeeding mom is feeding her child, she's a mother. Sure, she got there by being a sexual being, but when she's feeding her baby, it ain't about you.
Get over your boob fixation. Really.
Mostly for professional reasons I did not breastfeed my son, now 7. My job was very demanding and I was on the road a lot, starting when he was just 3 months old. And he has developed just fine.
But my reasons were my own personal reasons, just as every woman's are.
If you would not frown on someone feeding a baby a bottle, then you should not frown on a woman breastfeeding. And vice-versa. It is the same damn thing -- feeding a child. And if you would frown on a mother feeding a child, what sort of person are you?
Where would you be if your mother hadn't fed you?
Kids, social networks and Scruffy
This is Scruffy.
Scruffy is polyester fiberfill crack. And before the people at Webkinz have a fit, let me assure you, I mean this in only the most positive of ways.
Scruffy was my son's first Webkinz. Which I freely admit was purchased for him this summer because I am very interested in how kids interact with online social networks. How children interact with these networks gives us the roadmap for how we, as a society -- not we, old geezers -- will experience online in the future. For one thing, I don't think advertising will be nearly the show stopper for the next generation as it often is for internet old-timers. (And how weird is that to write, let alone as a concept. Internet old-timers. Ouch.)
Yes, I made my kid a Webkinz user. Little did I know he would become, in very short order, a Webkinz addict. To the point that when we returned from our house in Vermont on Monday, I needed a duffle bag just for the Webkinz. He's even spent his own allowance on them. OMG.
But why am I writing about Webkinz here on the Roadmap? Interesting as my child's stuffed animal collection is (not), what does that have to do with marketing?
Here's what. Hats off to the folks at Ganz, who reinvented a stuffed animal business into a hot Internet destination
Those of you with kids age 6-10 probably already know what Webkinz are. For those of you with younger, older or no children, Webkinz are stuffed animals, purchased at fine retailers everywhere, that come with a code that gives the owner access to the online site Webkinz World for one year from the date of adoption (registration) of the particular animal. Oh, and you get $2000 kinzcash with each adoption. Remember that; it will be important later.
Webkinz World is a virtual world for kids. They dress, feed and play with the online avatars of their stuffed pets. They purchase clothes, food and furniture with their kinzcash, earning more by playing online games and quizzes. There are also activities that kids can only do once per day, encouraging daily visits. Is it possible to earn a lot of cash with the games? Sure. But not surprisingly, the biggest infusion comes when you adopt another Webkinz. Which is why kids have so many of them. And that's not even counting the trading cards and charms (required for access to the charm forest.) It's an online world, but the financial model is solidly rooted in physical goods.
It's like having a money machine in the basement. Without doubt, it willl be a Marketing 101 case study of an old line business that made a successful transition to a (quasi) online model. Certainly breathed new life into the stuffed animal segment. Aunt Mabel may not be online but she can certainly purchase a stuffed pet at the toy store.
Webkinz World is fun. The games are challenging but not impossible, and kids can safely play with other children online. I would give it a big thumbs up as a social network for kids except for two problems. First, the infrastructure just can't support the volume of kids logging in. Which makes for a frustrating experience for the child. Especially when things go wrong, which is the other problem. For a community focused on kids, its customer support is distinctly unfriendly and works overtime to avoid an actual conversation, email or otherwise, with a user, relying instead on FAQs and automated emails. Not much use when you are trying to console a 7 year old about a lost "Torch Treasure." Not terribly consistent with Ms. Birdy, the friendly adoption counselor.
Apart from these issues though, watching my son on Webkinz World has confirmed some things for me about the digital native population --those that have no "pre-Internet" memory.
First, the commercial aspects won't bother them in the least. Advertising. Sales Promotions. Contests. No problem. As long as they are being entertained or even educated. As long as the advertising fits with the experience. As long as they are sufficiently rewarded for their time.
Second, much as they may love one experience or world, it is a mistake for the world to assume total loyalty. If Webkinz World is unavailable too long, my son is more than happy to pop on over to Nicktropolis, which, while not as engaging, does a better job on availability. And has Spongebob.
I have no idea how long Webkinz will capture his attention. But for now, he's having fun, and I enjoy watching him, and occasionally helping him with a game or two.
And btw, I play a mean game of "Lunch Letters."