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entertainment
3 February 2017

App: LegoLife

The Danish maker of everyone’s favourite building blocks has created a social network children will actually be safe using.

From the bricks that bear their name on every stud, to the yellow-faced heads and countless pop culture tie-ins, Lego’s wares are some of the most instantly recognisable and iconic products of the toy world. Known for championing good, clean fun and avoiding gender stereotyping, Lego’s now offering its youthful fans a social network for children devoid of the nasty things that tend to ruin regular social networks.

Launched last week, LegoLife is aimed at under-13s, and will look familiar to anyone who’s ever used Instagram. As you’d expect, everything on the service is Lego-related, and that includes the avatars of users. Users can create their own Lego lookalike using the built-in builder. In fact, they have to. LegoLife doesn’t let users upload their own images — this is a selfie-free zone — for safety’s sake.

Similarly, children using the service can’t reveal any personal or identifying information about themselves because — for now at least — the comment system is restricted to Lego’s own emoji. The emoji, in turn, are devoid of any negative faces or items, so you won’t find any sad Lego faces or Lego water pistols, for example.

This may sound limiting, but as anyone with a teenager will tell you, it’s remarkable how much can be communicated with emoji alone. Plus, with LegoLife launching in eight countries at once, the comment system’s restrictions mean it overcomes any linguistic or regional barriers its young users might otherwise encounter. For good measure, posts and comments are also vetted by human moderators as a final layer of protection against digital nastiness.

No trolls allowed 

The result of all this policing? So-called trolls, those often anonymous internet commenters that increasingly make services like Facebook and Twitter such decidedly child-unfriendly places, have no chance of ruining LegoLife for its users.

So what can children do on LegoLife? They can browse a newsfeed of other users they follow, see 'recommended builds' and other projects suggested by the service, create the aforementioned, yellow-headed personal avatars and chuckle at the random three-word combination names the service generates for usernames. That’s right, you can’t choose your own username either, which makes sure your child doesn’t accidentally share their real name with the world.

Will it work? We’ll have to wait and see. While it’s tempting to dismiss LegoLife as one long ad for the company’s products, it’s also interesting to note that Lego — whose core business isn’t social media — seems to have managed to create a service devoid of the crumminess that can make more mainstream social networks increasingly difficult for parents to stomach. One has to wonder, if Lego can do it, why can’t Facebook, Twitter and Instagram?

Whether or not you think Lego’s intentions are pure, it provides an excellent introduction to the mechanisms of contemporary social media for children, who are doubtless going to move to the real thing as soon as their parents — and smartphones — allow. Also, it’s awfully fun.