Ferma Ravn-Greenway is a former social worker who now helps run a virtual world. The 29-year-old University of British Columbia graduate is the co-owner and chief marketing officer of EcoBuddies Interactive, a Vancouver-based company that launched a Web site for kids in October 2008.
EcoBuddies offers chatting and pirate, bowling, dance, card, and other games, while promoting a message of environmental responsibility. Users have created more than 100,000 accounts on the site, according to Ravn-Greenway. The company has a staff of 15.
In August, EcoBuddies is starting something called Buddies for Baby Animals Day. On the 20th day of each month, the company will donate 10 percent of revenue from new membership purchases to an organization that supports an animal that receives the most votes from users. The site is free to join, but users (or their parents) can unlock additional features by paying membership fees.
The Georgia Straight reached Ravn-Greenway by phone at her office.
What is EcoBuddies?
It’s a green virtual world. As I said, it’s for children who are five to 13 years of age. Basically, children become avatars—so they become on-line characters—on the site, and they bounce around and they chat with other kids and they play games, and they also collect coins and buy virtual costumes.
The thing that really makes EcoBuddies special is that it’s a green virtual world. So, basically, we have a lot of eco-concepts and eco-themes distributed throughout the site, and that’s because we want to normalize those concepts and themes to kids. So, it’s not instructive, and it’s not meant to be instructive. It’s more there’s recycling bins around and there’s also an electric-car shop, because that’s just the way it is in EcoBuddies, and then we hope that kids will take that into their everyday life.
What makes the site a “Green Certified Site”?
It’s a Green Certified Site because we basically pay a company to make sure that we’re carbon-neutral. So, basically, we give money to the company every month, and that company will basically put this money that we’ve given them towards other organizations that are doing different eco-activities. They’ll basically, I guess, distribute that money to these different organizations that are eco-focused, in order to ameliorate our carbon footprint.
So, that’s basically what that means. It means that we’re really trying to decrease our carbon footprint in every way that we can.
What’s factored in to the carbon-footprint equation?
Basically, servers, they take a lot of energy, and they’re not the most green thing in the universe. So, basically, for EcoBuddies, we really try to offset that. Also computers, of course, take up lots of electricity, and so we’re really trying to lessen part of the footprint as well. So, those are the type of things that we’re really trying to offset.
How does the company make money?
So, the company makes money through a membership program. So, kids basically can come onto the site for free. But, in order to have access to special items in the game, they have to pay membership fees. So, there’s a monthly membership, there is a six-month membership as well, and then there’s also an annual membership that kids can have.
How do you deal with sexual predators, cyber-bullying, or other threats that kids might face on the site?
For sure, that’s a really huge concern of everyone at EcoBuddies. We want to have the safest site that we can possibly have for kids. So, basically, we have a number of different features on our site, in order to keep kids safe.
The first one is that we have live moderation during our busiest hours. So, that’s Pacific Standard Time, and that’s from about 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Then we also have extensive word filters, and so basically kids can’t write in numbers—like the numerals. They also can’t, you know, swear or say bad language on the site, or else they’ll be kicked off for either 24 hours or they’ll be permanently banned. Then we also have conversation logs. So, basically, if we do get a complaint, we’ll go through the conversation logs and basically investigate that complaint.
We also have a safe-chat and normal-chat option. So, for parents who have little kids, this is a great option. Also, for parents who are quite concerned about their child being on-line, the safe-chat feature just enables kids to use pre-written phrases and also see pre-written phrases that have already been kind of deemed acceptable by the EcoBuddies team.
I think the most important thing—and one of things that I try to do is Twitter as much as possible to other parent groups about how to keep their kids safe on-line. You know, the thing that I try to say the most, as an owner of a virtual-world site, is that parents really need to be involved, because a lot of the times kids will kind of work around, you know, filters. Kids are smart, and they’ll adapt to the environment. So, parents really need to be on the ball and to be very active in their kids’ use of any type of technology.
How has your experience as a social worker influenced the site?
Probably in so many ways and in many ways that I wasn’t really anticipating. I think, of course, in the environmental realm. Part of my work as a social worker has always been on the environmental side. So, for one of my internships, for instance, I went to schools around Vancouver and taught kids about environmentalism and how to live green.
So, I’ve brought a lot of that into the site or have tried to bring it into the site—in the sense of what I found is that kids don’t really like to be preached to. They don’t really like to be kind of instructed to do things in a lot of ways. So, I think to make things fun is something that I really learned as a social worker, when I was talking to kids. So, that’s something that I’ve really tried to do with EcoBuddies.
Then also getting kids involved, like we have our Buddies for Baby Animals program. Basically, with that, we really want to get kids involved in taking care of the Earth—and not just basically listening and sitting there but, you know, really kind of being interactive. So, that’s something that, I think, social work has really helped with.
Then, just in regards to safety on-line, I think all of the owners here moderate themselves a lot of the time, and that’s really good. We have—I’m a social worker, and one of our other partners is a teacher. So, we have a lot of experience seeing things that are worrisome or whatever else. So, we know how to handle things like that quickly. Better yet, I have lots of resources, because of my work as a social worker, on kind of on-line safety and things like that. So, that’s always really helpful.
Do you use virtual worlds like Second Life?
You know, I don’t. I’m an avid player of video games, have always loved video games. I grew up without a TV and so never had access to video games as a kid but always had access to comics. I think in light of that, as an adult, my parents’ plan to make me really focused on just reading books or whatever else backfired. Now, I play tons of video games, and that’s kind of become a real focus in my life.
But as for on-line games like Second Life or World of Warcraft—you know, I tried World of Warcraft and really liked it. But I tend to be tend of focused on, like, Carl Barks kind of cartoons and things like that. So, that’s kind of my bag.
Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.