If you have yet to run into WebKinz, don’t feel bad – it may just mean that your age is measured in double digits. For the uninitiated, WebKinz are stuffed animals that each come with a secret code that uniquely identify them. Armed with their stuffed animals, kids go to the WebKinz site, create a login, and adopt their pets by providing the secret code. They can adopt as many pets as they’d like (or as many as their parents will buy for them!), and the pets live online happily in a house in a virtual world (with a Flash front end). Kids earn KinzCash (virtual currency used in Webkinz World) to buy stuff for their pets (pamper them, build nicer houses, buy food, keep them clean and healthy, and so on). In reality this means that the kids ignore their stuffed animals and only play with the online equivalents. But, it’s clean harmless fun, and the system is designed to be very kid safe.
And one of my kids got a WebKinz this week, and right away wanted to play with it online. No problem, I helped him get set up, and he started buying furniture for his pet, and more. But then he wanted to access Webkinz World from the computer in his bedroom. My kids are allowed to go online with supervision only, and so the computers that they can access alone are very locked down. My firewall grants access as appropriate, and what is appropriate for younger kids is a whitelist system – basically, they have no access except for sites that we explicitly allow.
And that’s where things become problematic. WebKinz uses a whole lot of IP addresses, some contiguous ranges and others not, and some in whole different IP ranges. Fortunately, WebKinz has a Technical Issues page which lists the IP address that need to be allowed. Unfortunately, the list is completely wrong! Heck, the IP address that WebKinz resolves to is not even on the list! So, I had him try and try again while I watched the firewall logs, and I gradually opened up the addresses needed until all worked. That was yesterday, but now it won’t work again. Why? A whole different set of IP addresses are now in use!
Really, this is pathetic. WebKinz is targeting young children, and it is very likely that filters and parental controls are going to be an issue. Is it really that hard to A) find a fixed set of IP addresses (preferably a sequential range), B) don’t keep changing them, and then C) actually post correct information on your web site? Oh, and just to make it a bit more frustrating, try finding a way to contact support or send feedback!
Too bad. The concept is nice, but the implementation leaves much to be desired. If you have young-uns, consider yourself warned.