The Null Device

The Untold History of Toontown's SpeedChat

The Untold History of Toontown's SpeedChat, or an account of what happened when some pioneering virtual-community software developers accepted a commission from Disney to build an online community site—one compliant with Disney's values, so that "there could be no swearing, no sex, no innuendo, and nothing that would allow one child (or adult pretending to be a child) to upset another ... No kid will be harassed, even if they don't know they are being harassed.".

"We spent several weeks building a UI that used pop-downs to construct sentences, and only had completely harmless words - the standard parts of grammar and safe nouns like cars, animals, and objects in the world."

"We thought it was the perfect solution, until we set our first 14-year old boy down in front of it. Within minutes he'd created the following sentence:

I want to stick my long-necked Giraffe up your fluffy white bunny.

They added a method to allow direct chat between users that involves the exchange of secret codes that are generated for each user (with parental permission). The idea is that kids would print them out and give them to each other on the playground. This was a great way for Disney to end-run the standard - since Speed Chat was an effective method of preventing the exchange of these codes, and theoretically the codes had to be given "in-person", making the recipient not-a-stranger. Sure, some folks post them on message boards, but presumably those are folks who 1) are adults, or 2) know each other, right? In any case, as long as no one could pass secret codes within Toontown itself, Disney feels safe.
The author, Randall Farmer, coined from this the SpeedChat Corollary: "By hook, or by crook, customers will always find a way to connect with each other."

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