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A Virtual Theme Park for Kids Explores Life's Wonders

So far, Wonder Rotunda's few write-ups have been favorable: Common Sense Media, which reviews kid-oriented products from a parent's perspective, gave the site its top ranking of five stars.

Debra Aho Williamson, a senior analyst at eMarketer who follows kids and online trends, took an instant liking to the site last week. "Something like this really makes sense," said Williamson, who has a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old.

Williamson said it makes sense to have an offering for younger kids that doesn't push social-networking features. "I think that's really smart, in terms of appealing to parents of younger children," she said. Kids past 10, on the other hand, will probably clamor for a more socially engaging experience, she said.

Not everybody was as enthusiastic about Wonder Rotunda's prospects, however. Chris Byrne, an independent toy industry analyst, said that kids typically use the Web as an outgrowth of their TV-watching habits: If they watch a lot of Cartoon Network shows, that's the site they go to when they get some computer time. Sites such as Cartoon Network's have a lot more marketing muscle and aren't handicapped with a mission of trying to tuck in educational content.

"This looks like a good idea from a very well-intended place," he said, "but it's got an uphill battle against it."

Byrne pointed out the Healthy Eating Super Coaster, one virtual ride he spotted after a look at Wonder Rotunda. Educational, sure -- but could that possibly be any fun?

"There's a reason Candy Land is 'Candy' Land and not Vegetable Valley," he said.

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