Last night I checked out Habbo Hotel, a virtual world predominantly catering to the 13–16 year old set, and thought I’d share a troubling first user experience.

My first move after setting up my character, downloading Shockwave and entering the world was going to the New Players Lobby. I entered the lobby, only to find the two-space entryway had been blocked off by two dancing avatars.

(click the image to enlarge)

Incidentally, I had a private chat with the guy in the afro, and apparently he’s one of a group called /b/ which specializes in terrorizing the virtual worlds. He said that he’s already had 14 accounts, and called Habbo’s attempts at banning him pathetic.

It’s clear that Habbo Hotel has a ways to go to figure out out the first-user experience. Tied to this however, is the observation that there’s an inherent conflict between enabling creative self-expression and creating a wholesome user experience in any community. How do you encourage users to freely socialize in a hotel lobby while also censoring their language? Users have already outmaneuvered the standard language filters by switching to phonetic spellings These types of filtered restrictions in combination with the device restrictions (e.g., typing and cell text messages) probably are playing a substantive role in the evolving landscape of tween language. In my time standing in the lobby, here’s a few fun misspellings and tidbits overheard:

mathafaka
dame
dam
bytch
bytchz
mothurphukah
fking
“any gurls wana lose there verginaty”
13ITCH

Would you ever want your teenage kid on here? Would kids find out about this stuff anyway, and is an experience like Habbo a little safer than just the wilder Internet world? Not sure where I stand on this. In my first twenty minutes, I was asked age, sex and location by multiple new “friends” and also encouraged to kill myself. Hah. To its credit, however, they are on to something. There is something riveting about the experience of socializing with people online, even if all you’re really doing is standing around a hotel room. It quickly sucked away more time than I expected, mostly from the fascination of watching lobby conversations.

Thanks to Social Gaming Summit for my $10 gift card, btw. I used it to buy myself a puppy named poop, puppy food and some hot virtual furniture to pimp out my Habbo pad.