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Lego has figured out how to stay relevant in the digital age

Daniel Howley

Lego, the maker of tiny construction bricks that double as plastic, barefoot-destroying caltrops, is more popular than ever. It’s got building sets for major franchises like “Star Wars,” “Minecraft” and “Harry Potter,” released the successful “The Lego Movie” in 2014 and is debuting “The Lego Batman Movie” next month.

Still, the world’s second largest toy company has one major problem: Kids eventually age out of the brand. To combat that, the company is launching its very own social network called Lego Life.

Available today for iOS, Android and Amazon’s Kindle Fire, Lego Life is a free app designed for kids age 8 to 12 years old. That’s not an arbitrary number, either. You have to be at least 13 to join Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Lego plans to make Lego Life the social network for kids and preteens who are interested in the brand.

As senior director of Lego Life, Rob Lowe, explains it, the social network is meant to get kids to want to build more and, hopefully, stay with the Lego brand longer.

The app’s interface features a cascading vertical collection of tiles made up of user-submitted images, Lego building challenges and Lego videos featuring some of the company’s most recognizable characters and franchises.

Kids begin their experience with Lego Life by designing their own Lego minifigure avatar. As you interact with other users’ submissions by “Liking” or commenting on their uploads, you’ll unlock additional accessories for your avatar.

Naturally, whenever you’re dealing with a social network, especially one developed specifically for kids, security and privacy are the first things that come to mind. To address that, Lego ensures that each Lego Life account is anonymous. Users don’t even get to choose their own profile names.

Instead, the app randomly generates three words that become your profile name. So you could end up with a name like “RexUsefulFarmer” or “SergeantTallTeeth.” If you don’t like your first name, you can always get a new random offering.

To make sure that kids don’t end up uploading images or videos that include any identifiable information, Lego has set up a team of moderators who view every single photo and video and either rejects or accepts them based on their content. That includes content that is inappropriate or doesn’t have anything to do with Legos.

For example, Lowe showed me a photo of horses he attempted to upload to the service; the image was rejected because it didn’t include any Legos.

But Lego isn’t stopping at ensuring its network keeps kids’ identities private; the company has also taken steps to make sure that users receive positive reinforcement for their submissions. To do that, the toymaker has created its own Lego Emoji Keyboard.

The keyboard includes emojis of Lego minifigures, characters, and random objects. Of course, if the internet has taught us anything, it’s that where there’s a will to leave horrendous anonymous comments on someone’s social media post, there’s a way. So Lego will also monitor all comments left on kids’ posts.

The app underwent beta testing in the U.K. where Lego said it saw 40% to 50% user engagement, which is a rather high amount for such a small network. Then again, the kids who are most likely to sign up for Lego Life are probably huge Lego fans to begin with, so they’d naturally engage with the app.

If Lego Life can keep kids in the world of Lego for a few years longer than previous generations, it could prove to be a boon for the company. Of course, there’s always the chance that the app will only draw in truly passionate Lego fans who would have stuck with the company’s toys regardless of their age.

We’ll find out soon enough.

More from Dan:

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Samsung posts highest profits in 3 years despite Note7 debacle

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Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.