Habbo Hotel opens separate site to seek users' views

Chief executive of Sulake, Paul LaFontaine Chief executive Paul LaFontaine promises to read "every word" Habbos write

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Troubled children's social network Habbo Hotel has moved to deal with fallout from revelations that the service was frequented by paedophiles.

Users are being invited to suggest ways to make the site safer following the suspension of its chat facility.

Habbo's owner, Sulake, is operating a separate temporary site called The Great Unmute where they can post their thoughts.

Experts said that Habbo must end its reliance on human moderators.

At launch the site was inaccessible for many and Paul LaFontaine, Sulake's chief executive, tweeted: "We have so many users hitting the site we had to increase processing capacity by 400%. Keep it coming!"

The temporary site was originally scheduled to be taken offline at 8pm BST, but Mr LaFontaine said that limit would be extended to "make sure everyone gets the chance to input their story".

Habbo's future

Habbo temporarily removed its chat facility last week after Channel 4 reported that the service was routinely being used by adults to engage children in explicit conversations about sex.

"For a full week since Channel Four's report went on air, my team has worked tirelessly to create the best possible solutions to the challenges we face from a small minority," said Mr LaFontaine.

"Now it's time to allow our loyal and legitimate users a brief chance to have their say before we finalise our plans for Habbo's future."

What Habbos are saying

The comments on the Great Unmute website seem, so far, to be very positive.

One described Habbo as "not just any social community" but a place to hang out with friends.

Another suggested experienced Habbos could act as moderators, while others said it was up to parents to monitor their children's activities on the site.

Some participants said that the current system of reporting inappropriate conversations worked well enough, while others called for automatic bans if users were caught by moderators talking about inappropriate topics.

Most of the Habbos felt that the Channel 4 report was not a true representation of the site and that paedophiles in the hotel were the exception rather than the rule.

As well as written comment, Habbos will also be able to upload multimedia content.

"The Great Unmute is a chance to get creative in new ways; the site will allow multimedia content, giving users a real chance express their views in a responsible way with a watching world," said Mr LaFontaine.

"You have my word, my team and I will be reading every comment, looking at every picture and watching every video clip. My commitment to you right now is to deliver the safest possible user experience."

Behaviour profiling

Some believe that the answer to the problems experienced by Habbo could be solved by investing in technological solutions.

Adam Hildreth, chief executive of Crisp Thinking, a firm which provides monitoring technology for hundreds of online children's games, told the BBC: "The current Habbo model is completely flawed. 200 moderators for over 70 million messages each day is never going to work."

"Habbo has to invest in some clever technology, whether they develop it themselves or use a third-party. Otherwise they are fighting a losing battle," he added.

Crisp's technology employs behaviour profiling and is used by online children's games, including Moshi Monsters and Bin Weevils. It is often used in conjunction with human moderators.

The tech has also recently be used by the Metropolitan Police to analyse chat logs of a man suspected of online grooming.

"It is able to distinguish between kids being kids and an adult pretending to be a kid," said Mr Hildreth.

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