[from Threat Level]
Pre-teens in Mattels' free Barbie Girls virtual world can chat with their friends online using a feature called Secret B Chat, but that relationship first has to be authenticated by way of the Barbie Girl, a $59.95 MP3 player that looks like a cross between a Bratz doll and a Cue Cat, and was recently rated one of the hottest new toys of the 2008 holiday season.
The idea is, Sally brings her Barbie Girl over to her friend Tiffany's house, and sets it in Tiffany's docking station -- which is plugged into a USB port on Tiffany's PC. Mattel's (Windows only) software apparently reads some sort of globally unique identifier embedded in Sally's Barbie Girl, and authenticates Sally as one of Tiffany's Best Friends.
Now when Sally gets home, the two can talk in Secret B Chat. (If Sally's parents can't afford the gadget, then she has no business calling herself Tiffany's best friend.)
It's sort of like an RSA token, but with cute fashion accessories and snap-on hair styles. THREAT LEVEL foresees a wave of Barbie Girl parties in the future, where tweens all meet and authenticate to each other -- like a PGP key signing party, but with cupcakes.
Friendships authenticated (and validated) via the purchase of a $60 mp3 housed in mind rotting plastic sleeves. Sweet. Sure, this has been around for a while - the phenomenon of friend validation through purchase of accessories has existed since the first Tory Burch Lucinda Hobo in pony emerged from the primordial ooze (product as badge, anyone? cultural signifiers? shirtflags?) - what's interesting here is the layer of tech over it - actual interaction quality changed through the ownership of mutual authentication keys. Now you can buy your way into the club. On second thought, there are a few of these as well - T-Mobile faves and in network wireless calling come immediately to mind.
And this gets incrementally more interesting now that RFID chips have survived several rounds of hype to become significantly more viable - freed from the USB tether, the idea of smart products recognizing you and other "owners" could take the idea of "membership has its privileges" in whole new directions.