May 1, 2007 Mattel has taken one of its oldest brands online with the creation of The 48-year-old Barbie doll has been a fashion icon, a cartoon star, a feminist antihero, a pop culture stalwart, and frequently a torture victim. Now she's lent her name to a sort of scaled down Second Life, designed exclusively for young girls.

Barbie is one of the world's most enduring brands, selling over a billion units since her unveiling in 1959. She is almost unavoidable in a western child's life; Mattel claim they sell around three every second. But can such an old-school brand survive the transition to the digital age?

The world might be built on 'noughties' technology, but it's clear that Barbie's values haven't changed. Girls are encouraged to spend "B Bucks" (earned through small video games) on clothing and accessories for their avatar characters, home furnishings for their lockable bedroom areas and "shopping at the mall."

Safety from online predators has been a high priority from the start; chats with strangers are restricted to disallow the exchange of real names, locations, numbers and the like, and naturally obscene and threatening language is blocked - a level of protection that extends to the e-mail services offered to members. The site is also moderated by adult administrators.

The second phase will begin in July this year, when Mattel launches the Barbie Girl Device - a portable MP3 player with a range of customisable fashions and accessories, that acts as a 'key' to unlock new content and items on the site. By connecting their devices to the computers of their friends, girls can unlock less secure, more personal chat and email abilities with individuals they know in the physical world.

The site is currently in beta, and will launch in Q3 this year across four continents and more than 12 countries, with five additional languages coming online soon afterwards.

View gallery - 2 images