Now Mattel (NYSE:MAT) wants to try its hand at social networking. With yesterday's launch of, Mattel is encouraging young girls to go online and create virtual Barbie personas for "fashion, fun, and friendship" in a family-friendly environment.

Users can customize their dolls, accessorize their rooms, and then hang out in public areas like shopping malls or virtual cinemas. Trusted friends can always retreat back to user rooms to chat.

Sure, it's been done before. Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Virtual Magic Kingdom has a similar dictionary filter, making sure you can't get racy or divulge personal information. Disney's online experience also allows for customized avatars and personalized rooms. On a larger scale, Second Life and Electronic Arts' (NASDAQ:ERTS) The Sims have also been doing this for some time.

So why is Mattel even trying? The key here is the user customization. Competing doll lines like Bratz have cashed in on demand for dolls that don't look like a curvy-yet-svelte Barbie bombshell. Whether it's the big-eyed Bratz or the stuffed Build-a-Bear Workshop (NYSE:BBW) friends 2B made, variety is important to shoppers these days.

Mattel's new site offers practically unlimited custom-tailored avatars and room environments. The company is also rolling out items like a branded MP3 player that will open up special features within the game.

Again, Disney has tried a lot of this with its own free game, blending in product code promotions and real-world in-park quests. An aspect as simple as the ability to pick a pet in Mattel's game also isn't original -- it's been the bread and butter of Viacom's (NYSE:VIA) Neopets for years.

However, for girls who aren't old enough for News Corp.'s (NYSE:NWS) MySpace (and parents who want to keep it that way), Mattel has a shot to cultivate a new online audience and get Barbie back on the map.

Until the doll's recovery in last year's September quarter, worldwide Barbie sales had dipped for more than three years. The timing of the website is important, as domestic sales of Barbie products actually dipped this past quarter.

Can a website save a brand? In this Web 2.0 world we live in, where a snazzy site can grow up in a viral hurry, I wouldn't put anything past a well-planned web destination.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz wonders who will have the hot toys for the 2007 holiday season. He does own shares in Disney. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.