Zabriske ©Gary Hayes  2005Pew Internet & American Life Project have just published (2 Nov) a really interesting research paper called “Teen Content Creators and Consumers” with some great stats for those of us involved in grappling with the trends of user generated content amongst other things. Conceiving and implementing new services over broadband or advanced TV systems means we have to think carefully about many things but the most important is your audience. Admittedly this report is very US web centric (read: applicable to the rest of the world a few years later?) but there are some real eye-openers. The audience in this report are 12-17 year olds who will of course be both drivers and consumers of emerging media in a few years – what they do now we can potentially map onto the next decade. I also refer to a report Pew did in July on Teens and Tech and pull together key groupings in both reports as they overlap – so it is a bit of a mash-up of the two reports. I start with the stunning US statistic that 21 million 12 to 17 year olds (nearly 90%) regularly use the internet – 11 million daily. Here is an introductory quote from the latest report

Thanks to the internet, American teenagers can engage media material and create their own content in ways their parents could not. Today’s online teens live in a world filled with self-authored, customized, and on-demand content, much of which is easily replicated, manipulated, and redistributable. The internet and digital publishing technologies have given them the tools to create, remix, and share content on a scale that had previously only been accessible to the professional gatekeepers of broadcast, print, and recorded media outlets.

After digesting the reports I broke the stats into key groups as below which helps me at least get some sense of trend. (My comments and links below)

User generated content (blogs, homepages, artwork, photos, stories, video, mashups)
– 57% of online teens create internet content
– A quarter of online teens have their own webpages/blogs (over 4 million generators) vs 7% of adults! (30% update it at least 3 times a week)
– 45% have used IM to send personal photos
– Old teen girls are the heaviest generators of blogs, over a quarter of 15-17 girls keep blogs
– Teen bloggers are big sharers – upto 3 times more likely to create and share than non bloggers and are more ‘copyright’ aware

Consuming user generated content
– Over one third of teens regularly read blogs
– 62% only read blogs from those they already know! Only 2% read blogs from those they don’t.
– 38% of older girls share self-generated content vs 29% of boys

Consuming ‘professional’ content
– 81% play online games (17 million) – compared with 32% of online adults
– 71% get news online
– 51% regularly download music files and 31% download video
– Older boys (15-17) are the dominant music downloaders

Device usage
– 84% of all teenagers own at least one personal media device
– 44% own two or more PM devices
– 18% of teens in US have a laptop
– Three quarters of teens go online in shared, family areas of their home
– 45% have a mobile phone vs 68% of adults

– Older girls (15-17) lead in use of email, text, IM etc:
– Exactly a third of all teens in US send SMS – dominated by older girls
– Over half using IM have included a link to a website in their messages
– 31% of teens use IM to send music or video files vs 5% of adults
– Teens prefer IM to email and 75% use it vs 42% of adults
– Nearly half of IM teens have more than one screen name and 60% use icons or avatars
– Nearly 40% have pretended to be someone else on IM

Lots of statistics to get ones head around sure. To finish with some findings that stand out for me on first pass collating them – apart from the basic eye-opening numbers. Through the act of sharing teens become more aware of copyright issues – a strategy to reduce piracy perhaps, get them to make stuff to realise the value of ‘taking’ stuff. That young bloggers become content creators – might be obvious, but the ease of use of self-publishing tools obviously generators a comfort zone and encourages other forms of self-expression and sharing, so simple tools to make ‘pro-looking/sounding’ content will always be a good idea for service creators.

The last statistic that stood like the proverbial sore thumb was what blogs teens read. Amazingly only 2% read blogs from people they don’t know! Does this suggest a slightly blinkered view of the world or that they perceive blogs are being more about ‘personal thought’ than ‘information and broadening horizons’. I suppose given the natural parental concern (the “my kid has a public diary!” mentality) which is also referred to in the report means that they are discouraged from reading stranger blogs. It seems in the US at least much of the user generated revolution is an extension of their normal peer networks – the July report mentions that teens have a average of 20 dedicated friends in their network and this is reflected in their IM buddy list which are indeed those friends.

As at the end of the best ‘dodgy’ 1950s TV dramas (and Springer), the epilogue – there is a distinct shift in human communication happening of course led by this next generation. Teens in these reports are spending nearly as much time physically with their friends (10hrs) as virtually (8hrs). Their ‘virtual comm’ preferences also show that although the phone is still a dominant force IM is 2-10 times preferred than face-to-face when wanting to chat, talk about private things or critical conversation. What are the implications of this? I will leave that to further debate, one thing is sure though – in terms of keeping in touch with multiple people at the same time we are all having to develop strategies in our time poor worlds, teens are already someway down the road in using cross-media to do this. IM is a preferred multi-strand narrative route for them, blogging perhaps a way to track/archive and tell their own stories and easy media creation tools a way to self-express, make and share original material. Learning to personalize their world and their media for friends and family means a generation of trained communicators, and that is definitely a good thing.

Links to studies
Teen Content Creators and Consumers – 2 Nov 2005
Direct PDF link

Teens and Technology – 27 July 2005
Direct PDF link

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005