Daniel Morris: UK Teens & the Web at Barcamp Manchester

Dan Morris’ session on UK Teens & the Web was one of my favourites of the day, which you can see from my frantically scribbled notes (below). Dan’s working for a semi-autonomous BBC unit which produces online content for teenagers, and had some really interesting insights to share from his experience and some research they’d commissioned recently. The insights from their mainly subjective survey (in that the methodology was to meet with teenagers and talk with them, rather than quantative research) painted a picture which differed from the one which, I think, many of us assume is correct.

UK Teens & the Web - some of my notes

Apparently the local/global split happening everywhere is reflected with teenagers, and is apparently more skewed to the local than I expected. On reflection, this makes sense: most teenagers have limited travel opportunities, so the strongest social connections inevitably centre on the park bench, school and/or street and offline groups are often remodelled in the online world where all the teenagers in a school will have friended each other. Later in the session the group briefly discussed the influence of “un-friending” people, and other patterns of bullying online. Following from these strong local connections, the local peer groups heavily influence the choice of technology for different localities, one school might use YouTube and another might be MySpace oriented.

Interestingly, while everyone tends to think of teenagers as being very tech savvy the average teenager’s budget doesn’t stretch to PCs in their bedroom, or mobile phones with data access, so they are surprisingly “low tech”. Access to the internet is usually restricted to shared PCs, in the home, library or school, or to hand-me-downs from older siblings and parents. The lack of money also extends to the services teens are able to use… e.g. no Pro Flickr accounts. Free services, on the other hand, can experience very enthusiastic take-up, and teenagers are voracious and enthusiastic consumers of new experiences and social learning.

Popularity and take-up tends towards free services (see above), easy to use and that allow sharing and social connection, e.g. Frengo (texting services), Bebo (social site centred on music, video and stories), YouTube (video… as if you hadn’t heard of it!), MiniClip (games and videos), MSN Messenger (IM), etc. Sites providing the useful service of homework answers are also popular, e.g. Ask, BBC educational sites, etc. Existing media brands are starting to partner with the likes of Bebo, etc, to incorporate their content in the existing brands… I haven’t got a note of the examples Dan gave for these, so if you can remember please add them in the comments. (I remember Sugar Magazine (which has a teenage girl readership) had a successful website partnership.)

The freedom to personalise their online presence is important to this age group, as anyone who’s dabbed blood from their eyes after looking at more than three MySpace pages can attest. The more sober looking Facebook is making inroads via older siblings at university, where the main Facebook user base is, and Bebo, as a halfway house in terms of chaotic visuals/personalisation, is also moving up in the world.

The end of the talk covered the necessary topic of protection. Everyone in Dan’s team is CRB checked to ensure the’re safe to work with minors… everyone in the data centre with access to the server is CRB checked… everyone in the company that the BBC outsource moderation to is also CRB checked. Most content is moderated in one form or another, content with a worldwide (e.g. unrestricted) audience is pre-moderated (checked before being published) and other content is post-moderated (checked after publication). Dan mentioned some interesting techniques which use the friend connections to determine who can be shown user generated content; e.g. a viewer looking at an immediate and mutual friend’s material (e.g. one step removed, and both people have friended each other) is assumed to be safer audience than one where neither party knows each other.

Ensuring anonymity for teenage users is a very important concern, the nightmare scenario is that someone unsavoury gets access to a minor through your website. Content which will be available to anyone in the world presents some interesting problems, as teenagers are (a) endlessly inventive and (b) keen for people to communicate with them… On a site allowing photo upload, the team were careful not to allow any text (so there couldn’t be telephone numbers or email addresses), and found that people were writing their mobile numbers on their arm in the photo, even school badges on blazers could provide too much information, so everything is now pre-moderated.

Overall a great talk, with some great graphics. Thanks Dan!

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