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Want to know what technologies will be hot in 2014? Perhaps you should ask a teenager. Silicon Valley tech giants have been making billion-dollar bids for tech products that are wildly popular among teenagers, such as the photo-sharing app Snapchat. Investors are also starting to pay close attention to how tech products engage a younger demographic. We discuss what draws teenagers to new technologies and whether their digital behavior can be used as a barometer for “the next big thing.”
- Amanda Lenhart Senior Research Specialist, Pew Internet and American Life Project
- Josh Miller co-founder, Branch; co-founder, Potluck.
- Parmy Olson journalist, Forbes; author, "We Are Anonymous: Inside The Hacker World of LulzSec"
- Jessica Vitak assistant professor, iSchool, University of Maryland
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world on Tech Tuesday. Kids, these days, always on their smart phones, forever typing away onto a tiny keyboard, migrating unpredictably from one trend in technology to the next. But what if teenagers erratic behavior online is actually a glimpse into the future of technology, and their enthusiasm for an app or a site could work as a fool proof predictor of the next big thing?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt's a possibility that Silicon Valley is taking seriously. Looking back on examples like Facebook, which first became popular among young people, tech leaders and investors are making million dollar investments into tech companies like Snap Chat that are now wildly popular among teens. But, some warn of putting too much stock into the whims of adolescence, which can change as frequently as their online profile pictures. Joining us to discuss this is Amanda Lenhart. She is a Senior Researcher at the Pew Research Center. She directs the Pew Internet and American Life Project's research on teens, children and their families. Amanda joins us in studio. Welcome. Good to see you again.
MS. AMANDA LENHARTGood to see you.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Jessica Vitak. She is a Professor in the iSchool at the University of Maryland. Jessica, thank you for joining us.
MS. JESSICA VITAKThank you.
NNAMDIAnd joining us from studios at Sports Byline in San Francisco is Parmy Olson, who covers mobile technology for Forbes. Parmy Olson, thank you for joining us.
MS. PARMY OLSONThank you.
NNAMDIYou too can join this conversation. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. Send us a tweet at kojoshow. You can use the hashtag techtuesday. Do you think teens are trendsetters when it comes to new technology? You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org. Ask a question or make a comment there. The number again, 800-433-8850. Amanda, some of the fastest growing technologies today are mostly popular among teens. There's the messaging service, whatsapp, which has hundreds of millions of users globally, including yours truly. The video appvine is skyrocketing in popularity worldwide.
NNAMDIAnd then there's the photo sharing service, Snap Chat, which Facebook reportedly tried to buy for three billion dollars. Do teens know something about technology that the rest of us don't?
LENHARTYou know, I don't think they necessarily do. I think they have different ideas of how they want to spend their time with technology. You know, certainly, I think there's -- teens are leaders, in some ways, for some kinds of technology, but there's a certain, I think, playful aspect to adolescence use of technology and I think that's part of what we see in this use of Vine and Snap Chat and whatsapp.
NNAMDII was absolutely convinced when I was a teenager that I knew things that my parents didn't. However, after becoming a parent, I realized that wasn't true. Jessica, looking at popular technology today, it's true that in several cases, teenagers were there first. Facebook's first users were mostly under the age of 25. Instagram skyrocketed in popularity with teens. And teens were the first to text as frequently as many of us do today. Why does it therefore seem that teens are often at the cutting edge of technology?
VITAKWell, I think that teens are using a lot of these technologies that we're seeing, well...
LENHARTSo I think, just to jump in for Jessica, I think, you know, certainly we see that teens are very concerned about social uses of the technology. So, when you're a teenager, part of the work of being an adolescent is making friends, learning about how to be in a romantic relationship and separating yourself from your parents. So, those relationships are incredibly important. And a lot of the technologies you just mentioned are about connecting to other people. Whether that's sharing images with your best friend in ways that you don't have to worry about, whether it's Facebook and social media where you create these networks of friends.
LENHARTAnd that's a lot of what motivates adolescents, I think, to use these technologies.
NNAMDIIs a part of that, Jessica, getting away from the supervision of your parents, because it seems like everything a teen does is supervised, policed, if you will.
VITAKYes, thanks for that save there, Amanda. Yeah, so, we can all remember back to when we were a teenager, and so much about being a teen is you're being controlled by your parents, and so a lot of what these applications provide is a way to get around that control. And, like Amanda was saying, they provide this social aspect and allow them a way to either gain status or exchange status and communicate with people and often communicate in ways in which, maybe, their parents don't approve of. We all have seen the commercials, over the years, of teenagers texting to each other when they're sitting right next to each other.
VITAKAnd, you know, maybe their parent is in the same room as them. So, it's a way to communicate and get around the parent hearing them. It's a lot like passing notes, you know, when we were in school, and we would pass notes back and forth. And it's not like these technologies are anything new. They're just offering different ways of doing things. But again, when you're young, being social is very important. It's a way that you express yourself, it's a way that you kind of explore identity, find out who you are, and, you know, interact, find friends, lose friends. And to kind of explore life. So...
NNAMDIParmy Olson, Facebook recently admitted that it was losing some of its teenage users, and you reported that many of those young users are gravitating toward mobile messaging services like Snap Chat and whatsapp. As someone who reports on disruptive technologies, what do you think is significant about a shift like that among teen users?
OLSONWell, certainly a lot of the excitement over here in Silicon Valley is about mobile. And a lot of these big social networks that are becoming popular now, among teens, are primarily usable on mobile devices. So, you mentioned whatsapp. There's also Snap Chat and Instagram. And I think a lot of that comes from this desire for more private networks, and not wanting to have to put up status updates that, perhaps, a future college administrator might look at. Or a future employer might look at. The kinds of things that people who, perhaps, already have jobs don't have to worry about anymore.
OLSONBut the younger generation, they're still building up that digital trail that could be used for or against them in the future.
NNAMDIIt's a Tech Tuesday conversation about teenagers being trendsetters in technology. We're inviting you to join that conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Do you understand how and why teens use certain technologies, such as the photo sharing service, Snap Chat? Give us a call. 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Amanda, in your research at Pew, are you seeing teens interacting with technology different than the generation that came immediately before this one?
LENHARTYes. So, we have seen shifts over time. And it's always hard to know how much of that is that we have all these new technologies to use, right? So, you know, 10 years ago, Twitter didn't exist. Facebook was just a gleam in Mark Zuckerberg's eye. So, now we have all of these things. We have Twitter, and now we have Snap Chat, which is just, which is actually so new that we don't even have good data on that at the Pew Internet Project. So, we have, there are so many shifts that are occurring. What we are seeing is we do see -- we've seen in research that we did this spring, a fatigue with Facebook.
LENHARTAnd a diversification of youth's, sort of, at least social media time. They're spending more time with Twitter. They're more likely to use Instagram. They're more likely to go to places like Tumbler. And so, and some of that fatigue they tell us comes from the complexity of managing a place like Facebook, where you have adults and kids, your parents are there. There's a lot of drama from your peers. There's even oversharing, and teens are a little weary of some of that. So many of them are fleeing to other places for a different kind of refuge.
NNAMDIWell, even when they go to the same places, Jessica, teens and adults may use the same apps, the same sites, like Twitter, Instagram, but how do you think they might use those technologies differently than their -- teenagers, that is, than their older counterparts.
VITAKSo, I think that teens are, teens have a lot, teens and adults have a lot of the same motivations for using these sites. So, obviously, they want to keep up with their friends and interact with them. But, again, going back to what Amanda mentioned earlier, and kind of building on that, teens see a lot of these sites as a place to be creative, to explore, to be playful. So, while Facebook is seen as a place where you are supposed to be showing your real identity, and I use real in quotes here, you'll see a lot of teens kind of putting on different faces, trying out different things.
VITAKSo, they might say, you know, they're in a relationship with, you know, a friend, they're married to a friend and they might do all kinds of things where they're playing with content, where they're posting content. And work by Danah Boyd has shown that a lot of them will actually do things where they are white walling. They're actually deleting content each day. So, their practices are very different from, kind of, this very stable way in which adults are using it. Adults' main purpose for using a site like Facebook is while they want to find people who they have lost contact with, they want to reconnect with these people, and they want to -- their high school friends, who they haven't seen.
VITAKI mean, it is the never ending high school reunion is what Facebook has become. So, whereas teenagers are kind of in and out and doing all kinds of things with it, you know, adults, it's this very kind of stable thing. And, again, to go back to what Amanda was saying, you know, one of the reasons why teens are not necessarily using Facebook as much is because of this presence of adults and all of these different groups. And they're seeing, they're seeing this as a negative thing. But, this idea that teens are actually leaving it for good is not necessarily the case. They might be spending less time on there.
VITAKBut, in a lot of work that has been seen with teens, they are saying, well, I don't like going there, but I feel like I can't leave it for good, because all my friends are there. And, if something happens, I know that's still the place I have to go. And, you know, it's this network effect of, you know, you have your network built up. And you can't actually cut it off completely. So, Facebook has done a good job with creating...
NNAMDIBut at Facebook, your parents can friend you and, on some occasions, you are forced to accept...
NNAMDIThe friending of your parents. And so, that limits the way, I guess, in which teenagers can communicate with their peers.
VITAKYeah, so again, going back to the work by Danah Boyd, a lot, teens can engage in all kinds of things. Using things like privacy settings, but they could also be engaging in things like what Danah calls social stenography, which is another saying hiding in plain sight. And so they could be saying one thing that they're friends understand the meaning, but their parents have no idea what they're saying. But the friends know, oh, well, she actually means this. And the parents are like, I have no idea what they're saying. So, you know, teens are smarter than we think they are when it comes to these things.
NNAMDIAmanda, anything to add to that?
LENHARTNo, I think she's exactly right, that we see that teens have find all sorts of ways to encode information to friends, and to share information with friends, even within this space of surveillance by adults. And it's not just parents. It's, you know, that lady from your church who's friends with your mom. There's a lot of adults who are actually watching, and in some cases, we heard from teens in some work that we did, kind of ratting kids out. You know, oh, I heard from my friend Susan that you were posting things on Facebook that you shouldn't have been.
LENHARTSo, there really is this sense of the teens are being watched. But they do have techniques, that they've perfected, to try to avoid that. But at the same time, they're also leaving, or at least spending more time other places.
NNAMDIHere's Tyrone is Catonsville, Maryland. Tyrone, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NNAMDITyrone, I'm gonna have to put you on hold, because you're breaking up very badly. And we're gonna get back to your call. In the meantime, we'll talk with Doug in Annandale, Virginia. Doug, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DOUGThanks. I'd just like to comment that, I mean, it's basically, I mean, you know, we're a straight capitalist society, and we're marketing to these young people all these technologies and stuff. So yeah, they're gonna totally grab it and be part of that. But I mean, you know, as wonderful as all the technology is, I mean, we're marketing it really hard to these kids. So yeah, they're gonna be using it. Thanks for taking my call.
NNAMDIThank you very much for calling. Parmy Olson, is that what you've been seeing, that the purpose of all of this is really to market to teenagers?
OLSONOh, absolutely. And, you know, if the start up is creating a messenger service, and they see a lot of take up by teens, that's great for them, but they have investors, as well, who want to make some profit on their investment. They want to make good on their investment, and of course, the people who create these products ultimately, you know, they need to make themselves sustainable. So, some of the, you know, there's different ways of doing that and that's when you kind of get into the whole issue of privacy. That's what a lot of these teenagers are after.
OLSONThey don't want to be communicating in such a public way that their parents and teachers would see what they're saying, so they'll gravitate to perhaps some of these ephemeral messaging services like Snap Chat. You send a photo to someone else and it self destructs. And there's actually a handful of messaging apps that are coming out now that do exactly the same thing, but with text. So, you send a text to someone and it also self destructs after about five to 10 seconds. And people who have used these kinds of apps describe it as a more liberating kind of experience.
OLSONThey can just express themselves in different ways. Other types of messaging services that are becoming popular among teens are something like Whisper, where you basically type out a confession, kind of share some secret about yourself, and you put that on a stock photo or a photo that you've taken, and you share that with an anonymous community. So, it's actually anonymous. But of course, this is very appealing for teenagers, but the people behind these services need to make money somehow, so most of these services don't make money yet. They're just trying to focus on getting as many users as possible.
OLSONTens of millions, you know, some of the messaging apps have more than 100 million active users. And the ways that they do that is gonna be different, so whatsapp charges a subscription, but someone like Whisper, which is supposed to be anonymous, they're planning to show ads. So that's gonna need some aspect of potentially behavioral ad targeting. And who knows, in the next year or so, whether this is something that the teenage users of these apps will really -- whether they'll be put off by that, or whether they won't mind. They'll be happy with the convenience and the free service and just continue using it.
NNAMDILet's try Tyrone in Catonsville, Maryland again. Tyrone, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TYRONEYes. How are you all doing? I would have to agree with your guests. A lot of stuff that the teens are doing with these applications is playing. A lot of identity deals with social, how they socialize and how popular they are. So, yeah, they're geared toward this type of thing. With adults, you know, you're relations are more static. And, for instance, when I'm on my computer, I'm doing business stuff. I'm sending invoices or whatever. My daughter's on her laptop. She's socializing a lot. You know, she's constantly, she spends a lot of time socializing.
TYRONEBut my relations are already set. I don't need to be socializing with nobody. I just need to get my work done and get it sent off to somebody else. So, the other thing that I'd like to mention is that I kind of lament the fact that, you know, a lot of our best and brightest have gone to Silicon Valley. You know, when we could be concentrating on the cure for cancer. You know, it's like a gravy train. Or where's my flying car at? You know? All these different advances in science that we use our best and brightest to be coming up with these applications for play. Because just because you're computer savvy doesn't necessarily mean that you're the smartest person in the room.
TYRONEThere are people with Phd's and several Master's Degrees that aren't computer savvy. That doesn't mean they're stupid.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Tyrone. And I'm glad you raise the issue of how your daughter uses technology as opposed to how you use it, because, Amanda, parents like Tyrone often share their thoughts about how their teens are using technology. But some teens might use some of the very same technology as their parents, like iPhones and (unintelligible) as we were mentioning, on the same social networks. So what do teens think about how their parents are using technology?
LENHARTWell, it's interesting. When we've talked to teens in the focus group work that we've done, it really actually depends on the parent, to a little bit. There are some parents out there who are very tech savvy, right? They have the latest iPhone, the kid is getting the passed down older iPhone that the parent has discarded. The parents are on top of kind of monitoring and just generally what kids are doing with technology. So, this would be like Jessica's kid and my kids are like. That's the kind of parent we are.
LENHARTWe are on top of these things. Other parents, for example, they don't have the time or the interest. And they simply, they, maybe they have jobs where they don't have time, they don't work with technology in their job. They don't have time to manage it or to spend time with it. And so the kids are the leaders in the home. And they are the ones that know. And those are the kids who say things like, my parents don't know what they're talking about with technology. My parents aren't really involved.
LENHARTI show my mom what to do. I set her up with the special settings so that she sort of has a safe way to go and use the internet, so she doesn't see things that would make her upset. So, you know, there's certainly, I think, a real range of what families are really like.
NNAMDIGotta take a short break. When we come back, we'll be continuing this conversation on teenagers being trendsetters in technology. But you can still call us right now at 800-433-8850. What do you think is the best predictor of the next big thing in tech? 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. It's Tech Tuesday and we're talking about whether or not teenagers are the trendsetters in technology. We're talking with Parmy Olson who covers mobile technology for Forbes. Parmy Olson joins us from the studios of Sports Byline in San Francisco. Here in our Washington studio is Jessica Vitak. She's a Professor in the iSchool at the University of Maryland. And Amanda Lenhart, Senior Researcher at the Pew Research Center. She directs the Pew Internet and American Life Project's research on teens, children and their families.
NNAMDIYou can call us, if you like to join the conversation, at 800-433-8850. Do you think investors should be consulting teenagers and young adults before they invest in a start up? Why? Or why not? 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Jessica, could parents and other adults learn something from how teens use technology? Because Amanda identified you and her, as parents, who are on top of it, so to speak. But for others, are there things that we can learn from the way our kids use technology?
VITAKWell, that's a really good question. So, teens are at a very particular life stage. And I think one of the concerns that I have, when we think about whether or not, you know, people should be investing in what teens are using, is that this is a life stage. And teens do grow out of it. So, you know, teens, one, tend to be pretty fickle. And they tend to flip from one thing to another. And, you know, as teens mature, their, the ways they use things also will tend to change.
VITAKSo, you know, teens we see are often sending hundreds of text messages a day. Their social behaviors are very different than even somebody who's in college. And then somebody who is a working professional. As Tyrone said, when he called in, you know, when he's on these sites, he's just trying to get things done and then get off, whereas his daughter is just kind of...
VITAKHanging out, you know? You know, so we have more responsibilities. A teenager has a lot of kind of disposable time. So, you know, what can we learn? You know, I've been thinking about this for the past week, and I know there are things we can learn about them. But, you know, when we're thinking about, in terms of, you know, from a business perspective and investing, we can learn about different types of products to build toward teens, in terms of socializing and what Parmy was talking about. You know, building things that focus on privacy.
VITAKAnd teens want ways to communicate that are focusing on one to one communication. Facebook really changed the way we think about how to interact 10 years ago when I came out. Well, not even 10 years ago. When they came out with this status update and this idea of public broadcasting, and Mark Zuckerberg had this kind of famous statement where he talked about the new norm is public broadcasting. Public status updates. And people just take that as the norm. You share your most private, most mundane statements. What you ate for breakfast with everybody.
VITAKYou know, it kind of reshaped the way we think about sharing information. And I think people are kind of pulling back from that. And teens certainly might be the trendsetters in that, in that they're rethinking that. But, I don't know if Amanda or Parmy have different thoughts on that.
NNAMDIParmy, anything that parents and other adults can learn from how teens use technology?
OLSONYeah, definitely. And I think this is something that investors are looking at, as well. But when you asked earlier, should investors consult teenagers? I don't think that would, in the end, what they're really doing is they're looking at what products are going out and being used and what sticks. And then they're kind of taking, making conclusions from that. So, for instance, just a couple of weeks ago, I was speaking to one of the early investors in Facebook, and he was really surprised by how popular Snap Chat became. It just made no sense to him, whatsoever, that Snap Chat would become so popular.
OLSONWhy would you want to send a photo to someone that would self destruct? And then, you know, some of these other, kind of, ephemeral type messaging services are coming out and some of these -- the investment community is realizing, like, actually, this kind of makes sense that there's so much data on the internet right now. I mean, just think about the number of photographs that you take with a digital camera. I know I've got thousands of photos on my hard drive at home, and we're just kind of awash with a glut of data.
OLSONAnd I think a lot of this new generation of people who are coming online and socializing online don't want to have to save everything. They just kind of want to live in the moment. And that's not for everything. Right now, there is Facebook, you have whatsapp, you have, frankly, you have all these different types of ways of communicating now. Different ways that you can express your identity, and sometimes you do that in such a way that it's going to have a legacy, like Facebook. And people will see it for the next few years. And sometimes you can communicate in such a way that it's only gonna last five seconds.
OLSONAnd what I think is kind of nice for this new generation of people who are communicating through the internet, is they have all these different options. And the way that the investment community here is looking at that is, OK, that makes sense. There's gotta be different ways that the internet processes information. Not everything has to be stored. And the internet also is becoming a much more social place. And I think that's why teenagers have become such an important -- we see them almost as trendsetters now, because social media has become so big.
OLSONAnd, of course, high school is one of the first places you're gonna make friends. You're going to be creating your social network in high school. And even within schools, like, certain products and certain ideas can go viral within that school. So, so we wouldn't have said, we wouldn't have talked about teenagers being trendsetters for new technology, maybe 20 or 30 years ago, but today, now that social media and the social web, as they're calling it now, has become so important, then the very group of people who are creating a social network, who are making lifelong friends, are going to be the people we're looking at more and more.
NNAMDIAmanda, people continue to develop between the initial teenage years and young adulthood. How do you see teens digital habits change throughout those years of development?
LENHARTSo, we actually see some places where young adults actually retain some of the enthusiasms of their adolescence. You know, or they actually shared it at the same time. So, in many cases, for some of these technologies, we're focusing in this conversation, on teens, but it's actually, for instance, Twitter. It's young adults who actually were really the first movers there. And then teens have actually followed them onto the site. So, we do actually see a lot of consistency. But then we also see moments where as your sort of locale, as you leave home, your relationship to your parents shifts, and so how you're communicating changes.
LENHARTSame thing as you enter the work force. You may have not, you may have chosen not to use email when you were younger, preferring text messaging or messaging over social media. But now your boss says, I'm gonna send you an email, and therefore, you have to use it. So, there's different times of life that shift the way we use technology. And then there's also just the technologies sort of wax and wane, you know? At the Pew Internet Project, we wrote a report in 2004 about instant messaging, and how it was really important, and it was this vital thing that teens were doing. And we don't actually really talk about that anymore.
LENHARTAnd that's partly because the technology itself has been eclipsed by so many other new technologies out there.
NNAMDIOn to the phones again. Here is Elizabeth in Quantico, Virginia. Elizabeth, your turn.
ELIZABETHYes, thank you for taking my call. I just would like to put a warning out to parents of the dark side of this technology. I have a 16 year old who was participating and sending, you know, scandalous photos of himself and receiving photos of himself, of his female friends. And when my husband and I discovered it, of course, the damage had already been done and he was using Snap Chat and Kick to interact with his friends. And my husband and I didn't know what either one was before this happened.
ELIZABETHAnd we've subsequently got him counseling to help him, but I'd just like to warn parents, cause I thought my son, you know, Facebook, Facebook was the extent of his social networking, and that's all I have. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you very much for talking about that, because I don't know if -- Amanda, you wanted to respond?
LENHARTYeah, I mean, I think that's, you know, Elizabeth's point is well taken. And I actually think this is something that we should talk about, both in terms of, and the investment in this space. If you're an investor, and you're a business developer, and you're focusing on the adolescent market, it has certain things about it that are different when you're focusing on adults. Minors have a different place in the world, and we want, we expect different things for our kids. Now, there's laws already that talk about kids who are 13, under 13.
LENHARTBut even for teenagers, you know, certainly Snap Chat itself has had to respond to queries and some pretty pointed news stories about how people were using that technology. And various companies respond in different ways, but, you know, you have to be prepared that adolescents are gonna use technology in ways that you don't expect, or maybe that you do expect, but that their parents and adults aren't happy with. And that's something we have to both build into the technology itself, and kind of prepare ourselves for.
NNAMDIJessica, how do you strike that delicate balance between wanting to understand the teenagers' needs, some space in which they're not always being policed and supervised, on the one hand. And on the other hand, the fact that some teenagers may abuse that space.
LENHARTWell, I mean, I think one of the most difficult things here, as a parent, is that, I mean, even for those of us who study these technologies, the technologies are coming out and evolving at such a fast rate that even we are having a hard time keeping on top of them. I mean, there are some that have been mentioned today that I haven't explored. So, you know, if we're having a hard time, parents who aren't technologically savvy, I mean, someone like Elizabeth, who, you know, she's familiar with Facebook.
VITAKBut, you know, how are parents expected to be able to keep up, understand these technologies, and then maybe, you know, in a perfect world, have an open conversation with their children about what these technologies are. How to use them, if they're allowing them to use them, how to use them in a responsible way. So, you know, whether it's incumbent upon the creators of the technologies to do things so that, you know, to help teenagers use them or to educate parents.
VITAKI mean, we haven't figured it out yet. I mean...
LENHARTWell, you also have the instance where teenagers are actually specifically going to these sites because they know their parents don't know about it, or because they aren't there.
LENHARTAnd that's the lure. That's the reward.
NNAMDIParmy Olson, many adults today go online primarily through a laptop or desktop computer. How do think that the devices that teens use today, the way they are accessing the internet, plays into the technologies they tend to adopt?
OLSONWell, it's definitely more interactive, so when we're talking -- the caller earlier, who talked about the sending of indecent photos on Snap Chat and Kick, you know, for a long time, for many years, teenagers have gone on websites like 4chan to look at homemade porn. And that's -- that website alone has something like 20 million monthly active users. So that's already been a very popular thing for kids to do behind their -- when their parents aren't looking.
OLSONThe difference today is that they can do a lot of that on the phone, and it's so much more interactive now because your phone has a camera on the front and the back. So you're not only looking at this kind of content. You can create it yourself. And I think there's a lot more of an incentive and a lot more ease for teens to become much more interactive in the way they engage with that kind of sharing of those kind of very free and open and liberating content, talking about how they truly feel on an anonymous platform, like Whisper or on an ephemeral platform like Snap Chat.
OLSONBut they also have to be wary because, of course, not everything is 100 percent private or 100 percent secure.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this Tech Tuesday conversation about teenagers being trendsetters in tech. We're still taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you think declining usage among teens is the beginning of the end for a tech site like Facebook, for example? 800-433-8850. You can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow, using the #TechTuesday or email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's Tech Tuesday, and we're talking about teenagers as trendsetters in technology with Amanda Lenhart, senior researcher at the Pew Research Center. She directs the Pew Internet and American Life Project's research on teens, children, and their families. Jessica Vitak is a professor in the iSchool at the University of Maryland. And Parmy Olson covers mobile technology for Forbes. Joining us now by phone from New York is Josh Miller, co-founder of the online platforms Branch and Potluck. Josh Miller, thank you for joining us.
MR. JOSH MILLERThank you for having me.
NNAMDIJack, (sic) as someone -- Josh, as someone who's behind two tech startups, Branch and Potluck, first, can you tell us what those platforms are?
MILLERSure. Branch is a tool that big publishers like The New York Times and The Atlantic use to host what are essentially invite-only panel discussions on their website. So this conversation we're having right now, it gives The New York Times the power to do that via text on their website. And then Potluck is a service that allows people like me and my roommates and my siblings to talk about interesting links we find on the Internet. And that's based on the iPhone, so it's a more intimate social setting.
NNAMDIDo you think, Josh, that investors should be taking advice from kids when it comes to up and coming technology?
MILLERYeah. So I think the first thing to do is to really define what we mean by technology. So I think there are companies like Salesforce, which are really, really large technology companies, but they're focused on the enterprise and work setting. So I don't think teens can help anything about technology trends there. So I think when we say technology, we tend to mean social media these...
MILLER...days because of the popularity of services like Facebook and Snap Chat and for those -- for a lot of the reasons that the other guests have mentioned. I think that the teens are really the place that you should look both because they have a lot of time on their hands, like some of the other guests mentioned, but also that, quite frankly, they're immature.
MILLERAnd they, in many ways, are kind of the essence of unfiltered human desire. They're figuring out who they are. They're more willing to take risks socially and make mistakes and put themselves out there and not put themselves out there. So I definitely think it's a (unintelligible) tool, too.
NNAMDIWho are you marketing to with your two platforms? And do you consider how a younger demographic will engage with those two platforms that you've developed?
MILLERSo our platform Branch is aimed at media companies and publishers, so definitely not teens for that product. For Potluck, we started thinking about, how would my little sister use the platform? But one thing we found is that, you know, quite frankly, she's not that interested in many things yet. She's young. She likes playing soccer. She kind of likes hiking. But she's not an enthusiast for any of those things, and really they're just means of connecting socially with her peers.
MILLERSo a product like Potluck which is intensely focused on talking about your interests, you know, probably most analogous to Twitter, it's not that interesting a platform for her, and it's not as much as our target demographic as is probably Twitter, which is kind of, you know, early 20s to mid-30s.
NNAMDI800-433-8850's the number to call. Parmy, recent report of Snap Chat's value estimate that investors have put more than $100 million toward the company. Why would investors see the teenage demographic as a valuable user base?
OLSONWell, perhaps because -- I mean, I can't really speak for them, but I assume it's because they know that these could be their future users. Now, a lot of these platforms that they've invested in aren't making money yet. But they intend to make money in the future. And we think that Snap Chat is going to do that by showing ads because, according to reports, they've been hiring a whole bunch of ad sales people.
OLSONAnd I think Facebook also looked what happened with Instagram. They spent a billion dollars on Instagram. And if you look at some recent analysis by Piper Jaffray, they looked at what teenagers were describing as the best social network in the last year. And their opinion of Facebook has gone down, and their opinion of Instagram has gone up. And other surveys have just shown that teenagers and young people are using these kinds of platforms more and more.
OLSONSo really where the investors want to look is the platforms that are seeing the most usage because where there's the most eyeballs is the most opportunity for making money by showing advertisements.
NNAMDIHere is Tara in Fairfax, Va. Tara, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TARAHi. Thank you for taking my call. I wanted to call about Snap Chat. I am a user of it, and I'm not a teenager. I -- my daughter put it on my phone prior to going to college, and I use it all the time sending her pictures. And it turns out it is a really good way to keep up with each other's lives. Like you said, we send pictures back and forth but also videos. I send videos all the time. And the other thing I wanted to note is, on the iPhone, with the pictures, they can be held. You can save a picture on there, so it's not something that can...
TARAExactly. Exactly. But it has turned out to be a really good app that we use, and we keep up with each other.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. I can think of a number of trends in recent history that teenagers embraced and then abandoned a year later when they were no longer considered cool. Take parachute pants as an example, or, even more recently, MySpace. Should companies be careful about trying to be cool among younger users, considering that what's cool is constantly changing, Jess?
VITAKCertainly. I mean, with -- not even with just teen tech trends, but with any tech trend. I mean, you can never look too far into the future with technology. I think any tech investor has learned that lesson probably the hard way at least once, but with teens especially. And, you know, to go back to something I said earlier, you know, teens, often what is important to them when they are in high school, as they then go to college or get a job, their priorities change. And they're not necessarily behaving the same.
VITAKTheir socialization patterns, their friend networks, all of these things are going to change. And so the technology that they use often will change, too. And so something like Snap Chat, which might be really popular when you're in high school, then when you go to college or you get that job, might suddenly not be as popular. You know, there still are going to be teenagers who might be using the site. But for something like Snap Chat, I love that Tara uses it with her daughter.
VITAKAnd this idea of, like, parent-child usage, I can see that with that. But, you know, I can't something like Snap Chat becoming really widely used outside of younger users. So I think investors need to be considering that kind of thing when they're thinking of investing in these technologies that are really teen-centric.
NNAMDIJosh Miller, same question to you. What's cool is constantly changing. Do you have to be careful about trying to be cool among younger users?
MILLERYeah. I think I agree and disagree with what you just said. I think I agree that, you know, people, especially young kids and teenagers, their interests change. And I also think the places they physically hang out in the real world change a lot, too, if you think about these technologies as digital places. So in middle school, I hung out at the Third Street Promenade.
MILLERIn high school, I went to house parties. In college, I went to fraternity parties. Since college, I now go to bars. Places get -- and social spaces, they lose their novelty, and I think people move. So I think that's expected that you see that with digital spaces as well. I do disagree a bit about the Snap Chat point, though. As, I think, the caller alluded to it, it turns out it's a great way to communicate. And Evan, the CEO, is actually a friend of mine.
MILLERAnd one thing that they found out kind of accidentally after launching the product is that it's very, very analogous to how we communicate in the real world. So what they've realized is that the fact it's ephemeral, that's how conversations are when we talk to someone in real life. We don't keep a record of it. There's no one recording it. In fact, when we're ever in situations in which there is a video camera or there is someone taking notes, we behave a little differently.
MILLERAnd my mother actually is now on Snap Chat, and so is my father. And he uses it to communicate with my two little sisters and me because that's where we are, and it's a great way to communicate. So I think it's easier to write off as, oh, it's this kind of fad used by teens, which, maybe one day, they will disappear as all kind of online platforms do. I think it deserves a little more credit than to say it's not going to be popular beyond teenagers. I think it already is, and actually I think it will become just as popular, if not more popular, than Facebook.
NNAMDIWell, what's next for you after bars, Josh?
MILLERA dinner party maybe? I'm not sure.
NNAMDILet's go to Chris in Annandale, Va. who has some thoughts on this. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISKojo, thanks for taking my call. Earlier in the program, one of your guests said that the teen demographic had a lot of disposable time and attention...
CHRIS...which I think is a good argument. On the converse side, I would argue that this demographic may not have so much in the way of disposable income, which I feel may be far more important when determining if a new tech (unintelligible) actually going to be able to get solvent or not in the future. I think one thing that a lot of (unintelligible) are starting to find is that it's the only capital that their customers or users are spending on their application or whatever is time and attention.
CHRISThen you have to make money in another way, which often is advertising, but it seems like, in order to have -- in order to get to that point where you're solvent, you have to be really, really large in order to do so. So I just wanted to get your guests' comments on that. Thank you.
NNAMDIThoughts about that, Amanda?
LENHARTYeah. I mean, I think -- actually, I'm going to throw it to Jessica 'cause I just lost my train of thought, so...
NNAMDIYou guys are exchanging this phenomenon today.
MILLEROne anecdote that Evan Williams, the Twitter founder, one of our investors, continued to push...
NNAMDIThis is Josh.
MILLERYeah, sorry -- continues to push at me and others is that there's never really been an example of a very popular social media platform that doesn't make any money or a lot of money that's had a shutdown because it hadn't figured out the financials. All the popular social media platforms have either been acquired for a good amount of money or have gone public, or have waned in popularity not because they couldn't figure out how to make money but because people stopped liking the product, a la MySpace.
MILLERSo I think that's one thing to keep in mind. Another thing to keep in mind is that, you know, you're definitely correct that, you know, teens do not have a lot of disposable income. One thing they do have is access to their parents' iTunes store account. And given that they're mostly on their iPhones now, one of the more popular monetization strategies at the moment is app installs and kind of driving you to buy new apps from the app store.
MILLERSo you're 100 percent correct that, you know, when we talked about tech trends, we really need to limit what we're talking about to social media and that specific sector of technology. But I would say that the iTunes store and the rise of the iPhone and conversely with Android and Google does provide a little more opportunity than, say, the Web does.
VITAKWell, I -- no, go ahead.
LENHARTI was just going to say that, you know, our research suggests that not every teen has actually has an iPhone. In fact, only about 37 percent of teens, 12 to 17, have a Smartphone at this point. Certainly after the holiday season, that number will undoubtedly rise. But let's remember that not every kid has access to apps and to...
VITAKTo money in general.
LENHARTAnd to money in general. They certainly have access to convincing their parents to spend money in certain ways, but not every teen comes from a wealthy household or has access to a lot of disposable income.
NNAMDIParmy Olson, care to comment?
OLSONUm-hum. Yeah. In the whole issue of making money, it's interesting. One of the very, very popular messaging apps at the moment is called Line that's from Japan. And they're not as big in the U.S. as they are in other parts of the world like Spain and other parts of Europe. But they get about a third of their revenue from selling digital stickers. So will buy, like, a kind of cartoony sticker that you can send to someone through the app for a dollar. And they've made tens of millions of dollars. Who knew that you could do that?
OLSONBut this is also one way that Kik, which was mentioned earlier in the show, wants to make money is also through -- they sell digital stickers as well. They're surprised at how that's making money for them.
LENHARTAnd Kakao Talk does, too, right?
VITAKAnd who knows if that's...
OLSONAnd Kakao Talk does the same, right. So, you know, is that a fad? I think that's just something that the investors and the people behind these companies have to find out. But, you know, I think what is interesting about what Josh was saying earlier about how Snap chat is being used outside of the teen demographic, and I think what the hope is for a lot of these -- people behind these companies is it won't just be a fad.
OLSONIt'll become like a utility in the same way that Facebook has become a obligatory communication utility that, even though teens don't always like having to go on there, they still check it every day. And the same with Snap chat. It'll just be another way of communicating, kind of like the communication plumbing...
OLSON...of our phones. And we'll just veer to that when we need it.
NNAMDISorry to interrupt, but we're running out of time. And I wanted to get Tanian (sp?) from Dale City, Va. in. Tanian, you only have about 30 seconds. Go ahead, please.
TANIANHi. I just wanted to know if there are companies or sites who are targeting seniors, basically baby boomers because we may not have the longevity. But there are lots of us out there.
NNAMDIWell, I'm glad you brought that up because in the time we left, Josh, some sites like Pinterest have developed a solid following among adults. Given that teens are constantly developing new interests, could it be smarter in the long term to develop a product for an older demographic? Josh, you have about 40 seconds.
MILLERYeah. I think that's a really great question. I don't have -- I've wondered if there are any, and if not, why not. I'd say I don't have enough experience actually to speak to why that'd be a good or bad investing idea. But it seems like that's a very large demographic, and my mom loves her phone and is quite good at Snap Chatting, so I don't see why someone couldn't build something compelling for her and her peers. But I'll pass it off to some other folks.
NNAMDIThank you very much. We can't pass it off to anyone else because we're just about out of time. Josh Miller is co-founder of the online platforms, Branch and Potluck. Josh, thank you for joining us.
MILLERThank you for having me.
NNAMDIParmy Olson covers mobile technology for Forbes. Parmy, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIJessica Vitak is a professor in the iSchool at the University of Maryland. Jessica, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd Amanda Lenhart is a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center. She directs the Pew Internet and American Life Project's research on teens, children, and their families. Amanda, thanks for joining us in studio.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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