The Search Generation

The Connected Generation Doesn't Need Today's ToolsOne of the ways I hope to keep myself on the professional cutting edge is to offer a fresh perspective on the way content is consumed.  One of the best ways I know to gather this information is to watch my kids (11. 0 and 8.5) and their friends as they gather around an iPod or computer.

Today though, I had the chance to go into 8.5’s third grade class and talk her peers.  While under the guise of talking to them about journalism and news (which we did a little), I used it as an opportunity to find out how my daughter and her generation seek out and share information.

While it’s not a huge surprise (at least I hope its not), TV, radio, newspapers were not even in the discussion.  I was a little surprised-Facebook and Twitter was not either.  There are a lot of reasons for the latter-responsible parents is my hope, but the reality is 8-10 is well under the age requirements for those sights.

However, based on the discussion-text, text chat, video chat and especially search are far more important anyway.

On the discovery side-when I asked a class of 20 or so third graders how they find things out-and things I defined as news, information, websites, songs, videos, movies and entertainment-search was the number one way to find things.  And when I pressed the kids, they didn’t care what the search engine was (Google was as good as Yahoo was as good as iTunes search).  All they need is a search box and an execution point.

The quick take away on this is to over tag if necessary, but make sure tags capture all the keys to the content and all the imaginable entry points.  While I am among the people who believe SEO, as we know it today is a dying art, the reality is SEO will continue to be a discoverability driver in some form.  (An interesting note, one of the kids wanted to know about a way to search content shared via text chat, hmmmm).

On the consumption side, once again search was a huge driver to finding content.  One of the girls in the class even talked about setting up an RSS homepage-similar to Pageflakes or MyGoogle to capture key elements.  But a huge consumption driver for text and video is images.  It’s a concept I am late to embrace but important.  In the digital clutter, you still need to capture eyeballs.  See any of the e-book stores (Amazon, B&N, iBooks).  Which books are you likely to purchase if you are just scanning a topic?  Eye-catching cover art is the driver.

Finally, when it comes to sharing information text, text chat chat (including video chat) was the focus.  One boy in the class said (and his classmates agreed), “I can send an email, but no one reads email,” from the mouths of 8+s comes great truth.  Email has been a dying medium for more than five years now.

The take away here is to make sure your packaging includes interoperability to share via text-because that is a key driver to reach the generation that is not tethered by Blackberry Enterprise Server, Outlook Exchange or Gmail on the go.


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5 Responses to “The Search Generation”

  1. Robert Says:

    There are a few caveats here:

    1. That age group was never tied to email, so to use it as a gauge is misguided. Email never had respectable penetration for under 18 if you look at reputable data (hint: avoid marketers who are pushing their social business and trying to show a change to drum up business). Before social media it was IM. Before that, it was voice via a cell phone and a land line (I was somewhere in between that transition). Email never had much usage with minors as more than an authentication method to signup for services. Reality is they have no need for it either. Most schools still forbid teachers from contacting students via email, and kids who know each other are on the same schedule thanks to school, so time delay isn’t an issue like it is for adults. IM/phone/text work (and worked) as well if not better since it’s more timely. There’s also no need for accountability… there is a need for lack of accountability. Email in decline with minors is a misnomer. It never caught on. What we are seeing is a decline in signing up for other services, which results in a decrease in sign-ins to webmail services. Facebook is all they sign up for.

    2. Kids that age have no concept of Authoritative vs. Non-Authoritative content. Talk to a high school teacher and they will tell you even High School kids have lost that concept in the past 4-6 years (that hurts me to hear). Some blame social media blasting so many hoaxes and wikipedia, others blame blogs, others blame texting and the decline of the English language. I remember the days of “you can use the internet, but you must be able to verify facts in an academic resource (encyclopedia, journal, whitepaper)”. That was 6th or 7th grade on dialup. I know for a fact that’s not the standard today in most high schools anymore. If you can find it in print, it’s legit. That’s good to college, and a few cases, even in in college from what I hear. As a sidenote, this is why those spam sites specifically in medial hoaxes are so common. They must do fantastic business with people who can’t tell the difference between MayoClinic and a spam blog pushing colon cleanser.

    3. I wouldn’t discount passive media exposure. Parents having the TV on during dinner or when the kids are doing homework, radio in the car, etc. Most adults don’t realize how much media they consume since the lines blurred and people stopped counting long ago. Kids have it even harder since it’s becoming more common (multitasking) and it’s more accepted now than it was just a decade ago. I remember a college suite mate telling me he never watched TV. He however knew exactly what happened on various TV shows, could quote sitcoms, knew what happened in the game the night before etc. He just didn’t count for example a TV on at a friends as “watching” since it was a background thing. He wasn’t sitting in front of the TV without distraction. That’s like a vegetarian who eats everything but prime rib. I know I never turned on the TV news as a kid, but that’s how I learned most of what was going on in the world.

    4. I suspect your not in a poor inner city neighborhood, so at least one if not both parents work, and most homes have internet access. Therefore 30-50% of those kids are on Facebook. I’d actually say more, but I’ll play it conservative. They just aren’t going to tell a parent who knows their parents. They are kids, not fools. 17% statistically are on with parental consent (,2817,2385102,00.asp). You can bet much more are on with parents unaware. By 8th grade 50% have had a drink and 20% have been drunk ( Signing up for a Facebook account is easier than coming home drunk. Especially with smart phones, and computers everywhere. Bypassing school filters is trivial (kids do it constantly if you look at referrer logs you see some evidence of it).

    That said, this is the future, and what we will be working with. Work ethic wise, and value on accuracy. Authoritative information or accurate information is clearly decreasing in importance in both the academic and media world. It’s no longer about being right and accurate but being fast, discoverable and entertaining. Meanwhile people complain about the death of cursive writing. I’d say there’s much more to worry about.

  2. esd714 Says:

    Great points Robert, and thank you for reading and contributing.

    I know the studies on email well (as I know you do). What struck me about the statement in class was the comment-no one reads email anyway. That was an insightful comment, and I know with my kids-my younger especially (and this was her class) email is an afterthought because she and her friends are so connected in other days-its irrelevant.

    These kids are not on Facebook-I would say your 50% is too high for third grade. I would say Facebook penetration is closer to 25%. Again what struck me was that no one even mentioned it-and there are kids in the class I know with older siblings on Facebook and parents on Facebook-it was not even a consideration.

    As a content person first and foremost, I lament the loss of definitive voice-but I also think as this “new age” of information rages, the definitive voice comes back. I think your company, my clients etc are still trying to find a way to find that definitive voice that resonates with Gens Y and Z.

  3. Robert Accettura Says:

    Regarding email, that’s my point. There’s no need for it it for anything other than authentication in their lives Everyone in their world is on the same schedule, timezone, platform and is brief. IM/text is faster. However those mediums don’t scale to the adult world. For one brevity isn’t always allowed, and secondly volume. I get more than 1 email a minute, good luck dealing with that as SMS or tweets like some “experts” think will happen in 18 months. Thirdly cost. I pretty regularly interact with people on 6 continents. Can you imagine the SMS bill? Not to mention when timezones come into play.

    25% sounds like denial 😉 Just like most parents think their college age child doesn’t drink, even those who went to college themselves. Facebook is the easiest parental rule violation for a child that age to get away with (just sign up at a friends house, library, etc). I’d also argue it’s the most benign. Bullying online is largely (likely always) a continuation of school. If it’s a problem in one place, it’s a problem in another. The blame on Facebook is unfounded and scapegoating. Regarding predators, IIRC well over 90% of children molested knew their attacker prior, it’s generally a parent (IIRC most common), close relative, teacher, coach, neighbor, clergy, etc. And those attacks are generally thought to be _vastly_ under reported (telling that daddy touched you is hard and might upset mommy). Odds of a child being picked out online, found in real life, traveling to that childs location (the internet is more than your town), abducted and abused are vastly smaller than most think. I recall someone writing on the topic “your kid isn’t that cute”.

    I’d argue that any kid properly taught to not put detailed personal info out there, not send naked pics, avoid strangers, know people may not be who they claim, and realize mom/dad may audit at any time is going to be fine. Keep a closer eye on their teacher or soccer coach. That’s the big risk.

    Just like people fear shark attacks when more people die driving to the beach than from sharks in the US. Public perception though is driving is safe and beaches are dangerous. But nobody talks about the risks of driving to the beach. Shore points have tons of alcohol related crashes (Jersey Shore!)

    But there are books written on paranoia, media hyped risk, and statistics like that. For this respect, I feel bad for Facebook. They get hyped as much more of a *danger* than they really are.

  4. esd714 Says:

    You make a very fair point on email, however as someone who also manages an email a minute – its not an effective means of communication and certainly fails as collaboration. Email to me has become the modern day equivalent of a paper trail for CYA. In rare cases is it even a business tool.

    SMS is probably not the answer-frankly I get too many text messages too. There has to be a middle solution, that actually works and is effective.

    If we were talking about my oder daughter (5th grade) I would buy into the 50% number on FB. But third grade, you may be over-estimating the audience. What would be interesting, and unfortunately the school year is too close to over would be to go into the 5th grade class and do a similar exercise. I wonder where Facebook and Twitter would end up on the list.

    As a parent, I teach my kids responsibility on all of the sites they go to (although to date I still have not caved on Facebook).

  5. Robert Says:

    Email does work. If you use it right. Filters, read the subject/sender first, keep organized. Find a client that works for your needs (often unless your needs are basic it’s not webmail, even today in 2011).

    A successor to email will never be written because of patent law and intellectual property lawsuits and ambiguity today. It’s likely legally not possible in the US. If invented overseas the complexity of bring it to the US will be too great. That’s the big shame. Email was a byproduct of academic research and some government work (it was more academic by 1982 when RFC822 was written). Today, that would have been an incubator startup with full intellectual rights reserved. One vendor, one service, fully integrated. The internet absolutely would not exist as we know it had it shifted timeframe about 10 years later. Even today HTML5 is crippled by patent fighting (H.264 is a legal nightmare). Two influential parties in the HTML5 WG have a financial interest in it. Instead could only define the video tag as referencing a video resource. Imagine if email couldn’t define a text format, only “data” because ASCII or UTF-8 had licensing issues.

    There are many email clients used by millions of people and many different mail server software used by many organizations. That’s how email matured. Since nobody owns it, it was free to evolve and grow. You can host it yourself, or trust someone else. That flexibility created adoption. You can even change your host/software without loosing your address if you own a domain. Your data, your rules. That led to spam (nobody imagined abuse in 1982), but more modern proposals for replacements build trust into the design. It was short sightedness and unexpected success that lead to that problem. Why would a researcher send penis enlargement ads to a doctoral candidate?

    A modern day example of a failed attempt is XMPP/Jabber. Facebook and Google both implement it behind their chat services, but it’s had lots of trouble catching on. AOL also supports it. All quietly suppress it. Nobody full federates their IM service fully. Nobody really wants all their users to talk to people from all other services. Only expand enough to keep everyone from leaving. If you run your own XMPP service it’s largely useless to communicate with anyone other than Google Talk with appropriate permissions (disabled by default in google apps iirc).

    Unfortunately we won’t have alternatives not owned by one company like Facebook, or big telco until we redo patent laws, and there are many companies who will invest billions to prevent that from ever being an active discussion in congress.

    That said, more innovation would be good for all of us in the long term.

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