Tuesday, July 22, 2008

2008 YPulse National Mashup Recap

Last week's 2nd annual YPulse National Mashup was lots of fun, if the schwag pictured above is any indication. Lots of fun folks, pop culture tidbits, and fantastic discussions. There was a ton to distill and I've already written two bite-sized summaries on Spinning Indie about Teen Music Trends and the Go-Gos and MC Hammer, Chess and Hip Hop.

Similar to last year's Mashup, I was struck by the rapid changes in technology over the course of a year. During the conference, attendees were glued to laptops, Blackberries, and iPhones. Secondary conversations took place on Twitter (as Mortified's Dave Nadelburg pointed out, the youthful act of "passing notes is now done through Twitter"), in the YPulse chat room on Meebo, and through blog comments. I spied one young attendee toggling between LinkedIn, Flickr, and Twitter as he listened to a panelist and indeed, we heard much about all of these social networking tools.

In terms of mobile, the speaker from Blyk pointed out that people say they'd rather leave their wallet at home than their mobile phone and Mei Lin Ng from mig33 said that for many young people, first access to the Internet and email has been via mobile devices. Jacqueline Lane from research group Teen Eyes told us that teens typically send between 50 and 70 text messages a day.

Many have summarized this conference already, so I'm just going to focus this post on my favorite tidbits from the Mashup.

1) American Teen is Required Viewing

American Teen: Attendees were able to catch the premiere of this amazing documentary about teens at an Indiana high school. It was artfully done and did a great job of capturing how teen life today is different from the days before mobile phones, digital cameras and the Internet. Harassment takes on a whole new level with these tools. Most of the stars of the film were on hand to answer questions afterwards, although the break-out star Hannah was unfortunately unable to attend.

2) 100 Young Americans is Required Reading

100 Young Americans: The author of the book 100 Young Americans, Michael Franzini, gave an excellent presentation about his project of interviewing 100 young people from all over the country. The book attempted to provide portraits of all types of teens and young adults, encompassing a wide range of subcultures. Franzini said that there is "an unprecedented lack of understanding of teens by parents and young adults" and blames it on the "biggest generation gap in 50 years," which he says is mainly due to technology.

3) Technology Has Changed Teen/Parent Communication

Because of technology, teens and parents have both more ways to communicate with each other AND more buffers and barriers to communication. Speakers at the YPulse Mashup addressed both sides of this issue.

John Poisson, CEO of Tiny Pictures talked about Radar, a real-time photo sharing service. He mentioned that in their community, young people are sharing photos with family members and parents and that some send parents "photo alibis" when they are away from home. Pretty ingenuous. Similarly, during the "Casual Games" panel, Min Kim of Nexon said that in Korea parents often play online games using their kids' accounts while they're in school in order to help get them to the next level, thereby making the kids "heroes" to their school pals. Others added that many kids and parents play online games to bridge the miles and communicate when a parent is out of town.

It was a bit more controversial when Stephen Saiz from Disney's mobile division said that young people "don't want to communicate with parents directly." I hope he didn't really mean that kids don't want to talk to their own parents. I've certainly heard before that kids do not want to talk to other kids' parents. It's been pointed out that back in the day one had to deal with the gatekeeper parent on the phone, but that now kids are able to bypass that by texting, IMing, or by calling on personal cell phones.

Michael Franzini also acknowledged that there is less parental control today than during Generation X's childhood (he mentioned the example of Gen Xers having to call friends on their parent's landlines, so parents were more aware of friends, etc.). Stemming from this, he said there is more difficulty today with teen/parent communication and based on his presentation, that may in large part be due to technology.

Nikol Hasler and Guy Clark discussed their humor-based "Midwest Teen Sex Show, " an online show where teens can get information about sex and sexuality. They've received very positive feedback from parents and said that that their online episodes can be conversation starters for parents and teens who typically have a hard time discussing issues surrounding sexuality. As with all of these examples, there's an important reminder for parents to not fear new technology. As Linda Burch from Common Sense Media argued during the "Cyberbullying" panel, parents really need to "...understand...kids' media and embrace it."

4) Online World IS the World for Teens

Don't underestimate teens' online experiences, as they are an integral part of their lives. They've grown up with technology and take it for granted. Adults may think about "going online," but for teens, the online world is just as real as the offline world. Online boyfriends and girlfriends are just as real as offline love interests for many. During the fabulous "Are Girls the New Geeks" panel, Ashley Qualls of Whateverlife addressed this generational difference when she pointed out that the term "geek is almost outdated..." For older folks computer whizzes may have been ostracized, but today, being tech savvy is normal and necessary. According to Ashley, "the Internet is our new lives."

5) Teens may not be Watching TV on TV, But It's Still TV

I participated in a great user-generated lunchtime discussion about television. Among the many interesting folks at my table were staff from BBC, Disney, the Kaiser Family Foundation, Saatchi and Saatchi Advertising, and Youth Intelligence. Someone at the table mentioned that teens like to say that they don't own a television or watch TV, but at the same time they have no qualms about viewing TV on iTunes. This may be part of the reason why TV execs are so perplexed by the amazing popularity and buzz around the low-rated "Gossip Girl."

At the table we talked about the relationship between online and offline TV content, including examples of shows like "Quarterlife," which generated buzz online and was then moved to network television, only to fail miserably (and now is an online community). Additionally, there have been online shows like Mark Burnett's reality show "Gold Rush" and the upcoming ABC Family documentary series Plain White T's Meet Me in California (premiering July 30th). Network TV shows are also creating vibrant online communities, such as the ABC Family show "Greek" and its "Virtual Rush" site full of contests and social networking tools. People at the table agreed that "Lost" has one of the best companion sites.

6) MTV is Still Relevant -- Especially Come Election Time

It was great to hear from MTV and to be reminded that they've been very involved in elections and social causes for years and years. According to Ian Rowe of MTV, "Since 1992...we've played a huge role...demonstrating that young people...can be a force [in elections]." Their goal this year is to get 30 million young people to vote. Right now they have a project called Street Team '08, where they've hired 51 citizen journalists from all over the country to cover local and national issues relevant to young people in every state.

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