Mobile Youth and Social Networks

danah boyd has been working for years on the life of youth and particular what role digital media plays for them. At last year’s Aspen Ideas Conference she made three statements that I found extra interesting (beyond my general respect for her work):

  • teenagers engage in emotional exchange with their peers, especially late at night. This is new because without (digital) media they couldn’t meet at these hours before as they were not allowed to go out so late.
  • they don’t need/want super-immersive online worlds for their friends (like 2nd World) but meet them in asynchronous online communities. Problem here is that you can’t connect from MySpace to Facebook.
  • best thing for them is to “take their friends along in their pocket“, i.e. on their mobile phone. But carriers wall their networks and services even heavier then online communities do and, in consequence, “you don’t see innovations happening in mobile” on the social network side.

And this is a sad thing. As you can see here and as we also found out by our own research, mobile communication has the potential to address exactly these wishes of young people. Already now they make use of the technology in maybe unexpected ways: from sending photos from the fitting room to check their new look with their peers to subtle ring tone patterns that inform friends about the success with dating the latest crush.

T-Mobile’s My Faves looks like a move into the right direction because it is open to “even landlines and other networks” — it seems to be a success in the US but is discontinued it in Europe (where “other networks” were only available in one of the options). It’s people who live in social networks and these networks are not determined by a certain web framework or carrier. If carriers want to respond to that they need to open up and get ready for it before the online communities do and take the lead completely.

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