Facebook's just Fine

“It turns out Facebook’s doing just fine with the kids these days — in fact, slightly more of the younger demographic reported using it regularly. But perhaps most impressive was Tumblr topping the list at #1, with 59% of respondents saying they used it regularly.”

Garry Tan, cofounder of Posterous, did a survey on Tenth Grade Tech Trends (via evan)

Seems like everyone is busy being shocked that kids still use Facebook. I was shocked by how high these statistics were too. But for a different reason: I’m not at all surprised kids use FB, but I’m shocked that they even realize they do.

Let’s try a little mind experiment. List the services that you think you use “regularly,” as defined by Garry Tan: “a few hours a week.” What are you listing? Seriously, stop and think about it for a second, “what services do you use regularly?” Done? Ok. You can keep reading then. Did you think of email? I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t (or if you did): but I’m far more inclined to believe that anyone under the age of 20 views Facebook way more as a utility than anything else. When you ask them what services they use, they may not even really think to mention FB, the way older folks might not think to mention email, or even the phone. I think this reason is less relevant to this *particular* case, as it seems that Garry provided FB as one of a multiple-choice answer. But it still may be relevant to many other of the “OMG KIDS DON’T USE FACEBOOK GUIZ!!1!” posts, so I thought I’d mention it (though, ugh, Internet people never mentioning methodologies ever). Ok, so, maybe you mentioned email, maybe you didn’t. I’m willing to bet you didn’t think of text messaging. It’s just not something we think of spending several hours a week doing. But, according to Wikipedia, the average US mobile subscriber sends 534 text messages a month. If we assume they spend about 20 seconds typing out a message on average, that works out to be 178 minutes. That’s not even including the time you spend reading texts you receive. So, one reason for not mentioning it is the cognitive availability of realizing how much time goes into these nano-communications, or the fact that Facebook may really be “the internet” or a distinguished enough “utility” for some users. But I’d also be curious to see how many FB users actually don’t even think of what they are doing as “using Facebook” when it comes to using FB Messenger or FB Chat (I’m less confident that you lot missed how often you used gchat in the above example, but I’m sure a few of you did). How would the answers look different if Garry had written an answer choice as: “Facebook (including Messenger and Chat)”? FB has become a utility, and utilities tend to fade into the background, especially for those who’ve always been accustomed to having a certain utility. This leaves aside context, also: when a teenager sees the question, “do you use Facebook a few hours a week?” pop up on a website, they’re also translating. It’s not just what they consider “using Facebook” to mean, but what they think some stodgy old publisher thinks “using Facebook” is: not playing Words with Friends or firing a few messages off from a phone, most likely the mental focus is all on the classic FB experience of scrolling through your newsfeed. Some other points from this HuffPo piece (which is pretty much in line with my own conversations with this age group):

Facebook is “the teenage version of email,” said danah boyd, an assistant researcher at New York University specializing in youth and social media. “What’s so interesting about Facebook is that it’s not interesting to [teens]. That’s a big challenge for Facebook — not because people won’t use it, but when they’re not passionate about it, you see a very different kind of user behavior than when someone is passionate about a service.”

Teens said they regularly use Facebook’s chat functionalities, yet save their best sharing for other sites. Creative status updates and personal musings are sent to Tumblr and Twitter, which allow users a degree of anonymity and the flexibility to connect with people who share their interests, rather than their location or homeroom.

As for the Tumblr bit, that doesn’t surprise me at all: Garry says, “Survata showed my question as a content survey-wall to people throughout the United States — respondents were slightly female skewed (60% vs. 40% dudes) — and they appeared on blogs and content providers like Hyperink.” I’d be unsurprised to learn that many 13-18 year olds spend little time beyond a few large sites (Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia). These aren’t the kids being hit by this particular “content wall.” In fact, the survey is probably further skewed because, while Survata doesn’t mention specific “partners,” I’m willing to bet that it’s not large publishers, but smaller, niche ones that would be more willing to experiment with a startup. And so you end up with a very skewed audience of 15-18 year olds. The ones that do venture beyond a few large sites are probably more intellectually curious, and a bit more alternative-minded than their peers: exactly the demographic that is attracted to Tumblr.

(I’m not even going to get started with reasons I don’t put a lot of faith into the piece that inspired Garry’s post, other than to say, leaving aside my doubts about well-constructed questions, holy fuck, *statistics*. Even assuming an approach geared towards a deeper dive (more like traditional ethnography/needfinding interviews), you still need at least a *few* points to compare.)

(via bijan)