Youth Insights from Mobile Heroes Conference

On December 7th, I took a panel of 16-18 year olds to a conference all about Mobile, called Heroes of the Mobile Screen at the National Film Theatre, to give feedback to 5 product pitches for new digital services.

Before you go any further, please note that I have designed the Travelling Teen Panel to give businesses a quick  “toe-dip” into youth opinion.  As the panel is only 6 strong, this does not reflect the youth market in a broad sense so the statements I make below are in the context of this panel only.

My intention is for the sessions to be both insightful and entertaining.  Going by the twittersphere surrounding each show, I am pleased to say I am confident that I deliver both.  Feedback from the parents, teachers and teens who have taken part in the sessions strongly indicates that I am also meeting my further objective, which is to create relevant and engaging learning experiences for young people.

As my Panels continue to travel, I will continue to write, so thanks for dropping by and I hope to see you again!

Here are the pre-task presentations that each of the panellists made to show people, places and things that they are into.

Alex, 17, from Park House state school, Newbury

Camilla, 16, from Park House state school, Newbury

Shivz, 18, from Rising Tide music and enterprise charity, Hackney

Rebecca, 17, Rising Tide music and enterprise charity, Hackney

Nic, 18, from King Alfred private school, North London

Rachel, 17, from King Alfred private school, North London

The Presenters had 4 minutes each to present their offering and then received feedback and questions from the panel after each presentation.

Flook – An iPhone app that lets you discover and share the world around you by simply swiping through a stream of nearby flook cards. With flook’s innovative new user interface, local discovery is just as easy as swiping through your photo library. Cards have a full-screen photo and some text and they’re also geo-located – placed at a specific location for you to find when you’re nearby. Over time, flook learns which cards people like most, and then shows them to you first. Flook also offers a point system for regular use.

Live Talkback – Live Talkback is used by businesses to enable audiences to vote via the web, mobile phones (iPhone and Nokia) and TV screens on live events. This service lets people find out what is going on in their area and vote on it.

payByMobile – Shop online and pay by texting from your mobile. Users load credit on to their new mobile wallet at most places that offer prepay top up. Users select the new paybyMobile option at the online check out and text the unique code to 51525. It works on every mobile phone, both contract and pre-pay, and is free to the end-user.

Psonar – A music service where you can listen, discover, buy and share your music knowing that it is all backed up. It offers a PC and mobile interface and will let you play your music wherever you want to (iPod, phone, laptop etc).

Animentals by Fluid Pixel Studios – An online and mobile game for Nokia phones where you play for a week to rehabilitate an “Animentals” cyber-pet. Users pay £3.00 to download the game to their mobile.

The Key Insights

1. “We already have something that does this for us”

  • LiveTalkback – reference was made to Facebook
  • Psonar – reference was made to iTunes plus they already have the ability to move music around by using your USB in to your laptop where their music is stored. One panellist commented that Spotify already lets you put your music on your iPhone or iPod. While one user liked the idea because they have merged the music parts of MySpace and iTunes, they felt that it would be very difficult for them to take on iTunes as it is already very advanced and has lots of customers.
  • Animentals – reference was made to other cyper-pets e.g. on Facebook
  • Flook – reference was made to Flickr and Facebook (although the location-based mobile access is not covered by those existing offerings)
  • payByMobile – some of the users felt that they already had payment methods that worked for them; but bear in mind these are older teens that have bank accounts. Also note that they did not liken it to anything that they already knew existed that enabled people to pay using their mobile for online purchases.
  • This overall view was challenged by one of the panellists who pointed out that not everyone wants to use the old service and they love to find new things.

2. Teens are sophisticated in their questions and observations

  • How do you make money? (to payByMobile where the retailer pays a fee for each transaction)
  • I wouldn’t particularly want someone to go through my music (Psonar)
  • Suggestion to Animentals that they targeted social network sites younger than Facebook
  • One panellist commented that the name “Live Talkback” sounds like an answer-phone service rather than a voting capability
  • Sounding like an older user(!), one panellist said that it would be nice to not have to fiddle about with pins and card numbers when presented with the ease of payByMobile.

3. Teens demand social and rich media capabilities

  • In response to Live Talkback – on Facebook, you can take the discussion further and interact with people on their responses – this was not obviously available on Live Talkback
  • One panellist commented that he liked Flook as it had all the social capabilities built in to further discussion with other users
  • Flook was also liked because they felt that teens took a lot of pictures and they liked the idea that this would turn teenagers in to the paparazzi when they saw celebrities
  • Facebook and iTunes were mentioned frequently as leaders in their field
  • They described a “basic” phone as one with a camera
  • It is a given that they all use MSN Messenger and some referenced their blackberry purchase was so that they could use the IM functionality. Interesting that they shorthanded Blackberry Messenger as “BBM”

4. Young people know how to get things for free and are very money-conscious

  • “Do you have to pay for it?” is a common question
  • One response to Animentals was that they can already play games for free online so they would not pay for it
  • Rebekah suggest that payByMobile offer an incentive to encourage her to use the service. (Different payment methods attract different processing charges to retailers, so this approach could be viable, as long as it is presented very cleanly in the user interface).
  • Shivz asked Psonar whether they are a legit version of Limewire
  • On mention of a point system from Flook, one panellist quizzed the presenter about what benefits she would get

5. Late teens see themselves as much older than the early teens and they want to be addressed differently

  • Many comments throughout were about how to target their age group and talk their language
  • Rachel loved payByMobile reflecting that she is a sophisticated consumer – she would use it for eBay purchases and also felt that it would be really useful for parents teaching their children how to manage their personal budget.
  • Animentals was universally considered too young for this group, although one panellist said he may play it if he was really bored.
  • Another panellist commented that she already had a pet and it was hard enough to keep her alive

6. Dispersed Mobile preferences

  • Concerns where raised where services were restricted to a particular mobile manufacturer or model
  • In the group, they all had different preferences – Alex has a Sony Ericsson W300i – “the only one probably that still works in the world!”;  Camilla has a simple Nokia but would like a T-Mobile Pulse;  Shivz wants to “…Keep it simple. I don’t like iPhone, I don’t like BlackBerry. It’s people like you who have those phones…” (addressing a “grown-up” audience of mobile and brand professionals); Rebekah likes her simple phone, but would get a smaller BlackBerry with a touchscreen if one came along;  Nic has a BlackBerry Bold that he got on an upgrade and Rachel also has a BlackBerry, which was originally bought for the “BBM”.

7. Safety and Bullying – This was raised as a question in the Q&A session

  • Generally, the panellists were not concerned over safety online, they were very comfortable about their ability to control their online privacy and understood the tools they had or needed to do this. This echoes their sophistication as per the point above.
  • Alex said that he tries to take non-embarrassing photos of himself and if he does, then it should be his call to publish it or not.
  • One user did wonder whether Flook could lead to online bullying through uploading of photos, but Flook assured that while they had been concerned about this, they had no reports of such behaviour to date. Flook also described the safety measures that they had and the panel understood and accepted the mechanisms.
  • They mentioned that on Facebook it is easy as when they publish only their friends can see.
  • They were all aware of the privacy settings that all the social networks offered Rebekah is busy using social media to promote her various music projects and tries to make posts about what she is doing rather than directly about her private life.

Flook was the most popular service amongst the panel.

Safety : Young People in Virtual Environments

Based on my experience working with virtual online community spaces for young people, I was asked to be on a panel at Professor Richard Bartle’s Protecting and Engaging Kids in Virtual Spaces Forum, October, 2009. Here are my thoughts from the event:

1. Useful stats about young people’s online usage
Marc Goodchilld from the BBC quoted some really useful stats from Childwise Report 2009. These stats relate to 5 – 16 year olds in the UK
• 87% go online
• 55% own computer
• 37% access in own room
• 33% of 9-10 year olds go online – that increases to 59% for the 11 – 12 year olds due mainly to them being driven online to do their homework.

2. Difficulties with engaging parents in the online safety of their children
The BBC children’s sites are one of the most popular sites in the UK and parents associate high levels of trust that it is safe and appropriate. However, there is evidence to suggest that many parents do not know what else their children are doing online. The Byron report suggests three areas for concern: inappropriate content; contact and conduct. There were some surprisingly low stats measuring parental concern around these areas. As “digital immigrants”, the parents simply do not have the time and in a lot of cases, the digital skills to be able to follow and monitor their children online.

There is a cry from many groups that parents should be educated to help their children understand what steps they should take to ensure that their children are safe online. There is a period of 8 – 10 years where these education programs are important as the next generation of parents will be digitally literate themselves – digital natives. There were some good examples of active education cited such as Sky who teach parents how to use pin locks when they install their services in the home.

As is the nature of technological innovation, there are continuous new developments that present both further ways to protect children online as well as further threats to child safety. For example, enabling live in game real time voice chat (through VoIP) presents moderation issues as it is both real time and difficult from a scalability point of view to support.

I was particularly concerned to hear about the “jigsaw effect” where it is easy to piece together what children have said in different message boards on different sites and for the unsavoury elements in society to build up quite a full picture of an individual.

3. Let’s engage young people to help us solve these safety issues
My passion is to engage users in designing solutions to the challenges that we face. Children are the digital natives – they understand what they do online better than the older generation that are making and implementing the policies. I talked about my tried and tested ways of engaging users that you can read about on the rest of my blog.

Tamara Littleton, who founded eModeration embraced these ideas around engaging users –
“The most crucial thing we can do to improve internet safety and enjoyment is education of the young users. Better than a purely didactic process which may be rejected by teenagers, is peer-to-peer leadership/mentoring, and input from the target group themselves as to what they want to learn and how it should be taught.”

Here is a picture of my panel – Kevin Holloway from Finesse Management, lil ol me and Tamara Littleton from eModeration.
New 357
Engaging users also in the implementation of safety education, for example, giving them jobs in the virtual environment to help self-police, also provides good experience for them to build up a CV style portfolio and from a business point of view, is likely to create more user loyalty from those involved. It echoes the e-bay model of self-policing taken to a younger audience.

My view was also supported by information from Marc Goodchild at the BBC, where he pointed out that children as young as 10 have developed the abilities to discern malicious behaviour and they are able to take the necessary steps that a publisher provides them to report the incident.

Oisin Lunny from Sulake that own Habbo talked about some great examples of campaigns where it became cool to participate and spread the word – such as their Childline campaign, where users proudly collected and wore their badges. With the younger sites, such as the BBC, it is easier to craft engaging sites where the real time elements can be limited as they theorise that the user experience is more about enjoying activities online, playing together that may not require users to be able to communicate with each other in a free text live format.

4. Be open, honest and give young people the respect of being savvy!
Having worked with many young people, I also reinforced the message that young people are savvy and should be given the respect of open and honest communication from the site publishers. Creativity is necessary in getting safety messages delivered. I have found time over that young people do not sit and read text, however, if messages can be integrated in to the game play, perhaps using existing reward structures within virtual environments to incentivise safe behaviour and good active policing then like the Childline campaign in Habbo, users will help publishers to get their message across. To my point about user engagement, Habbo have had great success from their “Idea Agency” where they launched a virtual ad agency in Habbo, setting users challenges on how best to run campaigns in the Habbo environment – designed by users.

5. Recognise the power of Virtual Environments for their educational properties
The other topic that I raised was that we should recognise the educational properties of virtual environments. Futurebrand in a report associated with Becta, identified four ways that engagement in virtual environments can be educational:

1. Virtual environments are a persuasive medium that can affect young people’s thinking providing positive opportunities to inform young people about important contemporary issues such as injustice and the consequences of ideological conflict.
2. The Constructionist theory is that children’s development takes place through participation in a social world and interaction with people, events and objects. These are ideal platforms for young people to try out ideas, make decision, communicate with others and explore or make new worlds. It is active and participative rather than passive and merely receptive.
3. They enable us to create environments for authentic activity –learning occurs most successfully when it take place in authentic contexts. For example, learn about a historical period by exploring and interacting in a virtual environment that has re-created it. They also have to learn to deal with many inputs and outputs at the same time, collaborate with other players to take risks and experience failure in a safe environment. Some sites allow learners to adopt the identities and practices of professional innovators in a variety of fields. These are also the sorts of skills that will equip the younger generation for the 21st century and their work lives.
4. Media Literacy learning is often talked about as a positive educational take out from engagement with virtual environments. The futurebrand report also frames this excellently, referring to
a). Critical Consumption
The ability of learners to be able to read and produce media – to understand the politics – how media are produced, for what purposes and to what effects – how media organisations operate, how audiences receive and respond to different media and how the exchange between media produces and consumers impacts on social relations and culture
b). Creative Production
Young people become the designers and creators of media. They learn by constructing media, and having to consider design, distribution, representation and audience. Media literacy is important across the board not just for those in media studies.