Keeping an Eye on Your Teenagers (for New Product Features and Ideas)

Mark Hevrdejs
Written by Mark Hevrdejs
on February 15, 2012

In thinking about the future direction of information products, I find it has become increasingly important to keep an eye on how kids are interacting with the web and their friends. Their evolving expectations around software, information sharing and network participation are shaping the way they will view current software solutions by the time they become young professionals hitting the workforce. I, for one, am constantly learning new things from my resident digital natives and their friends who continue to teach me about new ways to use the web and interact with their world on an almost daily basis. The winter school break last month gave me plenty of time to observe their new “workflows” and a short list of areas I will explore further. In the meantime though, there are two things I noticed around learning and sharing that have implications for those of us who design and develop software solutions.

YouTube has Become a Primary Source of Learning
Through my kids point of view, I have discovered YouTube is much more than an infinite repository of wacky pet videos, rather it is becoming a legitimate first place to go if you need to know how to learn something new. Watching my kids attempt to master new things, they and their friends have developed a knee jerk use of YouTube as the place to go when they need to learn something new. There is an expectation that anything they want to learn how to do should be in YouTube somewhere whether it’s how to play a popular a sax solo, how to beat a tough video game level, or, god forbid, additional explanations on some of their homework topics.

The implications for future professional software and courseware product design is clear. There will be an increasing expectation that all things worth learning must have a 3-5 minute video explaining them. A corollary expectation that those of us who are trying to teach or train them on something better have video that is indexed in a manner that allows the user to effectively surface when keywords or a question is entered into the search engine.

Facebook is Helping Everyone Learn to Share More
Recent Facebook features like Open Graph and Timeline appear to have greater popularity with teens. This is no surprise as teenagers as a group are much more willing to share information about their lives including favorite songs, brands and other things, as well as their activities and even location data. Teens share information both explicitly and implicitly in interacting with various web applications without the same reservations as older user groups. The increased openness to sharing, beyond photos or comments, makes concepts such as Facebook’s new Open Graph particularly appealing for them as it is now easier to see what their friends are up to across the Internet. Through its real-time Ticker feed, users can now see what articles their friends are reading, what music they are listening to and so on.

Similarly the implication on product design is that this evolving increased acceptance of sharing can be further developed and exploited. On the surface incorporating sharing of ideas and passive and active information into product and content strategy can translate into more engagement by current users, and equally importantly, encourage them to promote the product to their friends. The expectation of increased sharing that is being cultivated in today’s teenagers may eventually allow designers to consider additional features providing users with feedback on the usage, mastery and experiences that can be effectively shared and incorporated for purposes of professional validation as much as satisfying consumer product expectations that may bleed over to the professional environment.

Given the pervasiveness of Facebook and the lifelong training that the next generation of professionals are going thru with this “tool”, software developers will need to look at it in the same way they have looked to Microsoft as a standard setter. For example, professional software may be designed to profile accomplishments and activities in Timeline and Open Graph to share an increasing amount of users behavior to highlight and promote product further thru social media and to stimulate intrinsic motivation to build on product competency as well.

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  1. Rosalie Donlon on at

    Great article with insightful observations, Mark. The use of YouTube also highlights the trend toward visual learning rather than learning from the written word. I can see increased sharing of information but in a more impersonal way than sitting down in a room to review a document. Two people can watch the same YouTube video in different locations and share thoughts about it via a live chat, but they may not have any more extensive interaction or collaboration. The college student at my house would rather text or chat via Facebook than have a telephone conversation or write a lengthy e-mail.

  2. Mark Hevrdejs on at

    Thanks Rosalie. I certainly agree that visual learning is on the rise. As to whether the interaction with video will tend to be passive as you suggest or if it becomes more active over time, I believe it still will be more a function of the underlying content of the video than a function of any broader change in user behaviors or attitudes related to online video.

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