By Douglas Bell
Today is the end of Lorelle’s first month of celebrating two years of WordPress.com and Lorelle on WordPress, and I really want to say congratulations to her.
However, while this past month has had many articles on blog writing, SEO, web design, blogging personally and for profit, and of course, a number of posts from Daniel Brusilovsky and I about podcasting (and expect one or two more from me in September about podcasting), there hasn’t really been any posts here talking about blogging as a teenager.
Podcasting may be a major part of my cup of tea on the internet, but as a blogger for almost 2 and a half years, and a full time teenager (granted, not a “normal” teenager, as my friends will tell you), I thought it would be a good idea to shed some light on the online blogging and social networking revolution…from a teenager’s perspective.
Kids These Days and Their Newfangled Toys
Okay, that heading may be an occasional stereotype some adults may say about the growing wave of technology that kids are getting into, but it’s true. I look around my school campus today, and so many of the sights that I see are things that I wouldn’t even imagine seeing on a school campus five years ago.
Practically everyone has a cell phone, and can be seen taking pictures with them (not to mention hearing them go off in class). iPod usage became such an issue that last year my school issued a new set of rules, one of which specifically mentioned iPods. Signs in the computer lab explicitly state that “MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube” aren’t allowed in there–names which were relatively unheard of two or three years ago. I haven’t seen any iPhones at school yet, but after their price drops within a few years, I’ll probably see them all over as well.
More and more these days, when groups need someone to setup computers or design websites, you’ll see students volunteering to do the work. (I know I’m guilty of that!) These are a few signs of a plain fact of the 21st century: when new technology comes out, teenagers will be the first ones to hop on board.
Social Networking: The New After-School Meetups
Where does Web 2.0 take these teenagers? The name of the game is “social networking.”
The originating social networking standard was MySpace, the up-and-coming challenger is Facebook, and the rookie is a relatively new site called Virb. Although not a “social networking” site in the traditional sense of the term (obviously a Web 2.0 site, though), YouTube is also now a popular site among teenagers.
MySpace was the originating member of this category, but it has its share of criticism. Topping the list of MySpace’s issues is its design. By allowing almost infinite control over the design of its user’s “MySpace pages”, some teenagers who have never made a website in their life and have no idea about standard conventions for actually making an accessible website design a page in such god-awful colors with music playing in the background, which is enough to make those of us with some web design common sense physically ill.
Unfortunately, MySpace has become home to many online predators, who use the service to start friendships with unsuspecting teenagers, planning to meet each other somewhere, causing trouble. If you’ve seen Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator” series, you’ll know that MySpace is often a star of the show. Because of this, MySpace’s popularity is starting to decline as its runner up gains momentum.
That runner up is Facebook, a newer site which takes advantage of many of the social networking features of MySpace, but eliminates many of MySpace’s disadvantages. For one thing, Facebook maintains control over the look and feel of pages, eliminating that horrible design stuff.
Facebook also markets itself as a way to connect with your friends: when you join, if you are a high-school aged teenager, you’re asked to select your school and what year you will graduate. This adds you to a “network” of members from your school, whom you can add as friends. This tends to make Facebook seen a bit better managed and a bit more secure–and Facebook has saved my neck a few times so that I can easily contact my friends when I forget a homework assignment or something.
What has actually prompted Facebook to pick up steam was that it recently opened up an API for anyone to write “Applications” to add additional functionality to your Facebook profile. Now, members can find all kinds of applications, from some that feature integration with existing Web 2.0 sites like Twitter, Digg, and even WordPress.com, to others which can be as silly as the “SuperPoke!” application.
Regardless whether or not teenagers use these services, they are like blogs in a way, but not under the traditional style of blogging in how closely they interact with friends. Perhaps this is why I’m still figuring out some of the quirks of these services, and why I actually prefer having my own blog…
Blogging: A DIY Social Network
I am a latecomer to these social networking sites, having never personally used MySpace, and only joining Facebook about 2 months ago. However, I’ve been maintaining my blog, Webmacster87.info continuously for almost the last year, and intermittently since early 2005. In addition, I’ve worked with a number of friends, both local and distant, who also have had fairly successful blogs.
Quite frankly, a teen blogger is someone who really can provide a unique point of view on various subjects because our world these days is so much different from the world of adults.
If you’re an adult reading this, think back to when you were a teenager in high school, and you’ll quickly get that back then, you probably wouldn’t even imagine the kinds of things that teenagers today are doing, both in school, online, and generally in life.
It’s for this reason that I really enjoy reading the personal blogs of teenagers who write them, because they really bring a fresh perspective to the news of our time, and that’s certainly one of the goals behind my blog as well.
I actually had someone review my blog on theirs, and referenced some of my articles reacting to the iPhone and other Apple announcements, and he credited me with “shaking off Steve Jobs’ Reality Distortion Field and looking at the facts”, something that “no other man can do”. I felt really proud to read that review, because it meant that I was accomplishing my goal–not as an Apple-basher, but as someone who actually took the time to think and post for himself during a time when many members of the media were acting like die-hard Apple fanboys during the iPhone launch.
One of my strongest beliefs is that the opinions of students are the most valuable opinions of society, because we are the adults of the future. Currently, we are the ones affected by policies, or new technology, etc., but in the future, we will be the creators of these things.
I use my personal blog to do all sorts of things: from pointing out stuff on the web that I think is cool, to writing long articles expressing my opinion on things, to posting rants about the craziness that I endure at school. It’s my opinion, and my blog is the tool that I use to make my opinions heard, and sometimes, it just feels good to get my feelings out there on the web.
Twitter: Tweet Like a Bird, Update Like a Blog
The Web 2.0 phenomenon of the beginning of 2007 was the growth of the live updating website, Twitter. At first, many people (myself included) were skeptical about a site that just asks you to post about “What are you doing?”, but now, 2300 tweets later, I’m hooked, as are many others. And really, it fits right into the social networking puzzle because the idea behind the phenomenon is that friends want to keep constant tabs on each other.
This is why sites like MySpace and Facebook are so popular, because of the close connection between friends–and Twitter adds to that by now making it really easy to quickly and frequently post about things you’re doing, or links to things you’ve seen around the web, or even chatting with others through Twitter by using the @twitteruser speak. In fact, this makes Twitter a very nice microblogging platform, which I think helps significantly reduce the need for asides on blogs. Although Twitter isn’t quite up there with the likes of MySpace and Facebook, it’s continuing to see growth. If it can hook me, it can hook anybody!
YouTube is better than MyTube
Finally, one of the latest sites that many teens are taking advantage of is YouTube. Similar to podcasting, YouTube is a very revolutionary platform that allows anyone, from the big television networks to the little guy with a webcam on his computer, to create and publish their very own video clips that anyone can see with a web browser (and Adobe Flash Player).
More and more teenagers are starting to latch onto this service as a way to watch and upload video clips and be able to share them with friends.
I just searched for the name of my high school on YouTube, which returned 86 items of things from assignments to club events to rallies to football games–and this doesn’t even include many of the kids who post videos that have nothing to do with the school.
Teens can then use their social networking sites or their blog to spread the word about their video to their friends. Indeed, YouTube opens up the door to yet another way for teens to express themselves, their feelings, and their opinions online.
Don’t Put Yourself Too Far Out There
However, one important thing to note about teenagers and the Web 2.0 revolution is that this is the internet, which means that anything you put out on the web can be seen by anyone. Even I have to remind myself of that from time to time.
If you are a parent of a teenager who uses the internet frequently, it is your responsibility to keep tabs on your kid to make sure that they aren’t doing anything inappropriate online and make sure they understand the limits and the dangers.
However, I personally don’t approve of the use of filtering software and things of that nature, because in my experience filtering software typically blocks the wrong kind of content, and is very easy for kids to learn how to get around. It is okay to let teenagers take advantage of the Web 2.0, so long as they do it responsibly and safely.
If you’re a teen, even if you’re parents don’t have any restrictions on your internet usage, you still need to take responsibility for yourself online. Keep your contact info private unless you feel really safe putting it out there. Many of the above social networking sites include an option to only share your info with friends that you approve, which you may consider using. Also, be wary of anyone you meet online unless you’re positive that they are one of your friends from school or something like that, because you don’t want to end up as the next statistic as someone who cyberdated with someone and got raped.
It’s not a nice thought to think about, but it is reality, and by taking a few precautions for yourself and using wise judgment, you can protect yourself from that possibility and have fun online.
Pulling it All Together
In the 21st century, the internet is a rapidly changing place, and teenagers tend to be the group that is ahead of the curve, so to speak. And by no means is there anything wrong with that. Unconceivable in the high school years of the previous generation, the internet is a valuable place for you to connect with friends outside of school, or else to just create a special place of your own on the internet to store your thoughts and opinions.
As a teenager, you bring a unique perspective to the blogosphere, and I encourage you to join in. Become the next voice on the internet, and offer your opinions to the world.
Besides being the inventor of the fictional phenomenon of deep-fried pickle hearts, Douglas Bell is a junior in high school who designs websites as a hobby for fun and for profit. He is the producer and co-host of the podcasts PreviewCast and phpBB Weekly. He is also the mastermind behind his personal blog, Webmacster87.info.