From SXSW: What Teens Want Online & On Their Phones


This was a panel hosted by Anastasia Goodstein of Ypulse about what teens are looking for when they go online and use their mobile phones. The panel consisted of real, human teenagers (and tweens).

Interesting insights from the panel (and remember, it's a small focus group we're dealing with here)…

* is one of their favorite sites (thank goodness teens are still reading books).

* MySpace & Facebook are still hot. They communicate with siblings — NOT parents. MySpace has some catching up to do with 'open apps'. Hi-5 came up as well. They help meet them meet people from their school that they may not already know. One of the girls on the panel was 12, but she said she was 16 on MySpace. One of the guys was 99 years old. More of them have MySpace accounts than Facebook accounts.

* Digg keeps them updated. Interestingly enough, they consider it a NEWS site to help keep them up with news of the day. That makes me nervous, personally.

* Sites like Purevolume and Mixtape websites helped them discover new and old music. Music is a huge part of their lives.

* EvERY guy on the panel is a gamer.

* isn't deep enough for one of the girls on the panel.

* Runescape, a MMORPG, was also discussed.

* They hate the experience interrupting ads. Especially pop-ups/unders and pre-roll and mid-roll. One of them goes to to watch videos, but all he sees are Miller Beer ads (that's not good).

* But they do accept that advertisements are necessary. They just don't want it slowing down their computers, interrupting their experience, or slowing down the load of the page.

* They are starting to trim their MySpace friend lists. They are also concerned about MySpace's new changes — or any changes. They think that MySpace thinks they are more important to their lives than it really is.

* They use email to register for sites and for school assignments. But barely ever for social communication.

* One of the girls eloquently stated that it necessary for teens to understand how to 'type' — not just use LOL, TTYL, or any other txt-speak.

* They barely ever use IM anymore. This was almost universally agreed upon.

* Texting on mobile phones is very important. Many have unlimited texting plans. They don't have internet plans — way too expensive. They do play casual games on the phones. If they have a camera phone, they use it a lot.

* None of them watch videos on their phones.

* They couldn't live without their phones.

* They don't really like virtual worlds — high schoolers say they don't have time for it. One used to use Zwinky (man, this site is getting trashed by the girls on this panel), but don't like it anymore — she didn't like when people asked for personal information. They guys are turned off a bit by the pay-to-play MMORPGs. One girl mentioned they play around with their Yahoo! Avatar. One of the girls was speaking about the time she used to spend on (the cable network) in message boards and chat rooms around their shows, like DeGrassi.

* Only one member of the panel made a video that was entered into an advertiser-supported contest. But many do not have the hardware. But they do like the concept. They like having a voice. They like brands 'respecting' their opinions.

* Humor or alternate (not-dry) angles really grab their attention.

* NO ONE goes to the regular news sites (, NY, etc.)

* Social causes are really important to these kids. Especially ones that they can take actions to help with. Easy and fun things to do to help are best. Online efforts really do get them to pay attention. One example used was

* They do watch online video. Even from other cultures. Especially Japanese (i.e. Veoh was brought up quite often. Yes. More often than YouTube, even.

* When they like a show on TV, they interact with all of its online elements. They miss their shows a lot, and catch them online when they can. They all love CSI. That's a surprise.

* They want ads on their sites to be contextually relevant.

* Ad agency reps are getting up here and asking these kids if they visit brand microsites or click on ads. Shouldn't they know this before they go out and spend their clients' money trying to reach them?

* They love flash games like the ones found at and NewGrounds and AlbinoBlackSheep.

* There are teens in the audience asking questions about the teens' behavior on the panel (like, 'How do you make social plans more often? Online or in person/phone?'). It's so 'meta'. BTW, the answer is that they probably will use the phone. It's more time sensitive. And a better way to maintain a friendship. By the way, that dynamic is what I love about this conference. It's not just agency folks and marketers and publishers. It's real people interested in this stuff.

Great panel, Anastasia.


  1. Fascinating insights – thanks for the recap. (And here I was thinking I so cool and in touch with the younger generation when I IM. Not so much.)

  2. This is a great summary of this subject. I have long wondered what this age group is into. I am surprised to hear that IM is OUT and that VEOH was brought up more in discussion than youtube. I am so jealous of everyone in Austin. I will soooooo be there next year.

  3. that made me feel old.
    some interesting stuff in that post. definitely more insightful than an @plan pull on the demo. haha.
    DITTO on the IM and VEOH mentions. i have a little brother that’s a freshman in college and he lives and breathes on IM and gets all his video through bittorrent. the panel kids are 2 or 3 generations away from where he is…
    SXSW sounds a lot like FOE @ MIT. it’s VERY refreshing to not be completely surrounded by admen during a conference.

  4. Amazing how fast IM’ing seems to have come and gone. I wonder if this is age-specific as most of my friends in their 20′s-30′s are still using IM a lot.

  5. @nancy: It’s certainly not gospel. And BTW, these teens all came from gifted/tech high schools. This panel certainly had a skew. But it did get much of the audience to shake off some archaic pre-conceived notions about kids’ activities online.

  6. Okay, can we not take this as Gospel just cause it comes from the mouth of (some) tweens on parade? IMs for this age group? not so much (duh) but once they move into the work world, im’s am much less obvious then cell texting (at least in the world of current technology). Harder to do, say, a conference call with a client and twitter your snark. But things change quickly, so just saying. Just because a 13 year old says it (now), doesn’t make it so. The joy of the age