I was talking with a friend of mine today who is a senior at a technology-centered high school in California. Dylan Field and his friends are by no means representative of US teens but I always love his perspective on tech practices (in part cuz Dylan works for O’Reilly and really thinks deeply about these things). Noodling around, I asked him if many of his friends from his school used Twitter and his response is priceless:
Dylan: “as for twitter, we are totally not representative, but ya a lot of people use twitter. it’s funny because the way they are using it is not the way most do… they make private accounts and little sub-communities form. like cliques, basically. so they can post stuff they don’t want people on fb to see, since fb is everybody. it’s odd, because the way i see it get used with my friends is totally contradictory to what everyone is saying. people seem to think teens hate twitter because it’s totally public, but the converse is actually true. but it’s not everyone… probably 10-15% at most.”
As someone who has argued about the challenge of Twitter being public (to all who hold power over teens), I find this push-back to be extremely valuable. What Dylan is pointing out is that the issue is that Facebook is public (to everyone who matters) and Twitter can be private because of the combination of tools AND the fact that it’s not broadly popular.
My guess is that if Twitter does take off among teens and Dylan’s friends feel pressured to let peers and parents and everyone else follow them, the same problem will arise and Twitter will become public in the same sense as Facebook. This of course raises a critical question: will teens continue to be passionate about systems that become “public” (to all that matter) simply because there’s social pressure to connect to “everyone”?