Archive for May, 2007

The Evolving Nature of Youth and Media

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

Dr. Ellen Wartella, executive Vice Chancelor and Provost of the University of California at Riverside, and youth media expert, spoke in Boston recently at a conference put on by the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD). Ellen has been involved with many important studies regarding kids, young and old, and their media habits. During her presentation, Ellen discussed the ever expanding nature of media use by youth audiences citing three different studies that collectively span almost 100 years.

The first study presented was conducted in 1911 in New York City. 1,140 youths age 11 – 14 participated in the study and were found to be spending 4 to 5 hours a week watching movies at the nickelodeon. It’s worth pointing out that movies were the primary media format consumed at the time by younger audiences; Radio and television were not available yet, and magazines specifically targeting this demographic had not yet been discovered as they would be in later decades.

Next, Ellen referenced a study conducted in the 1930′s outside of New York City in Westchester County. 795 high school youths were asked to keep a diary of their media habits. The results of this study showed that this audience had an average of 7 hours of leisure time during the week on weekdays and 11 hours of leisure time averaged over the weekend. This group listened to the radio on average for almost 5 hours a week (4 hours and 40 minutes) and watched about 5 hours of movies per week. Collectively this group consumed about 10 hours of media a week, out of a total of 18 hours of leisure time within that week.

The latest study discussed was that of the Kaiser Family Foundation on Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year olds, published in 2005. More than 2,000 children were asked to keep diaries of their media habits. The results of this study found that this age group spends about 6.5 hours a day consuming media, primarily screened media, and of that, about 26% of this time is often spent using multiple media types at the same time. (Also surprising in this and related research at Kaiser which I discuss in a prior post that children ages 0 – 2 were found to be watching about 2 hours of screened media a day.) In another post I reference a 2007 NPD Group study that found kids ages 5 – 12 have about 6 hours of leisure time per day with about 14 hours per day over the weekend. While these two different studies were not conducted using the exact same age group, the research suggest about 45 hours of media consumption a week out of about 60 hours of leisure time a week.

If you would like to hear an audio recording of this entire presentation where Dr. Wartella touches on other aspects of media use, like the type of content viewed and food advertising to kids through media, click here.

Mapping the Learning Games Playing Field – A Serious Games Taxonomy

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

Later in the day after seeing technology expert Robin Raskin speak as mentioned in my prior post, I received news that Ben Sawyer, pioneer in the Serious Games movement and founder of the company Digital Mill, would be speaking at MIT. Little did I know the presentation he was about to deliver was a preview of new material for the upcoming USC Annenberg Workshop on Games for Learning.

Ben began the presentation with a very fitting poem by John Godfrey Saxe about six blind men who went to see an elephant. Each blind man found a part of the elephant; it’s sturdy side by one, a tusk by another, an ear by yet another, and so on. Each blind man thought they had come to understand the true meaning of what an elephant is. Each person was partially right about what they thought was an elephant, yet all of them were wrong in their understanding.

I found this poem helpful in describing my early frustration with Serious Games. I consider myself part of the learning games community; Yet, as I read through the serious games online posts and meet other community members outside of my space, like in corporate training or the military, I’ve asked myself many times, are we really working towards the same common goal? Do we see the same elephant? After hearing this poem I’ve felt a sense of deja-vu, having been in the same place maybe fifteen years prior as multimedia and the interactive industry tried to define itself as a new business worth pursuing. Now that we can better classify different parts of that earlier beast, and see and understand the whole as well as its parts, we begin the process again, unfolding this new chapter in the digital domain.

Ben unveiled his taxonomy of Serious Games, a matrix that attempts to define the different parts of this industry (Click to download an Excel copy of the Serious Games Taxonomy). When speaking with Ben after his presentation, he mentioned how this taxonomy is indeed a work in progress, that this information not only had a height and width, but a depth that’s not reflected here. In discussing this early version with others, a few holes and additional serious games classifications appear to be missing. None the less, this effort is an excellent first mapping of the field.

After seeing this Serious Games Taxonomy, I can more easily see where communication breakdown occurs. I can also see the differences and similarities of my own company in context to others. I think we can now begin to see the whole elephant and are on our way to more meaningful dialog about the differences between a trunk and a tail.

Serious Games Taxonomy

Observations with Kids and Popular Social Network Destinations

Monday, May 28th, 2007

Robin Raskin, featured columnist for Yahoo Tech and youth technology expert for many nationally syndicated newspapers and magazines, was recently in my area speaking about Internet safety and kids. There were about 300 people at the presentation. Half of the group were sixth graders (ages 11 – 12), the other half were parents. The event was held at a local university just outside the Boston area.

I’ve heard Robin speak many times about technology. Her latest presentation, as always, was great. She pointed out all kinds of Internet safety tips of benefit to both parent and child. Robin did not shy away from the tough topics to discuss with kids like online predators, scams, identity theft, and pornography. She offered some excellent advice about what kids and parents can do, both together and apart, to avoid being taken advantage of or exploited in this ever changing digital world.

One part of her presentation left me thinking long after its completion. It started when Robin asked the kids in the audience a few questions. The first was “How many “texters” do we have here in the audience?” (Or how many kids communicate with text via instant messaging or by cell phone?) Practically no parents raised their hands but more than 60% of the kids responded yes. This first question made it quite clear that computers and cell phones are common communication tools for both young and old, but each group uses these technologies to communicate in significantly different ways.

After the show-of-hands about texting, a couple more questions were offered. “How many of you use the social networking site Club Penguin?” Surprisingly, only about 8 hands went up in the audience. This question was followed up by “How many of you use Webkinz?” This time, only about four kids raised their hand.

In this day, it’s pretty hard not to know about these two successful social networking sites for kids. Club Penguin first came on the scene in 2005 and states that it’s an online service for kids ages 8 – 14 ( grades 2 – 8 ). Webkinz also started in 2005 and claims it’s target audience is for kids 6 – 13 ( grades K – 7 ). Social networking sites for kids are growing very fast in their appeal. Other kids’ social networking sites beyond these two include such destinations as imbee, Runescape, StarDoll, BarbieGirls, and Whyville. (Whyville being the strongest educational player of the bunch. To read additional thoughts I have about Whyville, take a look at a recent interview I had with a Boston area online magazine for tech saavy women called Misstropolis.)

The number one most popular destination for kids online today is Webkinz as reported by HitWise (HitWise is one of many different web research services available to businesses). Nieslen//NetRatings, another web research firm, reports that Webkinz had 3.6 million unique visitors in April 2007 with Business 2.0 Magazine reporting an average visit length of 128 minutes long. Those are some pretty impressive stats! As for Club Penguin, their numbers are equally impressive. Nielsen//NetRatings reports Club Penguin as having 4 million unique visitors in April 2007, with the Business 2.0 Magazine article also citing the average visit being 54 minutes long. Not too shabby!

So, if these two extremely popular websites for kids overlap nicely with the sixth grade demographic in the audience, why weren’t more hands raised? I found the response by this group of kids fascinating. Assuming that all the students heard the question, and I believe they did, here are a few theories:

  • As these social networking sites begin to age, the target demographic shifts younger, from tweens 8-12 (grades 4 – 6) to kids ages 5 – 9 (grades K – 3). This may imply that when a new kids’ web destination first becomes available, an older demographic will lead in the use of these sites more often than their younger peers. As more and more younger users discover the product, the older crowd moves on to find the next new destination.

  • As older tweens enter into their early teen years, it’s possible there’s a negative stigma attached to publicly admitting the use of these sites even though privately this older audience will continue to spend time at these destinations.

  • It could be that sixth graders in urban areas may not be using these specific social networking sites as much as those in suburban areas. I wonder if it’s possible that the likes and dislikes of kids from the same age group in urban versus suburban areas or coastal versus heartland parts of the country differ from one another.

  • It’s possible these sites never did have much appeal for an older audience as originally claimed by the owners of these companies (though I doubt this.)

  • Or maybe the answer lies in some combination of the above or other possibilities yet to be defined.

Whatever the answer, it’s amazing to see how the responses of kids answering as a group might differ from that of carefully analyzed web data and claims from many individual users of the same demographic (in the same geographic location).