Home SXSW: Under 18 Blogs, Wikis & Social Networks

SXSW: Under 18 Blogs, Wikis & Social Networks

Sean Ammirati of mSpoke is at
SXSW in Austin, TX (USA). He is reporting for Read/WriteWeb throughout the event.

After attending a panel on collaboration
earlier this morning, I attended the panel “Under
18: Blogs, Wikis and Online Social Networks for Youth”
. The moderator was: Andrea
of the Georgia Institute of Technology. The panelists were: Danah Boyd
PhD Candidate, USC Annenberg Center; Anastasia Goodstein Publisher, Ypulse;
Kate Raynes-Goldie TakingITGlobal; Erin Reilly Exec Dir, Platform Shoes
Forum; and Elisabeth Sylvan Researcher, MIT Media Laboratory. The presentation
started with a slide which read “Young People Online are … a constant mortal danger or
fulfilling their inner potential?” This was a pretty good summary of the

Background Context from Danah Boyd

Each panelist opened with a brief presentation. Danah Boyd’s opening provided great
context for the rest of the discussion. She talked about how a hundred years ago 14 – 17
year olds participated in society and were mentored by adults. Then during the great
depression the government instituted a policy of forcing 14 – 17 year olds to attend high
school. She talked about how this began a process of creating a dynamic she called ‘Age
Segregation’. The concept behind this segregation being that society creates separate
activities for teenagers. This however didn’t change the fact that 14 – 17 year olds
still yearn to participate and express themselves to society at large. The difference is
that in the last few years they have begun doing it online. She pointed out 4 things that
make this unique:

(1) Persistence – The fact that comments, posts, social network pages don’t go away

(2) Searchability – The fact that anyone can find information about others easily. She
commented that her mother would have loved to be able to easily search about her
interactions, but when she was growing up this wasn’t possible.

(3) Replicability – The fact that you can easily replicate a conversation (such as IM) in
many other places (such as a MySpace Page)

(4) Invisible Audiences – The fact that you don’t know who you’re talking to.

With this background, the panel focused on three questions: 

(1) What are young people getting out of their online lives? 

(2) What is reality when it comes to dangers for young people online? 

(3) What kinds of social, technological/design solutions are there once we identify
experiences we want to facilitate and/or prevent?

What are young people getting out of their online lives?

The panelist all seemed to agree that while the medium has certainly changed and the
four attributes of the medium mentioned by Danah certainly bring new implications to
this, the things young people are getting out of an online experience aren’t that new or

Interestingly, Anastasia talked about how individuals are really doing the same thing
we did growing up; but doing it online. Also, she pointed out that while young people are
doing a number of activities online, research indicates that the thing they value most is
the ability to do research online. This led to Andrea talked about how she is helping
bring wikis to high schools. In doing this, she has realized how scared teachers are of
wikis. This lead to a nice conversation about the dangers of the COPA (Children’s Online
Protection Act)
, which threatens to eliminate access to social sites at public
schools and libraries.

What is the reality when it comes to dangers for young people online

This was probably the most interesting part of the panel. Danah talked about how she
grew up with a good understanding of who were strangers and not to talk to them. However,
strangers were completely contextual. For example, the other children she met on the
first day of school were not strangers. She feels that most young people in her research
have a similar understanding of who is and who is not a stranger online.

The challenge arises when the young person has problems in general. Now, because of
the “invisible audiences”, a young person who is having a rough time is much more
vulnerable. Therefore, she feels we need to leverage this for good – for example, she
asked ‘what if we had online social workers monitoring MySpace?’

Danah also pointed out that young people can teach us a lot about the act of online
collaboration. For example, why do young people break up in the comments of another
person’s MySpace? According to her research, the reason is that they know that any other
electronic conversation (such as IM) can morph. In My Space, a set of ‘digital bread
crumbs’ is left to keep the record straight. She said young people intuitively know this
and can add a lot to the conversation – we just need to learn to listen and engage them
in dialogue.

Technology and Other Solutions

This led to the most controversial part of the panel: should we try to develop some
type of ‘Cyber-Ethics’? The idea being we would cover topics like: Online Cheating,
Online Plagiarism, and Cyberbullying. Some panelist were of the opinion that we needed to
start developing these and educating people. Others felt it wasn’t a good idea to break
this out as a separate topic – but instead we just should listen and learn and try to
teach in general. Also, one of the panelists made the excellent point that this isn’t
exclusively an issue for schools – parents and other mentors need to get involved too.
This received a very warm reception.

Also, while the panel was fairly universal that technology doesn’t solve all the
problems, they were of the opinion that it is important to educate people about some
technology solutions. For example, while there is a lot of concern around plagerism,
there are tools now that can easily help teachers identify this.


It was nice to see so many at SXSW engaged in this conversation. I also was impressed
at how many people raised their hand at the beginning to indicate they are educators
(probably 10% of the audience) The challenges and opportunities are great, but this was a
particularly influential group of web leaders with which to converse about these

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