Gen Y and Web 2.0

To start with, the article is misnamed: Mainstream Gen Y isn’t Buying Into Web 2.0 uses the term Gen Y interchangeably with statistics on the 18-24 demographic.

If we take the standard 1982 starting point of Gen Y, the oldest in the cohort are 27, not 24. The 18-24 bracket is used because that is data, not on Gen Y, but on the standard “college age” market.

Does this make a big difference? Yeah, it does.

The argument is that Gen Y isn’t using the standard tools of the Web 2.0 trade. We are told the college age bracket doesn’t Twitter, doesn’t use LinkedIn, and this is presented as a generational divide.

But there is a huge difference between divides based on life stages and generational divides. And once that division is seen as a function of life stage, it becomes an amazingly uninteresting bit of data. Take LinkedIn use. The author says:

Gen Y is not on LinkedIn. The average age of a LinkedIn user is 40-years old. LinkedIn profiles do two things. They let you show the world all the great things you’ve accomplished (most twenty-somethings haven’t accomplished much yet) and they let you connect with other business people in your industry (Gen Y has no idea what industry they’re in and don’t have many connections yet).

Well, exactly. But that has nothing to do with Web 2.0. As the author pretty much points out — Gen Y is not on LinkedIn because the stuff LinkedIn does does not apply to college students that much. That a 40-year old supporting a family and a second mortgage is a bit more into their LinkedIn profile than the student at the average kegger says nothing about generational differences, and everything about contextual differences.

Twitter is a more interesting case. The author says:

According to Comscore, the majority of Twitter users worldwide are 35 or older. Young adults 18-24 only make up 10.6% of the Twitter population in the US and are less likely than the average user to tweet. 45-54 year olds are actually 36 percent more likely than average to visit Twitter.

The traditional social media early adopters are 18 -24 and Twitter is the new social media darling. Why isn’t Gen Y biting?

OK. This:

Young adults 18-24 only make up 10.6% of the Twitter population in the US

Needs some context immediately, and here it is — 18-24 year olds make up only about ten percent of the total population anyway — so it’s not exactly under-representation. It is underrepresentation in comparison only to Facebook adoption. And as far as the reason, there’s a simple reason why college age kids aren’t flocking to Twitter — it’s because they are already twittering on Facebook.

Twitter will make sense to them, eventually. But in a world where everybody important to them is on Facebook, and is helpfully added to their general college or university Facebook network, they are not going to need Twitter. The point of Twitter is that it is a lightweight, malleable tool that can be hacked into many different things, and a tool which plays better with a world in which not everyone may be in our particular walled garden — whereas Facebook was designed for the particular problems a college kid faces, and works precisely because everyone a student knows is on it (and because privacy settings often map to school networks).

In areas where there is a student need and Facebook does not provide a service, 18-24 year olds adopt social software at a stunningly high rate. Every letter the RIAA sent out is a testament to that fact. They torrent and they fileshare. They rate their professors, and research them. For a while they read and posted to Juicy Campus.

And if older people are using more interesting and varied Web 2.0 tools than students are, maybe the reason is that older people are presented with more interesting and varied problems than we are presenting students with. Maybe the reason more 30 year olds write political blogs than 20 year olds (at least in my anecdotal experience) is because 20 year olds are engaging with their class and thirty year olds are engaging with their world. Maybe the reason some students don’t get Twitter vs. Facebook is that they don’t have any relationships where following is not reciprocal yet. And maybe the reason why they aren’t plugging through an RSS reader is that the 12 page research paper that they are writing isn’t supposed to use internet sources anyway, and doesn’t have to be particularly current, relevant, or be in any way an original contribution to an ongoing conversation happening on the web.

Students will use appropriate Web 2.0 tools when faced with a challenge, even if that challenge is getting the newest album or latest rumor. And if they are not using as wide a variety of tools as we might have thought, maybe that’s because we aren’t providing them the right kind of challenges.

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