Alex Duner

Don’t Listen to the Adults: Teens Aren’t Abandoning Facebook

The last few days there has been a lot of talk about how teenagers use Facebook and other social networks. Almost all of it has been written by adults trying to understand the behavior and psyche of my age group. As a teen myself, I think I can offer a slightly different perspective on the topic.

The post that started off this most recent round of speculation about teenager’s social media habits was Cliff Watson’s post on Medium about how teens are “increasingly skipping over static, interface-based URLs and apps in order to define “social” as messaging services”. The article is really insightful and gets a lot of things right.

Services like Twitter and Snapchat are becoming more and more popular; same goes for Vine, Instagram, and Tumblr. Another point he gets right is this comment about Reddit, especially about the gender split:

Facebook’s banality would explain Reddit’s rise in popularity, especially with the boys in this age group. I took an informal survey of the boys in my oldest daughter’s circle of friends. They were all on Reddit.

However, I think that Watson overstates the extent to which Facebook is becoming irrelevant. The idea that my friends and I are abandoning Facebook as if it were a sinking ship is an exaggeration of Titanic proportions (see what I did there).

I am probably not the average teen in terms of how I use social networks but there are a few things that I have observed which Facebook offers but the other services can’t which keep us coming back.

  1. People—As our social experiences become more fragmented across many different platforms a big factor in determining which service to use is which one your friends are using. Google+ is well designed but if nobody uses it, it might as well not exist. It is not uncommon to find someone who is not on Twitter or Instagram or Vine. A Facebook account, however, is the least common denominator for social interactions.
  2. Messaging—Watson correctly points out the messaging is increasingly becoming an important factor in social. Google is trying to get into this game with the announcement of Hangouts this week at I/O. But Facebook messaging already works everywhere. Snapchat, Vine, and Instagram only work on mobile devices. Twitter is too public. With Facebook you don’t need to know a person’s handle or phone number or username on some other service. Just click their name and start chatting; the conversation can happen no matter what devices the participants are using.
  3. Events—My mom often laments that I get invited to things on Facebook and she therefore has no idea when things are going on. If you are planning a party or get-together, a Facebook event is the preferred method among my peers.
  4. Groups—Google had the right idea when it implemented Circles into Google+: people want to be able to share content with smaller subsets of people. Facebook allows you to do this by creating groups. This year my english class had a group where we would complain about our teacher together and try to decode her often cryptic instructions. My grade had a group where we would let each other know about different events going on after school, try (unsuccessfully) to plan a senior prank, and keep each other updated about the schedule for Graduation week. The ability to have defined subcommunities within Facebook sets it apart from other social networks.
  5. Likes—As Sid O’Neill explains: “You can’t get the same self-esteem bump from sending a text that you can from getting 50 likes on the meme you posted”. I have heard people discuss (I am ashamed to admit that includes myself on occasion) how many likes a certain status or picture has as if it were a competition.

So while us teens are certainly moving some of our online social networking away from Facebook, we aren’t jumping ship like Watson suggests.

The Magazine’s Paradox

Nathan Liu has some concerns about the direction The Magazine is headed. He asks the question “Is there such thing as ‘too niche’?”:

The Magazine is in danger of having readers deciding they simply do not care, and want to read something else more specific to their interests. There really needs to be a leash which writers should be tied down to. Albeit an unusually long leash, allowing them to explore new and innovative topics, but one which will hold them back from alienating even the most avid readers.

My first reaction was agreement; Nathan was getting at a feeling that I had begun to feel after looking at the table of contents for the last few editions of The Magazine.

When Marco Arment released The Magazine I commented on the fact that it was being written “for geeks like us”. I was included in the target audience. It said so right there in the copywriting.

I loved reading Stephen Hackett’s reflections1 on how technology is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to healing his son’s brain cancer. Albert Wu’s story on how Taiwan’s economy has been shaped by semiconductor manufacturing was fascinating and not something that any tech blog would cover. That’s also true of Chris Higgins’ report on competitive Tetris. Julio Ojeda-Zapata’s article wasn’t just about the quenepa fruit but also about what it means to be a nerd and what it means to be curious.

In its first many issues The Magazine lived up to its promise to be a kind-of Wired Magazine told through the lens of personal stories. Its articles were about the way that technology shaped and affected real people’s lives. Almost every article was interesting to me.

However, The Magazine has begun to evolve since its initial conception. The publication’s introduction now explains2:

When The Magazine launched, it was ostensibly about technology and related subjects that tech geeks found interesting, written by tech writers. Over its first two months, we realized that it was much more interesting to broaden the scope to all good writers with stories and ideas that we find interesting.

This is The Magazine: stories and ideas for curious, geeky people.

At first I feared that the publication had lost—at least for me—some of the sense that it was “written for geeks like us”. I used to be included in The Magazine’s promise; now it seemed that I was getting the short shrift. I don’t care about the band Phish (sorry Marco) or the economics of parking meters. An article about some distillery in Seattle belongs in a general interest magazine not in a magazine that was being written for geeks like me.

But before I wrote mean things to Marco and Glenn on Twitter I took some time to think this through. Why was I beginning to feel like I wasn’t The Magazine’s target audience anymore?

When it comes to questions of Geekdom I always find myself returning to reread John Scalzi’s post “Who Gets To Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be”. I’m sorry for quoting so much of the article, but there is a lot more to the post and it is really that good. Scalzi writes:

Geekdom is a nation with open borders. There are many affiliations and many doors into it. There are lit geeks, media geeks, comics geeks, anime and manga geeks. There are LARPers, cosplayers, furries, filkers, crafters, gamers and tabletoppers. There are goths and horror geeks and steampunkers and academics. There are nerd rockers and writers and artists and actors and fans. Some people love only one thing. Some people flit between fandoms. Some people are positively poly in their geek enthusiasms. Some people have been in geekdom since before they knew they were geeks. Some people are n00bs, trying out an aspect of geekdom to see if it fits. If it does, great. If it doesn’t then at least they tried it.

The promise of a publication written “for geeks like us” in which every article captures my attention instantly is inherently paradoxical. Scalzi continues:

Geekdom is personal. Geekdom varies from person to person. There are as many ways to be a geek as there are people who love a thing and love sharing that thing with others. You don’t get to define their geekdom. They don’t get to define yours. What you can do is share your expression of geekdom with others. Maybe they will get you, and maybe they won’t. If they do, great. If they don’t, that’s their problem and not yours.

The Magazine will never be able to delve into every aspect of Geekdom without writing a few articles that don’t interest me that much. And that’s okay. Because there will also be articles that fascinate me but fail to resonate with other people. I might find an article about video game culture in the Arab world or about gender relations in Pakistan throught the lens of text messaging fascinating. Other people might not.

Such is the nature of writing for geeks and curious people.

As long as The Magazine continues to attract great writers and continues to publish great articles I can’t see it failing any time soon.

  1. Before clicking on any of the links to articles from The Magazine in this article you should read about its paywall 

  2. The foreword in the App is different from the foreword on the web. The quote is found in an updated version of the introduction which is in the iOS app. For some reason the version on the web hasn’t been updated to reflect the changes. UPDATE: The Magazine’s editor let me know via Twitter that in the app the foreword “is the first thing people see if they aren’t subscribers. Online, [they] preserved historically”. 

Here’s to the Class of 2013

Today I graduated from high school.

At my school any member of the senior class has the opportunity to submit a speech to give at commencement. When the call for submissions went out I took a few minutes to think if there was anything I felt was unique and important to share with my class. I quickly answered no and didn’t submit a speech. If you don’t have anything to say, why search for a platform from which to say it.

However, today, sitting with the 246 other members of the class of 2013—some of whom I have never met and others who I just saw for what is likely the last time—my favorite poem came to mind.

It’s not technically a poem. And it is certainly not an original thought on my part. It’s just some advertisement copy from an old Apple commercial.

But these words inspire me to do great things and I hope they do the same for you:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

So here’s to the crazy ones. Here’s to the Class of 2013.

Google Glass’ Impact on Education

The College Board is paranoid.

It is (rightfully) scared that cell phones will undermine the (remaining) academic integrity of the SAT and of the myriad AP exams.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the policy regarding cell phones and the SAT. The list of banned devices is amazingly thorough—though I’m not sure why “BlackBerry devices” are separated from “cell phones”.

And here are the rules for the AP exams:

You don’t want to bring any electronic equipment or communication devices, like cell phones, smart phones, tablets or anything else that can access the Internet, any cameras or other photographic equipment, or even any watches that beep or have an alarm. You may not have any food or drink in the exam room, including bottled water.

They also remind you that during breaks:

…you are not allowed to consult textbooks, notes, teachers or other students; and you may not use any electronic or communication devices, like your cell phone, for any reason.

Today when I sat down to take my AP Spanish Language exam the proctor read in a monotone voice from his proctor booklet about not discussing answers on social media after the test. The idea that we could make it out of the room without some discussion of the passages is already naïve but to think that we won’t take those conversations to Facebook and Twitter. That’s just ignorant.

But while the precautions and the constant warnings might seem draconian, even a quick Google search shows that students can and do use cell phones and other technology to gain an advantage on standardized tests.

It’s about to get worse.

Imagine for a moment a world ten years from now. Google Glass—or some similar technology—has become commonplace. Nobody has to be on some special list to have a chance at using Glass. Instead when people go to the eye doctor to get a new pair of glasses, the lenses obviously come with the latest in heads-up-display technology already built in. Every pair of glasses is Google Glass.

In this world how can a teacher—not mention a huge organization like the Collge Board—administer a test fairly?

It wouldn’t be that hard to write a program that looks at a question in Spanish and translated it into English. Google Translate could probably work pretty well as a backend for this service.

Or what about an app that snaps a picture of a calculus problem, sends the question to some server, which then spits the answer right in front of your eye.

None of this is out of the realm of possibility and the possibility raises even more questions.

What if only a few (probably rich) kids in the class have Internet enabled glasses?

What if a kid actually needs his glasses to see? Do you make him buy a second pair?

If we can have all of human knowledge at our fingertips—maybe even our eyelids—in seconds, what’s the point of learning stuff?

One thing is certain: the College Board better start revamping its security guidelines now. And maybe it should consider the role of standardized testing in this Information Age.

An Update on the Competition for the Future of RSS

Google Reader will shut down on July 1st. Over the last week or so the first signs of a post-Google Reader world as good as—or maybe even better than—what we already have, has begun to emerge.

The first piece of news is that my favorite iOS Google Reader client—Silvio Rizzi’s Reeder—added support for Feedbin. As Federico Vittici reported for Macstories:

In Reeder 3.1, Feedbin is treated like Google Reader in terms of feed navigation and reading experience…Feedbin is still in its infancy, and, right now, Reeder 3.1 with Feedbin sync works exactly like version 3.0 did with Google Reader.

Reeder even has the ability to export your subscriptions directly from Google Reader to Feedbin with the click of a button to make the transition near seamless.

Feedbin costs $2 a month or $20 a year and is being billed as a replacement sync service for Google Reader; it has already replicated the undocumented Google Reader API. This contrasts with the other new player in the RSS space: David Smith’s Feed Wrangler.

On the night Google announced it would be killing Reader, Smith teased that he had been working on “an alternative take on aggregating RSS” for some time. Today he unveiled Feed Wrangler. Priced at $18.99 a year, Feed Wrangler is not being touted as an exact replacement for Google Reader the way that Feedbin has been positioned so far.

Feed Wrangler’s “must have” feature is “Smart Streams”. In addition to organizing RSS by feed or read/unread, Smart Streams let you create search filters to create something like Smart Folders on OSX. Vittici thinks that:

Smart Streams provide a more logical way of organizing feeds in subsets that are not based on a one-to-one relationship, but that instead combine the traditional aspects of folders with searches to create more flexible streams of content.

Another plus to using Feed Wrangler is its tight integration with the read later services Pocket and Instapaper. Feed Wrangler’s iOS apps are basic, as one would expect a 1.0 release to be. Hopefully when the API is released next month third party apps—hopefully including Reeder—will begin to be developed. One positive feature about both services it that they cost money, which I like. As David Smith explained:

I believe the reason that Google turned its back on Reader and left its users hanging is that they were users not customers. I’m not interested in building a platform designed to attract as many users as possible and then work out how to sustain it later. I want to instead build something that is sustainable from Day 1. I want my customers to feel confident that they can expect this to be around long into the future. I want to build a relationship with them and make something they really, really love.

I am still holding out until I get a better sense of how the market will develop over the next few months. I hope that Feed Wrangler’s iOS apps get substantially more powerful and would love for Feedbin to make some innovations of its own. Fever remains a possibility, especially given the new iOS apps that have been released for the self-hosted service. I am also waiting to see what Betaworks does with Digg, especially given their recent purchase of Instapaper from Marco Arment.

For the time being, I see myself ultimately picking either Feedbin or Feed Wrangler when I make the switch from Google Reader. I am looking forward to trying both of them out over the next few months.