One of the least surprising pieces of news this month reported that the amount of time UK children spend online is actually double their parents’ estimates. Symantec’s Norton Online Living report revealed that kids are spending an average of 43.5 hours per month surfing the web, compared to the 18.8 hours their parents think they are. One in five parents said they had caught their kids looking at inappropriate content online – presumably the other four just didn’t catch them.
However, a third of kids admit to being friends with their parents on social-networking site Facebook. Are these kids mad, or are they actually smart enough to have a nice, clean pretend Facebook account linked to mummy and daddy detailing how they’ve finished their homework and enjoyed David Attenborough’s Darwin documentary, and another full of lists of drunken escapades and pictures of their bottoms?
Cooler than Facebook
Is 43.5 hours a month online excessive? It’s less than 90 minutes a day. Sure, they could be outside training for the 2012 Olympics, collecting butterflies or helping old ladies, but they might also otherwise be smoking behind the bushes, playing chicken on railway lines or just sat in front of Big Brother. Some of those 90 minutes are spent researching homework projects, but most, I suspect, will be social networking on Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, Flixster, Faces, Habbo, Plurk, Piczo or Stardoll, or creating their own social sites on Ning. You can see why adults can be put off such sites, can’t you?
Facebook is the most popular social network, with 47 per cent of all British web users logging on to the social network. Staggeringly, one in every six minutes of UK online time is spent visiting a social network or blog. While Facebook rules supreme today it is running scared of a site that’s much cooler and much, much more responsive – Twitter.
Twitter traffic has already more than trebled in 2009. There was a noticeable increase in visits following the media attention generated by the likes of the amiable Stephen Fry (owner of the world’s second favourite Twitter feed after Barack Obama) and TV/radio hate figure Jonathan Ross.
Over the past 12 months traffic to Twitter.com has increased 27 times – and that’s just to the website. If people accessing their Twitter accounts via mobile phones and third-party applications (such as Twitterrific, Twitterfeed and Tweetdeck) were included the numbers would be higher still.
Twitter looks like a total waste of time and sounds silly – although not as daft as the aforementioned Habbo, Plurk, Piczo and Ning – but it’s certainly fun, plus it’s a very serious communications and search tool. It’s gone from obscure to mainstream in about two months. Around 700,000 small UK companies now use Twitter, sending three million tweets a day. Around 6,000 companies sign up every day to raise the profile of their business and stay in touch with customers.
Twitter is more about micro-blogging than pure social networking. Users send out text-based “tweets” of up to 140 characters. These updates are displayed on the user’s profile page and delivered to other users who have signed up to follow them. Most tweets are pretty much a waste of time (they’ve been described as “emotional grunts”), as all non-tweeters suspect. If you’re lucky they’re amusing (hence Fry’s popularity), but, just like Facebook updates, they’re more likely to be exceptionally dull (“About to enjoy banana pancakes”).
Twitter is estimated to have 10 million users today, growing – if current rates continue – to as many as 100 million by the end of the year.
With so many people reading and blogging on Twitter it reaches a critical mass and becomes an immensely powerful search engine in its own right. Search.twitter.com very quickly shows you what everyone’s talking about on selected subjects, be that Apple’s new iPod shuffle, bank interest rates, new Chelsea managers or banana pancakes. It’s a real-time, conversational search that let’s you find out what topics are “trending upward,” as marketers like to say.
And it’s not just journalists and PRs talking about products and services, news stories or any other form of information – you’re more likely to see what everybody else thinks. Twitter is a prime example of what’s being labelled crowd-powered media. Google has proven that search is vastly monetisable, with 40 per cent of all online advertising revenue on search listings. If you think Twitter search is a crazy idea you might be surprised to learn that the second most popular search engine after Google isn’t Yahoo, Ask or Microsoft Live. It’s YouTube.
Twitter is increasingly being used not just by early adopters, trend limpits and marketers, but by media (newspapers, magazines, websites) and all sorts of brands (from Starbucks, Samsung and Coca-Cola to Richard Branson, 10 Downing Street and Greenpeace).
There are plenty of Mac-related twitterers out there – strangely, Apple’s only Twitter presence is about movie trailers (twitter.com/itunestrailers). One of the most popular twitters is former Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki (twitter.com/guykawasaki), who is being “followed” by 90,000 other Twitter users. Kawasaki’s tweets are mostly links to innovative or amusing technology-based articles on the web.
Former Macworld columnist and funny guy David Pogue (twitter.com/Pogue) has a few tech tips but is mostly geekily goofing around. Our very own back-page Mac wit Andy Ihnatko (twitter.com/Ihnatko) is there, as is, of course, Macworld itself (twitter.com/MacworldUK). You’ll also find most of this magazine’s editorial staff, and even me (twitter.com/simonjary).
Give Twitter a chance and sign up for our handy tweets before the kids take it over or move onto to something even more useful with an even dafter name.