In our 2005 report, “Teen Content Creators and Consumers,” we noted an important and emerging trend: teenagers were helping to lead the then-ascendant movement into the Web 2.0 era of participatory media. Online teens were utilizing the interactive capabilities of the internet—creating and sharing their own media creations—at levels far higher than adults. At the time, online teens were more likely than adults to have tried virtually every form of content creation. The portion of online teens who were blogging, maintaining their own websites, remixing content, and sharing other artistic creations online far outweighed the portion of online adults who had engaged in the same types of activities.
Catherine Cook is co-founder of the social networking site MyYearbook.com, which she started when she was in high school. Together with her brothers, she wanted to create a site that would give students access to an interactive digital yearbook that would help them stay in touch with friends after graduation. First launched in 2005, the site now has over 1.7 million members and has attracted over $4 million dollars in venture capital.
Ben Cathers was just 12 years old when he started his first business providing online advertising in the late 1990s. By 17 he was producing his own syndicated radio show, and by 19 he had founded a search engine technology company.
In 2004, then 14-year-old Ashley Qualls took her interest in graphic design to the Web and created Whateverlife.com, a source for MySpace graphics and Web design tutorials. She describes the site as “a place to express yourself.” In addition to layouts and other free graphics, Whateverlife.com now features a magazine with teen-authored articles and reviews. According to Google Analytics figures cited in a recent Fast Company article, “Whateverlife attracts more than 7 million individuals and 60 million page views a month.”
While these teens have been exceptionally successful in their pursuits, their stories highlight a near-universal truth about the life of American teens today. Online teens have access to tools that can gain them widespread attention and notoriety—for better or for worse—in ways that simply were not possible under the traditional mass media model. It is still the case that recognition is often tethered to the amplification afforded by mainstream media, but the tools needed to produce and distribute digital media are readily available and utilized in some way by most teen internet users. And while some teens may dream of becoming famous on YouTube, most teen content creators are posting material with much smaller audiences in mind (such as one’s network of friends on a social networking site).