Mobile Youth is a myth ..

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This blog is based on my talk at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week on the theme of ‘Exploring the myths and realities of the Youth Demographics’.

The theme of my talk was: ‘Mobile’ Youth is a myth until it reflects the Youth’s social graph .. There are no ‘Mobile’ Youth – Just ‘Internet Youth’. Mobile is a medium – but there are others. The medium they will adopt most will be the one which reflects their social graph

Besides me, the three other speakers were: Matthew Key, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Telefonica Europe ; Javier Ferreira, Head of Mobile, EA ; June Bower, Vice President Marketing, Consumer Entertainment, Alctel Lucent labs all moderated by the very able Paul Goode, Senior European Analyst, M:Metrics

I was speaking about Mobile Youth and social networking. I initially thought that my views were contrarian – but I was surprised to see that was not the case.

Paul Goode (always a great source of mobile industry / mobile youth stats) said that – the under 24 years account for only 20% of the installed base of mobile subscribers(I think this was uk based). Also, June Bower said that the youth use the Internet as the benchmark (which was my point).

My talk was based on the concept of the Social graph and the key message of my talk was:

Myths:

We expect ‘Mobile’ Youth to drive revenues. However, at the moment – that is a myth since the Mobile environment is not open and interoperable and does not mirror the youth’s social graph

Reality:

Youth are mainly interested in connecting with peers. User generated content is the foundation of that connection (Web 2.0/Mobile Web 2.0). We need open and interoperable systems if we are to emulate the success of the Web and win the youth demographic

Vision

When we do succeed in mirroring the youth’s social graph, we get services that work – like Nokia Ovi and itsmy.

We see youth as .. loaded with money .. But from Israel to India, all they want to do is to communicate with their peers.

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The Mobile data industry is short-sighted and arrogant in claiming a whole demographic.

Do we think of IPTV youth, or fixed line youth, or cable TV youth or to be even more futuristic – wearable computing youth??

But with a Gollumesque glint in our eyes .. We want to own a whole demographic .. (My precious)!!!

But .. Where are the youth? In fact they are reading a book .. Problem is .. the book is facebook (Web 2.0) .. ( and by the way .. That means they are not downloading ringtones! )

So, why do Web 2.0 services work?

Because they mirror the user’s social graph and focus on user generated content (UGC is a form of communication). In contrast, the mobile services do not in most cases. All your friends are not on the same Operator – you don’t live your life like that! Since mobile services are not interoperable(excluding voice and SMS) – they do not reflect the social graph. The same applies to user generated content. UGC needs interoperable systems and that’s why the youth gravitate to facebook …

Brad Fitzpatrick of facebook defines “social graph” as “The global mapping of everybody and how they’re related”.

The key is: How closely is the youth’s real life social graph mirrored to their online graph (Internet and Mobile). That’s where facebook wins and ‘Mobile’ loses in winning the hearts and minds of the young ..

However, when the social graph is mirrored on mobile devices .. We get some very interesting services ..

Nokia Ovi defines the concept of circular entertainment and predicts that 25% OF ENTERTAINMENT BY 2012 WILL BE CREATED AND CONSUMED WITHIN PEER COMMUNITIES

“We think it will work something like this; someone shares video footage they shot on their mobile device from a night out with a friend, that friend takes that footage and adds an MP3 file – the soundtrack of the evening – then passes it to another friend. That friend edits the footage by adding some photographs and passes it on to another friend and so on. The content keeps circulating between friends, who may or may not be geographically close, and becomes part of the group’s entertainment.” Says Mark Selby, Vice President, Multimedia, Nokia.

Share on Ovi .. also reflects this idea. This works because it mirrors the social graph!! (There are no restrictions on sharing ..)

A smaller but fast growing service called Itsmy also reflects the same concept ..

At one million registered users, 2.5 million visitors. 16 million Mobile Internet downloads, 1.76 million UGC components(videos), 920,000 Mobile home pages, 2.8 million mobile sites – itsmy is a huge success story. In a recent survey of 8256 votes, 26% of the people(the second highest requirement) said that they wanted to find and meet people in their own area(again reflecting the social graph)

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So, to conclude .. Don’t take the youth for granted – and at least for now, Mobile Youth is a myth! Just as wearable computing youth will be in future!

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Images: Courtesy Google Images copyright owned by the respective owners where applicable.

Comments

  1. Mobile Youth is not a myth and is more likely to adopt mobile services than the old, who typically just don’t get it.
    I’ve mixed feelings about this post. It is a much complex topic. The problem is more complicated than just the young vs. old, and requires more research and data points than just Ovi or Itsmy…
    Curious why the post is so Facebook-centric; where is MySpace, which is much bigger with the young?
    You say “Youth are mainly interested in connecting with peers”, but that is what social networks are all about, young or not; about connecting.
    I also think there is a problem with the current definitions of what social network vs. a graph is… These terms continue to get overloaded and is confusing things. I just wrote about that in my blog.
    The problem with social networks from the business perspective is that everyone loves them but few will pay for them (I have said this many times). The problem with social networks from the perspective it if works or not, has to do with affect.
    Cheers,
    ceo

  2. Ajit Jaokar says:

    Hi Enrique
    Always great to hear from you
    Ok .. here are my thoughts ..
    CEO: Mobile Youth is not a myth and is more likely to adopt mobile services than the old, who typically just don’t get it.
    AVJ: Young and old will adopt a service which suits their social graph(communication potential) best. Thats the point I am trying to make. We all want to communicate. and we will do it in the best possible means
    CEO:It is a much complex topic.
    AVJ: No really :) As Nokia slogan goes – connecting people! Thats all. No more complex than that.
    CEO:Ovi or Itsmy…
    AVJ:were used as examples. There may be many others. The key is – how closesly is the user’s real life social grapgh reflected online/or on mobile
    CEO:Curious why the post is so Facebook-centric;
    AVJ: Facebook is the best way to illustruate the example .. partly because of Brad F statements and partly because I am on it and understand it :) unlike myspace
    CEO:You say “Youth are mainly interested in connecting with peers”, but that is what social networks are all about, young or not; about connecting.
    AVJ:Exactly! thats it!
    CEO:I also think there is a problem with the current definitions of what social network vs. a graph is… These terms continue to get overloaded and is confusing things. I just wrote about that in my blog.
    AVJ: Will have a look. I simply mean .. Brad Fitzpatrick of facebook defines “social graph” as “The global mapping of everybody and how they’re related”.
    CEO: he problem with social networks from the business perspective is that everyone loves them but few will pay for them (I have said this many times). The problem with social networks from the perspective it if works or not, has to do with affect.
    AVJ:Ahhh .. we are talking consumer .. not business ..
    The mobile industry tends to forget that – what they charge for can be done for free on the Web. This is the crux of the blog i.e. ignore the Web / social networks at your peril!. itsmy by the way is completely ad funded (and successful as I understand it)
    AVJ:Many thanks as usual! kind rgds Aj

  3. Tomi Ahonen says:

    Hi Ajit
    Great, thought-provoking posting. I have to do my “yes-but, no-but” treatise on it, I hope you won’t mind too much smile
    I think it comes down to that phrase “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. Very many in our industry tend to say “Mobile Youth” with a very lax relationship to the “whole truth and nothing but the truth” part of Mobile Youth. You, Ajit, make a very good analysis in this posting (and I’m sure you did equally so as well, in your presentation in Barcelona) about those misconceptions.
    So yes, when you point out that Mobile is not (exclusively) youth, that is very true. Many who use the phrase “Mobile Youth” tend to perpetuate the thought that mobile is a predominantly youth-oriented device, platform and service group. In that way it is certainly misleading, it is not “the whole truth”. As you point out, youth do not form the majority of mobile consumption globally. Mobile services span the full age spectrum from children under 10 to great-grandparents. As we’ve discussed here at Forox before, grandparents often learn to send SMS text and MMS picture messages when connecting with their grandkids.
    So mobile is not a “youth-oriented” technology or activity, such as perhaps skateboarding or disco/night club club hopping (y the way, it is difficult to try to think of activities or technologies or services that are predominantly youth-oriented. Videogaming? I remember that the median age of the videogamer is something like 34 years, etc). I do agree with you Ajit that we should be clear to point out that the mobile industry is not “limited by” a predominantly youth customer base. Mobile reaches us all and youth is only one demographic, and only a fraction of the total market.
    The other point you make is that Youth is not (exclusively) mobile. This is also true. The youth is very strongly multi-platform, as our friend Peter Miles of SubTV likes to day. So it is an oversimplification to think that mobile is their only channel. The youth (in particular the under 20 year olds, those who haven’t got their first job yet) are very hard-pressed for money; their appetite for consumption is far greater than their means. So they are very selective in what is most cost-effective. Thus using file-sharing, social networking sites, IM Instant Messenger services etc. In addition to the services on their phones.
    So thus far I agree with you (yes-but, no-but).. However, Ajit, I do think you in your provocative statement, then fall victim to the second half of the proposition, (the nothing but the truth part). I think you do over-simplify yourself when you say its a myth.
    We do see two significant factors when we compare “Mobile” youth to non-mobile youth behaviour; and “Youth” mobile behaviour to non-youth mobile behaviour. Both suggest a “Mobile Youth” does exist, and act in a peculiar way and is worth focusing on for many in our industry.
    First is that of mobile service consumption, the youth form a dramatic, disproportionately large part. Look at SMS text messaging. Ten percent of UK youth (and 30% of South Korean youth) average 100 SMS text messages per day. The UK average is 6, the Korean average is 10. So where the really heavy users are, they definitely tend to be the youth. The same was true of ringing tones five years ago. They led the adoption of ring tones, until they noticed their parents also used the technology, by which time they felt it was totally uncool (and obviously newer phones had come along that allowed using your own MP3 files as your ringing tones, getting your fave music, at better quality, at the exact clip you wanted rather than that selected by some music producer, and to get it for free).
    I do think it is valid for the mobile telecoms industry to allocate “Youth” as a particular segment or target or demographic, to study. If the youth reject a new proposition, it has a very bad chance of success in mobile. And equally, for our industry to seek youth-oriented mobile propositions, such as Blyk in the UK and Helio in the USA. The youth in mobile tend to show what will happen to the rest of the market. I would think that you Ajit won’t disagree with that?
    Secondly on the side of youth being mobile. You’re right the youth is not exclusively mobile, and in the Industrialized World they tend to have easy access to PCs for broadband internet services including various social networking sites. But I think it is very clear that the preferred channel and device for the youth is mobile. The youth is not exclusively mobile, but mobile is like the “primus inter pares” ie first among equals, the preferred choice for the youth. If you provide a multi-platform service, the youth will gravitate to the mobile side of it. If you provide a service without a mobile dimension, it will suffer (and rivals will soon provide a mobile variant).
    Take our friends Flirtomatic (and yes, I know, its not only a youth-oriented service), with their fixed internet and mobile based dating/flirting site in the UK. 75% of their users come from the web, but over 80% of their traffic comes from mobile.
    So my point is that while your details are right (mobile is much more than youth, and youth is much more than mobile), the conclusion you draw, that a Mobile Youth is therefore a myth, I think is a flawed conclusion. There still exists, in my mind, a very clear preferred early adopter type customer market out of “Mobile Youth”. They are more likely to try out the new and they are willing to put money in it. We see it in mobile TV viewings for example, that the youth are much more willing to pay for it than adults. And that when addressing a youth market, the mobile is their preferred channel and device. You can reach all teenagers or young adults via mobile, you cannot reach them all via the web or any other means. So among the youth, there is a preference for mobile.
    Finally, there are some powerful sociological drivers to the matter. When teenagers hit about the age of 14 or so, they start to develop their own identity, apart from that of their parents. They start to rebel. They have their own (meager) disposable spending. They form their own brand loyalties. Up to the age of 13-14 the children accept their parents’ choices. At 15-16 the teenagers will reject what the parents offer them, and rather make their own choices. Then for the next years they gradually learn about independence, often go to college (and/or in many countries serve in the compulsory military duty) or start to work and move away from the home. But they tend to spend many years before starting their own families.
    This is the most attractive time for most brands of consumer goods. The young employed but non-familied adult, living single perhaps still at home, or in their first apartment. Having a job and learning to spend, without having obligations to raising children. This is the most attractive consumer segment.
    Just before the young employed adults hit that sweet spot for spending, they are just the youth. Mostly under 20 years of age. So from about age 15 to 20, these kids are the best target for brand-preferences. Teach them to prefer Pepsi rather than Coke (or Red Bull or Diet Coke or Evian) and those loyalties tend to stay for decades, perhaps all the way to their retired age.
    So our “Mobile” youth, is part of the “most interesting” target youth. If we notice that for this segment their preferred channel is mobile, AND that they are prepared to outspend on mobile than just about anything else in their lives, this makes the “Mobile Youth” a valid segment to study, and to offer mobile services for.
    So Ajit, I’d hesitate to go as far as to say “Mobile Youth” is a myth. I know you like to stir things up with provocative statements (as do I, ha-ha, and many of our good friends here and in the blogosphere). But I do think we can rather easily isolate youth behavior in all manner of mobile service usage from sending SMS and MMS to videogaming on mobile to voting on TV to consuming ads on mobile. And I do think all surveys clearly suggest that the youth have a stated clear preferance of platform, that is mobile.
    What do you think about my “yes-but, no-but” argument?
    Tomi Ahonen / HatRat

  4. Ajit Jaokar says:

    Thanks Tomi. I need to look at this in more detail .. however .. the third example(after itsmy + Ovi) is Blyk i.e. it is an example of someone understanding the youth’s social graph and working with it .. on mobile services ..
    Now .. when you say
    a) Mobile services consumption .. this is a key difference in my thinking i.e. I see youth(and most people) as creators and not consumers .. hence see stats from Mark Selby/Nokia study. This is critical i.e. I regard ringtones as a form of media (which has existed independently of mobile) and ugc as a form of communication(and not consumption style media). Same with SMS(communication) – everyone is using it. Youth more than others. That does not make them drivers in any sense since its P2P communications.
    b) Preferred channel? Maybe in some cases, but look beyond SMS(and voice) and facebook and the web are clear winners
    c) >>>
    This is the most attractive time for most brands of consumer goods. The young employed but non-familied adult, living single perhaps still at home, or in their first apartment. Having a job and learning to spend, without having obligations to raising children. This is the most attractive consumer segment.
    <<
    Maybe .. but note again .. I am taling creation and not consumption!
    d) socialogical factors: Alcatel labs (my co speaker) had this to say .. if you ask teens – how was their day? the answer is ‘fine’. The rest the mothers understand from their facebook page!
    I rest my case smile
    kind rgds
    Ajit

  5. For the record, my comments are based on real scenarios — examples include sitting down with a customers, handing all of them phones, and see how the old(er) struggles, while the young happily navigates. The young(er) are drivers of this technology, today… Tomorrow it will be everyone, so I see things opposed to you.
    Yes, to survive with social software , especially MoSoSo, you can’t charge people, and it must use an indirect revenue model, such as ads. A new model must be invented.
    The young, and the whole UGC is both creators and consumers. If that wasn’t bi-directional, it wouldn’t work! As in everything in this world, some people are more creators or consumers that others; creators are always fewer than consumers… And that is not unique to UGC, that is unique to human behavior and thus social networks!
    Good discussion. :-)

  6. This is an interesting topic that Ajit has brought up (not the first time) on Mobile Youth.
    After reading Tomi’s response, I now too understand Ajit’s angle on mobile youth on content mobile vs. content creation vs. web.
    Is this due to walled-gardens? Or due to the user experience (or lack of)? Or due not easily having the *service* to connect to share? Or due to cost?
    I think all the above contributes to the problem..
    I definitely believe that the mobile youth today, how they use and embrace mobility, represent how “everyone” will be in 5-10 years.
    ceo

  7. Paul Golding says:

    Clearly, market segmentation by demographic is nothing new and applies here as well as anywhere else. I had the opportunity to work on a “Youth MVNO” (still not launched) and this divided the target user base into four types of studied consumer behaviour that are definitely real within this group. As a note, the bottom line was a set of apps that were nearly all social-connection centric, even down to the help forum where user’s helped each other (versus “official corporate support”).
    I am not sure what you mean by the industry wanting to own a demographic. Perhaps you can clarify.
    As for mobile IPTV and the other examples given, then I would argue that these an inappropriate because all of those services are clearly controlled by the adults. Young people really do own and use their own mobiles and create their own mobile ‘spaces’ (via their texting and address books) whereas the young do not own IPTV boxes etc. I think this is where iTunes/AppleTV actually falls down. It isn’t easy to segment the experience between myself and my kids. We all share the same account etc.
    I think what you’re saying is that the mobile industry doesn’t get “youth” (per your social graph theory) and therefore how dare they try to claim an industry segment around something they know nothing about. Here I would mostly agree with you.
    One last point is that this is not the same for all markets. In some markets, such as the Middle East, the mobile is almost the sole means of connectivity for young people – there is no Internet for the majority of them. We often overlook this.