Thursday, 13 August 2009

Kids online & changing information preferences

I grew up in a world of text.(The escapism, stimulation and endless open possibilties offered by reading captured my imagination at a very young age. I've been an avid reader since the age of 3, at which point I aspired to be a librarian. That didn't quite happen, but I still read an awful lot, professionally and personally.

Yet, however well assimilated I might be as a digital immigrant, my outlook and my information processing preferences will always be different to the kids growing up today. Kids today are used to control in so many areas of their lives. What they want to watch, where and when they want to watch it and on which screen are choices I didn't have as a child. I watched what was on TV when it was on, or I did something else instead. Control and video content go hand in hand for them.

So no surprises then that the top thing kids are searching for online is "YouTube". They live in a multi-sensory, multi-media world and are used to consuming and processing information in a far more visual fashion than I do. They learn from videos as well as seeing them as entertainment. Their preferences for video content should be challenging the way we/brands think about engaging and interacting with them. Are we still providing text / static image content because that's the way we are used to processing information?

We're humans, we're all evolving all the time, our language and communications styles are changing and new forms of etiquette or netiquette are evolving for these new channels. I wouldn't dream of writing a letter or an email using the abbreviated style I SMS / text in, yet I able-y text in abbreviated form in several languages. Some of us at least have learned to write and decode what to others appears to be a whole new language.

I'm still a wee bit baffled by one of the bigger YouTube phenomenons for kids, Fred, a series of video diaries by a high-pitched squeaky voiced kid, but that's probably just because I'm not 10.
But let's not just blame it on age, because my preferences are changing too, facilitated by the evolution of technology. I'm now watching more video content online. My TV hasn't been turned on in 4 months, and the last "TV" programme I watched was in March, on the BBC's amazing catch up service iPlayer. I watched it on my laptop. Who needs TV when there's TED anyway?

I now manage the vast amount of digital information I process in a day differently from the way I did a year or so ago. Increasingly I am unsubscribing from email newsletters and signing up instead to RSS feeds for some things and following others on Twitter.

My email inboxes are much more about person-to-person communication, just as they were before I started allowing brands to talk to me in that space. This makes my inbox processing less onerous and quicker. Maybe it's my OCD-side but I like to feel on top of my inbox. I am making different choices about what I need to read and act upon now, what I want to read but is less time-sensitive, and what I like to keep an overview of in terms of new news. Working in the digital space things become old news quickly.

My RSS feeds (the things I want to read, but don't need to be read now, generally bloggers who have interesting points of view), I now get displayed in a much more fun magazine style format thanks to Feedly. Industry alerts I tend to follow via feeds on Twitter. These allows me to process a vast amount more information at a glance, which saves me time and enables me to prioritise much more swiftly what I want to dig into in more detail.

Tweetdeck has vastly improved my Twitter experience, so if you haven't yet ventured into the Twittersphere, then installing it would be my top tip! I'm currently following a new brand or two for and I a week at a time (this week it's Innocent Smoothies and Top Shop) as I explore how different companies and brands are using the tool. It's very interesting.

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