When Teens Talk Tech, Investors Listen. Here's What They Say

Dec 24, 2013
Originally published on January 7, 2014 2:11 pm



Some of the biggest tech news of 2013 centered on products that are popular with teenagers, products like Snapchat. Facebook offered $3 billion to buy the photo messaging app, even though Snapchat has yet to make any money. And for lots of tech investors, Twitter's IPO was a great success. Reporter Nishat Kurwa at Youth Radio talked to teens who spend hours on these platforms, and she asked them about their social media highlights for the year.

NISHAT KURWA, BYLINE: I work around a lot of teenagers. They're notoriously fickle, from their fashion to their music to, these days, their go-to social media platforms. And in 2013, a few standout mobile apps and networks replaced others that no longer make the cut. What's out with teens in the social media space is important to investors. But, why? Teens aren't rolling in disposable income, after all. But 16-year-old Jasiri Emerson says they are the most avid users of social media.

JASIRI EMERSON: You need the youth to keep something alive because old people, you know, they're not going to be on something all the time because they have stuff to do.

JOSH ELLMAN: When we really look at these new technologies, teens are the blank slate.

KURWA: Josh Ellman is a partner at the venture capital firm Greylock Partners in Menlo Park, California.

ELLMAN: We look at where they're spending time, where they're sharing more, where they're doing things they don't feel like they can do on the other larger platforms at the time.

KURWA: Take Facebook and its admission that it's losing popularity among teens. They flock to Snapchat, where the photos you take are ephemeral. Many see the shift away from Facebook and the popularity of Snapchat, as proof of a growing teen desire for privacy. But just as important, teens are drawn to Snapchat and other apps like ooVoo, WhatsApp and Kik for chat and instant messaging.

Not to be out-chatted, Instagram and Twitter introduced new messaging services recently. Earlier this year, both jumped on another social media trend that's big with teens. Instagram debuted a video feature. So did Twitter with its new app Vine, where teens continuously scroll through six-second videos like these.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Beware of the subway monkey.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Homemade almond milk. Water, almond, lemons.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Saturday night, I deserve an award for being number one...

EMERSON: Vine is kind of where Instagram got their video idea from, I think, because they came out with Vine before Instagram got videos. And it's better than Instagram videos, in my opinion, because it's so fast.

KURWA: That's Youth Radio's Jasiri Emerson.

EMERSON: People don't have as long of an attention span anymore, so they like fast things. And they like watching things over and over.

KURWA: Youth Radio's Sophie Varon, talking to her friend Miles Best(ph), said besides messaging and video, another big trend sums up the year 2013 in social media.

SOPHIE VARON: The Oxford dictionary, I believe, just added the new word of the year. What is it?

MILES BEST: Oh, yeah. Selfie, right?

VARON: Selfie. There's this new, like - I guess it's a social media networking site. It's called Shots of Me. And it's just a whole selfie-sharing network.

KURWA: Instagram is pretty much selfie-central. Some teens told me they meet potential dates on Twitter and then go straight to Instagram to check them out. Photos are crowding out words and so are other visual forms of communication, like sticker art and emoticons you can use inside social apps. Josh Ellman of Greylock Partners expects they'll be a big trend in 2014. For NPR News, I'm Nishat Kurwa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.