By Stefanie Olsen
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Published: May 25, 2006 4:00 AM PDT
Where do the wired kids go?
It's no secret that MySpace.com's popularity with teenage Web surfers has meant a loss to sites like Yahoo and AOL. But a closer look at Web traffic patterns shows that teenagers can be a fickle bunch, and the list of top teen sites can change like the weekly Billboard charts. There's a fresh crop of popular sites this year, while only a handful of last year's favorites are still hot.
Sure, Wikipedia, Google and Apple Computer's site are recognizable names. But others like Bebo, Memegen and Tagged.com aren't so well known to anyone older than 21.
There's little doubt that MySpace has a heavy reputation with the teen set. In fact, many of the new teen hot spots are designed to take advantage of MySpace's "ecosphere" rather than compete with it head on.
With good reason: From April 2005 to April 2006, the overall number of teen visitors (between the ages of 12 and 17) to MySpace grew from roughly 3 million to 7.8 million. That was up 162 percent, according to ComScore Media Metrix. (That doesn't account for MySpace's 14-year-old age minimum.)
In contrast, the number of teen visitors to Yahoo, still tops for the age group, dropped 1 percent over the year to 11.6 million, according to ComScore. AOL, whose Instant Messenger is the most popular among teens, lost 10 percent of its teen visitors, falling behind Yahoo this year for the first time, at 10.9 million visitors.
Of the major Web sites, only Google got a bump from teens in the last year; the number of teen visitors to Google jumped 24 percent to 10.7 million from April to April, according to ComScore.
CNET Networks, publisher of News.com, lost 19 percent of its teen audience year-over-year. It attracted just more than 3 million teens in April.
So who saw an increase? Wikipedia, the controversial and fast-growing open-source encyclopedia, drew 2.9 million teens in April 2006, up 221 percent from the same period a year earlier. (All figures compare unique visitors over a period from April 2005 to April 2006.)
No doubt teens can be a fickle and secretive bunch. But with the rise of MySpace, advertisers are starting to realize they need to keep a close eye on this cybersavvy demographic.
"The teen market is a hugely valuable market," said David Hornik, a venture capitalist with August Capital. "Brands want to get to consumers early, and teenagers are just starting to form lifelong opinions about everything from toothpaste to music. So there is lots of opportunity to make money on big communities of teenagers."
No other age group matches teens' enthusiasm for the Web--nor their use of broadband connections. Roughly 87 percent of the 12 to 17 age group is online, many at least twice a day, according to a recent Pew Internet and American Life study. That bests the activity of 25 to 29 year olds, which have an 85 percent penetration. And 49 percent of teens have high-speed connections at home--more than any other age group. That means it's easy for them to watch video, chat with friends and listen to MP3s while doing their homework.
Teens, of course, love their music. And MySpace benefits nicely from this passion because of the many independent bands that promote free MP3s on the social network. But other music sites are feeling the love too. Apple.com, for example, increased its teen visitor base by 68 percent to 3 million from April 2005 to April 2006, according to ComScore.The ecosphere of MySpace
Remember when passing notes in class was the best way to quiz friends on "What kind of vegetable are you?" and "Who will you marry?" Now sites like Memegen.net let teens post quizzes like "How Gangsta are you?" and "Are you hott?" (sic) on their personal blogs at Livejournal or MySpace.
Memegen.net claimed a spot as one of the top 20 sites among teens in April 2006 but didn't make the grade last year. More than 675,000 teens, or more than half its total visitors, visited the site in April, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.
Still, other teens are looking to newer, edgier social networks, now that MySpace has drawn the ire of parents and teachers.
Tagged.com, Bebo.com and MyYearbook.com are just a few of the social networking sites growing like weeds. Tagged.com, a virtual nobody last year, grew to half a million teen visitors in April, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. Also a newcomer, MyYearbook mushroomed to 1 million visitors in the last year.
"MySpace has broader appeal. Now some teens want to be hipper," said Brian Fitzgerald, president of Gorilla Nation, one of the top teen properties, according to ComScore. Gorilla owns the Web site Quizilla, which lets kids create poems and fiction for their personal Web pages.
As he puts it, Quizilla builds "a community around creativity."
Send insights or tips on this topic to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stefanie Olsen covers science and technology for CNET News.com. In this series, she examines the young generation's unique immersion in the Web, cell phones, IM and online communities.
Sit down with children when they're online, and make sure they visit only Web sites that are parent-approved. The American Library Association lists great sites for kids on its Web site.
Use child-friendly search engines or one with parental controls. KidsClick, for example, is a Web search site by librarians.
Establish a family e-mail account.
Talk to children about their online activities and online friends because to them, the Internet is an extension of the real world.
Establish rules for the Internet. Studies from Canada's Media Awareness group have shown that children respond positively to established rules.
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