Many afternoons, my 9-year-old daughter hops off the school bus, grabs a snack on her pass through the kitchen, and heads to the computer to spend her allotted time all in one chunk at a miniclip.com Web site called Club Penguin.
Usually within minutes the phone rings, and it's one of her friends with whom she had just come home on the bus, calling to see exactly where Caroline—or, more specifically, where Caroline's penguin avatar—is waddling around at Club Penguin.
Club Penguin is a social-networking site geared to kids ages 8-12. It's a snowy virtual town, complete with shops, restaurants, and clubs, where kids assume the shape of a penguin and interact with each other and their surroundings via moderated chat. Together, Caroline and her friends dress their penguins in various outfits; shop for their igloos and furnish them with home accessories like big-screen TVs and disco floors; host and attend each other's parties; play games; and have sleepovers. They stay in touch with happenings by reading the weekly community newsletter.
So I was particularly interested when, last week, comScore Media Metrix released its analysis of the user bases of selected social-networking sites, revealing significant age differences among them. "There is a misconception that social networking is the exclusive domain of teenagers, but this analysis confirms that the appeal of social networking sites is far broader," Jack Flanagan, EVP of comScore Media Metrix, said in a statement.
Various media outlets picked up what they thought were the juiciest bits of the comScore study—mostly that the top sites are "aging." Users at MySpace and Friendster are older than most people think: More than 50 percent of all MySpace users are now over the age of 35, and 71 percent of all Friendster.com users are over age 25.
In my mind, though, the real story isn't that the better-known social-networking sites are skewing older. Rather, as comScore's Flanagan intimated, social networking has become a true societal phenomenon, pervading an entire cross-section of our society—from the youngest to the oldest. In fact, I think the real story is not that social-networking is aging... but that it's getting older and younger.
Having started out as virtual words where teens hang out, social networks continue to house those now-older, erstwhile teens—all the while, ever-younger Net denizens follow their lead, occupying their own virtual corners of the Web.
Of course, there are other issues at play here—the kind of issues that keep me and many other parents up at night: Is it good that my daughter unwinds from her school day by interacting with hundreds of other avatars in the fictitious penguin world? Is earning coins to purchase disco floors and
indoor fountains training her to be a consumer of the highest order? Those questions, I think, are fodder for another day.
But in the meantime, what's your take? Email me, or add your comment to my blog post on this issue over at the Daily Fix.
Until next week,
Chief Content Officer