Generation Google: A Talk With Today's Teens

Feb 28, 2008 - 4:26 pm 3 by
Filed Under SMX West 2008

Generation Google: A Talk With Today's Teens - They've grown up with search engines as an everyday fact-of-life, rather than some magical new technology that's revolutionized finding information. This panel of "Generation Google" teens, as some have dubbed them, answers questions about how they search, view search engines and yes -- even do search marketing of their own.

Listen to a short audio preview! Moderator: Danny Sullivan, Editor-in-Chief, Search Engine Land Q&A Moderator: Cindy Krum, Senior SEO Analyst, Blue Moon Works, Inc.

Speaker: Evan Fishkin, quintessential Google generation teen Harrison Gervirtz, CEO, Gevirtz Media LLC (and Chloe Spencer, Blogger, The Ultimate Neopets Cheats Site Andrew Sutherland, Owner, Quizlet

This is a hot session with all teenagers who have totally rocked the Internet. I've already blogged about one of the speakers so I'm totally impressed.

What's your favorite search engine? Everyone says Google. Second favorite? Evan: Windows Live Search. Danny: You're so from Seattle. Evan: I wasn't paid to say that! Harrison: I use Google primarily because I have a relationship as an advertising partner. Danny: What if Google left? Harrison: I wouldn't use any. I'd leave. Okay, fine, Live. Chloe: I'd say Yahoo. Andrew: Once or twice a month, I use Yahoo.

Danny: Do you say that you "Googled" something? Everyone says yes, but Evan said that he "searched" for something. Harrison said that he said a teacher teach him.

Danny: Who taught you to search? Evan: My mom. But it may have been a school assignment. Andrew: About 10 years ago or so, my cousin showed me I was looking at Sim Farm cheats or something. Danny: Was it your parents, teachers, or friends? [Silence.]

Danny: What about paid listings? Do you know the difference between regular results and the paid results? Harrison: I always click. [Harrison's business is affiliate marketing, just so you know where he's coming from.] Andrew: I'm conscious because I run websites and know that people would be paying for a click. Danny: How about your friends? Do you think they know the difference between regular listings and paid listings? Harrison: They definitely know what it is and I'm sure they accidentally click it.

Danny: How often do you go past the first page of the results? Evan: All the time. Harrison: All the time. Chloe: Yes, all the time. Andrew: One in ten, not that often. Danny: Do you have a sense of your friends? Harrison: They probably only search the front page.

Danny: Do you search and pop between windows/tabs while searching? Harrison: I think I have 200 tabs open so I always switch between searching. Danny: How about your friends? Evan: Back and forth. Chloe: Yeah

Danny: How often do you use search for your homework? Evan: Only for English. Harrison: Always. It gets most of my omework done. Chloe: For projects, I use the Internet for homework. Andrew: You can get all the information you want from Wikipedia. Teachers say you shouldn't use it but the majority of times it has useful information so I do. Danny: How about your friends? [They all nod.] Harrison: Our teachers claim that all the results on the first page are paid. I pretty much set her straight and got in trouble for it. Evan: I think every single day I'd have a teacher who recommended to search online. Andrew: My library in my school has added 60 new computers and it's shifted a lot towards online research [from books]. We have research tools that are similar to LexisNexis. That goes beyond Google and has better content than Wikipedia.

Danny: Do you have a feeling that they think you're cheating by using search engines? Harrison: That's what I was told. Andrew: They're just jealous [that they couldn't use it when they were younger.] Evan: They think it's important that you get extra tidbits from textbooks. Andrew: When I'm writing an essay and I've read a book, I recently discovered Amazon Book Search, you can find the information right there. It makes things a lot easier and is still just as good.

Danny: I assume you have phones. How often do you use it to search? Andrew: Zero. (He also says that his phone is like 4 years old.) Harrison: Multiple times - I use my iPhones. (He also has a lot of other phones including a Samsung and a Nextel and something he called a "Juke?" Am I that old?!) Chloe: I use it to download ringtones. (She has a Samsung phone.) Evan: I have a [Microsoft branded] phone. Andrew: I work online all the time and I'm plugged in so much so I like not having an iPhone and I like not having to check my stats all the time. If I'm with friends, I don't want to have to check my email. (You'll change, Andrew.) Danny: What about your friends?

Danny: How often do you use search engines before you buy something? Evan: All the time. Harrison: Yes, I like to check product page. Chloe: I don't shop online that much. Andrew: I'll check out Cnet, Amazon, and eBay and between those I find good price. Danny: How about your friends? Evan: Froogle. Harrison: I think that most of my friends don't shop online. Chloe: Not really. My friends and I like to try on clothes before we buy them.

Danny: What do you search for the most? Entertainment, video, news, homework? What's the heavy activity? Evan: Recently I had a history midterm and I think I searched for FDR's presidency about 500,000 different ways. Danny: How come you phrased it 500,000 different ways? Evan: My teacher requires intricate knowledge of FDR. He's an FDR buff and he wants to know everything. Harrison: I usually look for homework answers and stuff that I'm marketing myself to see what's in the normal and paid listings. Chloe: I search for a lot of things for my MySpace page and I have layouts that I look for. Andrew: I do a lot of programming so I search for PHP functions and stuff like that. There's so many resources for programmers. Danny: Can you characterize what you think your friends search for? Harrison: Probably to find free stuff online. Danny: I can so see marketers start using the word "free" in their marketing now. Evan: I have a friend who is a guitarist so I know he's looking at resources online like YouTube to play guitar.

Danny: What kind of job do you think the search engines are doing? Do you think they can be better? It's really agreed by most of them that search is good and there are no complaints. Harrison: I think you won't find relevant results for pharmaceutical drugs. Danny: Just to make Matt happy, Google does have a health search engines.

Danny: What do you think of a search engine for teenagers? Andrew: It's stupid. Harrison: I've never used it. Evan: Maybe if they made a homework oriented project for schoolkids so I don't have to buy a book on biochemistry. Andrew: People don't want to be labeled as teens. There's a social network called Eons which is dubbed as a social network for old people. It's a stupid idea. Nobody wants their demographic to be targeted like that. You're not going to go to a site because "it's for sixteen year olds." You go for the functionality. Evan: I know there's Safe Search and all but I've talked with parents and people I go to school with and they talk about what they're worried about what their kids are looking online for (because it may be too kinky)... Danny: It sounds like you're saying that you might want to suggest a search engine for younger kids. Evan: Yeah, definitely.

Danny: What do you trust more when you get information? Social sites or search engines? Harrison: Being a marketer, I don't want to trust anything. Danny: Do any of you turn to social networking sites to get answers for anything? Everyone shakes their head. Andrew: You don't really consider social sites to be very educational or informational. Danny: Before there were search engines, you had to ask people for information. Harrison: They've made Facebook apps like "My Questions" but I don't think people use it for informational purposes. Perhaps, though, there is one person who uses it in the context that you're suggesting. Chloe: I'm more MySpace. Andrew: I'm totally Facebook. Harrison: I'm on all. Evan: Twitter.

Danny: What are your friends using? Harrison: I'm going to have to say MySpace but there are people going to Facebook. It's starting to equalize. Chloe: It's equal and I think that Facebook is becoming more popular among teens. Andrew: I don't have a MySpace account and I think my school is mostly Facebook. Danny: And the Microsoft tool, [Evan]? Evan: A friend of mine uses Instant Messenger.

What do you use for IM? Harrison: Yahoo, ICQ, AIM, etc. Chloe: I used to use MSN Messenger but now I use AIM. Andrew: AIM. Harrison: I notice that a lot of people are using Gtalk so I use it to talk to my developers. Andrew: The functionality is pretty much the same between all of them. No one wants to use separate applications. Use an application like Adium but personally I use AIM.

Danny: Are you worried about search engines not being green enough and environmentally friendly/ Evan: No. Harrison: No. Chloe: I don't see how they can, really. Danny: But they're ravaging the environment. Harrison: I've noticed how websites are "going green" and I wasn't aware of it. I never really thought about it. Danny: And your friends? Evan: I'm pretty sure that if Yahoo was responsible for killing a baby seal, he'd be all over it. Andrew: My friends are eco-conscious but they're not specifically thinking about companies going green. Danny: What about cars? Are you concerned about how cars may not be green? Yes, they all agree, but they don't think about it in terms of search. Harrison: Sometimes I look at my hosting bill and I asked "how much of that was actual electricity?" but I'm not really aware of the power consumption. Andrew: I don't think we're aware of how much people power Google. It just works. For all we know, it's in someone's basement. Evan: Back to the Microsoft things, they have a slew of Hybrids so I'm not worried about it. Danny: And Google has solar panels. Evan: I don't see solar panels driving around.

Danny: Are you worried about privacy? Evan: Yes. Harrison: No, not at all. My answer is probably unfair. Chloe: No. Andrew: When Facebook did the Beacon thing and the news feed, all my friends thought it was terrible. I didn't care about it because I knew the intentions behind it. People will see what their friends are joining and won't look too far into it. It's all perception. If someone tells you it's encroaching on your privacy, you'll believe them. Harrison: I think it's on a more personal basis. They know a lot but they're not telling us. With Beacon, I was a little bothered by it; I don't want people to know what I buy. But with Google, I don't care as much. Andrew: I use Google logged in but not with the toolbar. I used search history and it wasn't interesting so I turned it off. Harrison: I use search history so that I can remember what I'm searching for. Danny: Matt's looking at your history right now!

Danny: All your friends are using Google and some people are getting concerned that Google is getting too big. Is Google loved or hated between your friends? Harrison: It's a love/hate relationship with all the advertiser regulations. My friends don't really have that issue. Chloe: No, not really, it's just Google. I don't think about it. Andrew: I think Google is like using a public bathroom. [Everyone laughs.] Maybe that's a bad example. Let's say that it's a public water fountain. Nobody cares what's happening there, I guess. Nobody thinks that there's a corporate thing behind it. It's just a tool, like Firefox, in your arsenal of the computer.

Danny: Do you ever search for information about your parents? Harrison: I don't think it's really good to search stuff... Danny cut him off: Do your parents search for their parents? Evan: Yes. Harrison: Yes, I think they look for dirt on them. Chloe: No, not so much. Andrew: Nope.

Danny: How about your teachers? Evan: Yes, they want to know if teachers come recommended. Chloe: No, not really. I know the site and that stirred up a lot of controversy. Harrison: Yeah, that site said that teachers are terrible and I don't like it.

Danny: Do you search for yourself? Totally unanimously yes. Danny: Are your friends searching for themselves? Harrison: No, not really. I don't think they have a web presence. Danny: Is it impressive to them? Harrison: Not my friends, but my mom tells people to search for me. Evan: You can't search for me. Rand comes up. Everyone cracks up and Danny expresses his sadness for Evan. Rebecca Kelley from the audience says "Does Google ask 'Did you mean Rand Fishkin?'" Danny: Does it ever suggest your father [Stephan Spencer] when you search for your name? Chloe: I don't think so. Danny searches for Evan Fishkin and says it doesn't say Rand, but "your mom comes up as #6."

Danny: Do you search often? Evan: Yeah. Andrew: Yeah, all the time. Harrison: My friend mentioned a jet and I looked it up on search. I think a lot of people are starting to realize that it has benefits.

Danny: Let's take Google out of the equation. What do you use to find stuff if there's no search engine? There's silence. Evan: Encyclopedia Brittanica. Harrison: Are there any Cliff's nearby? Danny: What about the library? Andrew: Yeah, the library. Harrison: I never really thought about it.

Danny: What's the biggest problem with search that you need to have improved? Harrison: It's unfair for me to say but deceiving advertising and misleading ads. Nobody else says anything. Harrison: I think there are a lot of people searching for drugs and they want information on it. I personally think it damages the search experience. Danny: How would you solve that? Harrison: Maybe a manual review or just to look at what's there. Danny: I think you should go meet Jason Calacanis and be the spokeskid for Mahalo.

Now Danny's questions are finished. He shows the Google solar panel project to the teens.

Here are the audience Q&As: Q: Do you feel boys search more than girls? Harrison: It really depends on what it is. Video games are searched more by boys than clothes. Maybe more specific keywords are more girly. Chloe: I know a lot of boys search for online gaming and girls aren't really into that. Harrison: Except I did see something on the news today that acknowledges that more girls are playing video games.

Q: For social search, is there a difference between preppy kids and nerd kids? Harrison: I'm sure that there are, but not in my town. Chloe: There are nerds and popular kids, but I don't think there's a group that's "tech savvy." Andrew: I think that everyone has a clique with the accounts they're attached to - there's MySpace and/or Facebook, Evan: I don't think there's any tech savvy group. It's called high school.

Q: I asked about who taught you to search but when you're in school, do they have any Internet literacy courses on how to be smart on the web? Evan: They try to teach you. Harrison: They told us that Google is a scam and that Wikipedia is always wrong (and they even said that Wikipedia is for-money). Chloe: I guess they do. We have computer classes but I haven't taken it yet so I don't really know. Andrew: For the most part, we're the ones teaching the teachers. Sometimes we have info sessions with librarians. Sometimes they educate you about male pregnancy sites (to illustrate that not everything is true on the Internet). Kids who are 18 have been searching for at least 6 or 7 years. They know what's up.

Q: Do you think they ought to be teaching Internet literacy? Harrison: They need to give us real information. I think they should have given privacy conerns like not to put your phone number online. Chloe: I think they should give us information and how to get the most out of it. Andrew: I think the most important lesson is how to protect your privacy. It's so easy to find this information online and it's hard to take it down.

Q: Do you think they teach you lame things because they don't know it themselves? Evan: Our teachers told us that we're going to be encountering engines "for the first time" when we had a project and that bothered me (becuase it's not true). They haven't had training and don't realize we grew up with it. Andrew: Most of my teachers are computer literate but we have so many things to learn about that teaching us about search engines is not a good use of their time. Harrison: We often have to help them on how to use computers all the time. Chloe: Most teacher have been teaching since before search engines so they're very traditional. They're aware of how big it is but they're not changing their teaching techniques for it.

Q: You're already doing stuff on the web. Is that going to be your career? Harrison: Yeah. I don't know if I'll be an affiliate forever but I know I'll be in the Internet field. Chloe: I'm actually interested in film so this isn't the field I was planning in being in. I might becasue I'm getting more into it and making more websites so it may be something I'll be in for a long time. Andrew: I enjoy what I do currently as long as it keeps challenging me and there are new frontiers to develop on, I'll stay interested. Danny: Do any of your friends want to be SEOs when they grow up? Harrison: No. Chloe: Nobody I know has really heard of that.

Matt Cutts had left the room. Danny sees him walk back in the room and said, "Dude, you didn't see the solar panels! Did you have to use the Google?"

Q: Do you have credit cards? Yes, except for Chloe. Chloe: I have an ATM card but I can't purchase stuff with it. Harrison: I've been trying to accumulate miles. I don't know why I have but I am. Danny: Do your friends? Andrew: They have debit cards. I shop online for my own stuff. Most kids are still asking their parents for stuff.

Q: Are your parents visiting your Facebook or MySpace pages? Harrison: I hope not. [Oh, and his mom is in the audience.] He says that he has two Facebook accounts - one for him and one for Facebook ads. Chloe: Yes, some of my friends' parents try to communicate with them on their MySpace profile. Harrison: I'm sure that if kids want to be on MySpace and they don't want to their parents to access their profile, they won't - becasue they'll say San Francisco, Guatemala instead of CA.

Q: Where ads are published, what would you trust more? One in a magazine or one that is online? Evan: My friends would probably trust a magazine more. Chloe: Probably a magazine. It's in print. The web can be deceiving. Andrew: I don't think that people are really thinking about trusting ads. They are aiming to get what they want, and that's it. Harrison: I think that ads have increased over the past year. Evan: I'll admit. I shoot the monkey on the advertisements. Harrison: Thank you. [This session rocks.]

Q: Do any of you do product reviews? Evan: If they're really unhappy with a review, they'll slime it. If they really like it, they won't take the time and effort to review it.

Q: You guys recognize search spam, right? Do you do anything? Chloe: Yes, and we ignore it. Harrison: I saw a sponsored listing that had one ad in every spot and that's the only time I reported it. Danny: Do your friends recognize spam? Evan: Nope. Harrison: I think that people fall for it all the time. Andrew: One of the things I noticed in my access logs is that a lot of people in their user agents were using FunWebProducts (it's the smiley spyware). A large percentage of users who were 13-16 years of age will have that. I was surprised that they're stupid enough to click on it, but they do. Danny: Do they get the popups and not care what happens? Harrison: They don't talk about total spyware. I don't think people read the fine print.

Q: Internet Explorer or Firefox? Harrison: Opera. Evan: IE. Chloe: Safari Andrew: Safari but I use Firefox occasionally.

Q: Macs or PCs. Evan: As of rather recently, my friends are leaning toward Macs. Harrison: PCs. Chloe: PCs. Andrew: Macs. Q: And your friends? Harrison: IE. I tried convincing my mom to use Firefox. Andrew: IE7 is so much better from a web developer perspective and I don't think it's worth evangelizing Firefox anymore.

Revisiting the "do you think you can improve things on the search engine" question, Chloe said that there should be a separate search engine for specifically buying things. She never used Froogle. Harrison says that Froogle can be improved. Andrew: I think people need to make ads invisible again because people are tuning them out. For the average user or teenager, on search pages, people just look at the organic results, not so much the sponsored listings. It's very hard for them to look outside unless the text is really popping out with exactly what you want. Harrison: I agree with what he's saying but I think that there are people who click on ads even if there's some awareness of sponsored ads. People are always buying stuff online. Evan: A sucker is born every minute.


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