Kids are going to destroy the Internet

by Dylan on April 18, 2012

I wrote a piece for The Journal about how kids are going to utterly disrupt the landscape of the Internet as we know it today. And why teachers are pretty much screwed. 

I occasionally do a little bit of speaking, and afterwards the most common question I get asked is ‘do you really think Facebook will be around forever?’

People ask me this with a strange, almost excitable glee in their eyes, as if they’re convinced that Facebook is about to collapse at any moment. I generally whisper back conspiratorially “You know, I think there is a threat looming on the horizon”.

This is often enough to send them into paroxysms of delight and frequently an actualhopping-up-and-down motion. “What is it?” they gurgle.

“Kids,” I reply, which inevitably has the impact of a large stone wall on a fast moving custard doughnut.

“Whuuuh?”

The under-13 generation is the fastest growing segment of users on the Internet. Kids under the age of nine are going online at least once every two days. That’s an official figure although I imagine any parent reading this will recoil in laughter at how much of an understatement it probably is. Especially if your three year-old has already blown over a grand buying games on the App Store as one executive recently confided to me.

This under-13 group is the first generation to grow up with immediate access to the Internet. They touch and swipe where we simply watch. All sorts of catchy yet terrible monikers suggest themselves. I once saw somebody declare mid-lecture that they were the ‘touch-kids generation’ until his brain caught up with what his mouth was saying, and he changed his mind.

‘Your kids, nieces and nephews will be the harbingers of disruption’

Whatever you choose to call them, your kids, nieces and nephews will be the harbingers of disruption across every category. Everyone talks about the influencers in Silicon Valley. The Robert Scobles, the Dave McClures, the Mike Arringtons, the Sarah Lacys. You should really be paying attention to the Brandons, the Tiffanys, the Haleys and the Ryans. They’re going to have far more impact than their dimunitive 10-year-old frames might suggest.

Take the multi-billion-dollar toy industry for example. Today, global brands are being created not by toy designers but instead by online games which have been pounced on by millions of kids. Club Penguin was acquired by Disney for over $700million a few years ago. No toys, no TV series, just an incredible concentration of under-sevens.

Look at Moshi Monsters. The virtual world for girls now has over 50million users across the UK and US. In about four years, it’s grown from an online game to one of the biggest kids’ brands in the world. Estimated value? Maybe half a billion dollars, according to industry estimates.

Slightly more anecdotal although no less impactful, is the role kids have had in the success of Angry Birds (if only because your five year-old downloaded it ‘for you’). Publisher Rovio is valued in the billions of dollars.

Stardoll has now launched a line of girls’ clothing with JC Penney. It began as an online dress-up site.

‘There will come a time when some future Michael Bay will be working his magic with Angry Birds or Club Penguin’

These brands have to all intents and purposes been created by the direct activity of the under-13 generation. Remember Transformers, Barbie and Lego? Well, there will come a time when some future Michael Bay will be working his magic with Angry Birds or Club Penguin as ‘a reimagining of a classic brand’. Trust me.

How does this tie back into the fate of Zuckerberg’s creation? For all the immense value and utility which Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr have created, the vast majority of under-13s don’t really give a crap. Certainly up to the age of about ten, the most influential generation the world has ever seen doesn’t care about your Facebook status. Or your hilarious FakeLambShank twitter account. Hell, they don’t even bother with email most of the time.

The speck on the horizon I mentioned earlier? It’s not the possibility that this generation won’t care about networking and communicating (they will) but that in the same way they turned tiny online games into global brands, they might possibly just choose something else instead. Or, even more intriguing, they might create their own.

Movements like Coder Dojo are hacking the education system and teaching kids how to code and create games and applications. Jordan Casey and PizzaBot is only the beginning. I’d be pretty scared if I was a primary school teacher right now. Your students are going to be running online rings around you, Miss.

Ten years ago I said that gaming would become the biggest entertainment industry in the world. I was met by general mirth from investors. Keep an eye on your kids – they’re probably going to be the next big thing.

Dylan Collins is Executive Chairman of Fight My Monster and chairman of Treemetrics. He has previously co-founded a number of tech startups including Jolt Online, DemonWare and Phorest. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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