Sunday, January 29, 2012

At Least Pretend to Care (Sigh)

On Thursday, I covered Google's move to allow teens to join its social network.  I pointed out that the limitations Google has put in place for teens have been disappointingly misinterpreted by certain industry blogs, namely Mashable, PCMag, and The Next Web.  These sources described, with extremely clumsy inaccuracy, the limitation for teens on the hangouts feature of Google Plus:  when someone outside of a teen's circles joins a hangout, the young adult is temporarily removed from the video chat, and is made aware that if the person who joined is not someone he wants to "hangout" with, he may leave.  Here's the thing:  he can rejoin!  He is given the option to rejoin.  Why did "Mashable," "PCMag," and "The Next Web" miss that?  I thought Bradley Horowitz' announcement was pretty clear.  It turns out it wasn't clear enough, and I do my best to explain that in my original post.  More importantly, if those reporters thought Google Plus would abruptly kick a teen out of his own hangout (or a friend's hangout) upon the entrance of a person outside of his cirlces, why wasn't there some concern?  That's an awfully rude feature.  Thank goodness it doesn't exist.  Hopefully, the reason concern was not present was because the aforementioned reporters mistook "a stranger outside a teen’s circles" for simply "a stranger," as in a creepy, creepy stranger.  That seems to be the thinking of Sarah Perez of TechCrunch who finds it "interesting that [Google Plus] wouldn’t just remove the stranger, or perhaps remove strangers ability to even join hangouts in progress."  What she probably doesn't realize is that a "stranger" could be a perfectly innocent friend of a friend.

So some tech blogs made some mistakes, big deal.  Right?  I guess, but what I find frustrating about this is how this story didn't carry the least bit of weight, at least in the minds of those reporting on it, who didn't even think it worth their time to get the facts straight.  AllThingsD and GigaOM didn't run articles on it at all.  And almost none of the articles I read addressed why Google had not welcomed teens at launch.  The exception is Larry Magid's article on HuffPost Tech which explains that Google "wanted to take extra time to get it right."  (I'm skeptical; there are three differences between a teen and an adult profile, and they don't seem that complicated.)

Though I don't think this news is Earth-shattering (I'm not sure how many teens would be early adopters had they been allowed to join), it should be treated as news:  not optional news that you don't have to report on if you don't want to, but real, newsworthy news.  According to Quantcast, 26% of Facebook's US users and 17% of Twitter's are under 18.  That says something.

Disclaimer:  A year ago, I was under 18.  I will be 19 in a month.  Also, my brother works for Google, per my Ethics Statement.

Update December 29, 2012:  I considered taking this post down.  I don't know that it's making me any friends, and I think I could think of more constructive topics to blog about.  But certainly carelessness by news organizations is an issue that should be addressed.  But I'm not the first person to address it, so I don't know what I'm adding here.  What I could have emphasized more, possibly, is the importance of not being totally out of touch with people under the age of 18.  That's what I'll add to the discussion, but it's part of the discussion about news organizations being careless.

I also want to say that it was a little unfair for me to call out GigaOm.  GigaOm specializes somewhat, and is not totally a general news site like AllThingsD is.  Also, I shouldn't be so fast to question the delay:  I don't know what Google had to do to meet all applicable government regulations.