In our 2005 report, “Teen Content Creators and Consumers,” we noted an important and emerging trend: teenagers were helping to lead the then-ascendant movement into the Web 2.0 era of participatory media. Online teens were utilizing the interactive capabilities of the internet—creating and sharing their own media creations—at levels far higher than adults. At the time, online teens were more likely than adults to have tried virtually every form of content creation. The portion of online teens who were blogging, maintaining their own websites, remixing content, and sharing other artistic creations online far outweighed the portion of online adults who had engaged in the same types of activities.

Catherine Cook is co-founder of the social networking site, which she started when she was in high school. Together with her brothers, she wanted to create a site that would give students access to an interactive digital yearbook that would help them stay in touch with friends after graduation. First launched in 2005, the site now has over 1.7 million members and has attracted over $4 million dollars in venture capital.16

Ben Cathers was just 12 years old when he started his first business providing online advertising in the late 1990s. By 17 he was producing his own syndicated radio show, and by 19 he had founded a search engine technology company.17

In 2004, then 14-year-old Ashley Qualls took her interest in graphic design to the Web and created, a source for MySpace graphics and Web design tutorials. She describes the site as “a place to express yourself.” In addition to layouts and other free graphics, now features a magazine with teen-authored articles and reviews. According to Google Analytics figures cited in a recent Fast Company article, “Whateverlife attracts more than 7 million individuals and 60 million page views a month.”18

While these teens have been exceptionally successful in their pursuits, their stories highlight a near-universal truth about the life of American teens today. Online teens have access to tools that can gain them widespread attention and notoriety—for better or for worse—in ways that simply were not possible under the traditional mass media model. It is still the case that recognition is often tethered to the amplification afforded by mainstream media, but the tools needed to produce and distribute digital media are readily available and utilized in some way by most teen internet users. And while some teens may dream of becoming famous on YouTube, most teen content creators are posting material with much smaller audiences in mind (such as one’s network of friends on a social networking site).

93% of teenagers are online, and their use of the internet is intensifying.

More than nine in ten Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 are internet users, as of November 2006. In 2004, 87% were internet users, and in 2000, 73% of teens went online.

Not only are more teens online, but they are also using the internet more intensely now than in the past. The percentage of online teens who report using the internet daily has increased from 42% in 2000 and 51% in 2004 to 61% in 2006. Among teens who go online daily, 34% use the internet multiple times a day and 27% use the internet once a day.

Nearly two-thirds of online teens are content creators.

In recent years, the Pew Internet Project has focused on five activities that we consider hallmarks of online content creation. Our questions ask respondents if they create or work on a blog; create or work on a personal webpage; create or work on a webpage for school, a friend, or an organization; share original content such as artwork, photos, stories, or videos online; or remix content found online into a new creation.

Content Creators are online teens who have created or worked on a blog or webpage, shared original creative content, or remixed content they found online into a new creation.

In this survey, 64% of online teens said “yes” to at least one of the basic content questions described above. That is an increase from 57% who were content creators in our 2004 survey. Translated to the entire teen population these new findings show that 59% of all teens report some type of content creating activity, compared with 50% in our previous study.

By our measures, all of these forms of participatory culture are blossoming in their own right. Even in the cases where we see little or no growth in the incidence of certain activities over the past two years, the total size of the online teen population and their rates of daily connectivity have increased, such that the sheer number of teens who report a given behavior are representative of a larger and more active contingent of users.

What has not changed since 2004 is that the most popular content-creating activities are still sharing self-authored artistic content and working on webpages for others. However, teen blogging has grown significantly over the past few years, accounting for much of the growth in the teen content creation category overall.

  • 39% of online teens share their own artistic creations online, such as artwork, photos, stories, or videos, up from 33% in 2004.
  • 33% create or work on webpages or blogs for others, including those for groups they belong to, friends, or school assignments – essentially the same number as reported this in 2004 (32%).
  • 28% have created their own online journal or blog, up from 19% in 2004.
  • 27% maintain their own personal webpage, up from 22% in 2004.
  • 26% remix content they find online into their own creations, up from 19% in 2004.

In addition, many internet users post comments on news sites, bulletin boards, and group webpages. Many create avatars – digital representations of themselves – to interact with others in the gaming environment and in virtual worlds such as Second Life.

Moreover, social networking applications and websites such as Facebook and MySpace integrate many of these content-creating behaviors and the opportunity to display content created elsewhere into one centralized location.  MySpace, one of the most popular social networking sites for teens, hosts blogs, photos, stories, video, and other creative content like custom wallpaper and icons.

Indeed, the very act of creating a profile on a social network site constitutes content creation – and 55% of online teens have such profiles. Thus, the growth we observed across the five activities we have measured over time should be seen as an indication of broad trends toward engagement with what some have termed “participatory media.”

MIT professor Henry Jenkins notes that, along with the rise in popularity of participatory media applications, there has also been a concurrent development of “participatory cultures” that serve to encourage all of this user-contributed content. Jenkins defines a participatory culture as “a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices.”19

According to Jenkins, participatory cultures take the form of “affiliations” (i.e., informal and formal memberships built around various forms of media, which include social networking sites, message boards and gaming communities), “expressions” (producing transformative forms of creative expression such as mash-ups and fan fiction), “collaborative problem-solving” (working in teams to complete tasks and contribute to a knowledge base using a wiki or other collaborative environment), and “circulations” (changing the distribution and flow of media through tools like blogging and podcasting).

Most online teens engage in more than one kind of content-creating activity.

Teen content creators say they have done an average of two content-creating activities out of the five we included in the survey. Some 68% of content creators have done multiple activities, and 32% have done one activity.

Teen Content Creators Branch Out 

Since our last survey, teens have gained more experience with a wider range of content-creation activities. Compared with teen content creators in 2004, more teen content creators are currently doing multiple content-creating activities.  In other words, the number of teen content creators who have done one activity has decreased significantly while the number of content creators who have done two or more activities has increased.

Who are the teen content creators?

Content creators are more likely to be girls and more likely to be older teens.  Fifty-five percent of creators are girls and 45% of creators are boys.  Furthermore, 45% of creators are aged 12 to 14 and 55% of creators are aged 15 to 17. 

Demographics of Teen Content Creators

Social networking sites are hubs of teen content-creating activity.

Online social networks sprang onto the internet scene in recent years, providing popular online spaces for hanging out, sharing, and communicating with a network of friends through an individual profile. As of the end of 2006, 55% of online teens had a profile on a social network. A much smaller percentage of adult internet users (20%) report an online profile.20

Older online girls ages 15-17 are more likely to have used social networking sites and have an online profile; 70% of older girls have used an online social network compared with 54% of older boys, and 70% of older girls have created an online profile, while only 57% boys have done so.  For nearly half of social networking teens, visiting these sites is at least a daily occurrence.

The “social” in social network is the operative term for many teens – nearly all teens who use the networks say that they use the sites to keep in touch with friends and make social plans.  Nine in ten (91%) of all social networking teens say they use the sites to stay in touch with friends they see frequently, while 82% use the sites to stay in touch with friends they rarely see in person. 

And the online networks are not just for staying in touch with old friends; 72% of all social networking teens use the sites to make plans with friends; half (49%) use the sites to make new friends, and one in six (17%) teens use social networks to flirt.

All of this friendship and flirting is facilitated by the communications options embedded within social networks. Users can send public messages such as wall posts, group messages to friends, or private messages, all within the social network system.

How Teens Communicate with Friends Using Social Networking

But there are other elements to social networking besides flirting, party-planning, and messages to friends. For many teens, social networks, home to a concentrated posse of easily contactable friends, are the perfect place to share yourself through your profile, including things you have created. And the data suggest that social networking teens are avid content creators, with 77% of social network users creating some type of content. Indeed, 53% of social network users have shared some kind of artistic work online, compared to 22% of those who do not use a social network.

Blogging is not always synonymous with social networking, but social network users are more likely to keep a blog or read them.

There are more teen bloggers among the social networking crowd when viewed alongside those without any social network experience. Two in five (42%) teens who use social networking sites also say that they blog. However, while a majority of social network-using teens do not author their own blogs, in keeping with the conversational and social nature of social media, they are still interacting with others’ blogs. Seven in ten (70%) social network users report reading the blogs of others (compared with just one in four teens who do not use social networking sites in some capacity), and three in four social networking teens (76%) have posted comments to a friend’s blog on a social networking site.

Users of Social Network Sites Are More Likely to Create All Kinds of Content

Given the prominence of images and photos in many online social networking profiles, it is not surprising that social network users greatly outpace non-social-networking teens in their posting of pictures and photos, with 73% of social networking teens posting pictures, compared to just 16% of those not on social networks. Video is also a feature on certain prominent social networking sites, and some 22% of social networking teens report video posting, compared to 6% of non-social-network users.

Social networking teens are also more avid remixers when compared to those without any social networking site experience. One in three social network-using teens (32%) remix content into their own creations compared with just 18% of non-social-networking teens.

More older girls than boys create and contribute to websites.

One in four online teens (27%) say they create or work on their own webpages, roughly the same proportion who reported this in our 2000 and 2004 surveys of teens (when 24% and  22% of online teens reported this respectively). A much smaller percentage of online adults build their own webpages, with just 14% of adults 18 and older doing so.21

Since 2004, teen girls have outpaced teen boys in website contributions; 32% of online teen girls create or work on their own webpage, compared with just 22% of boys. Older online girls ages 15-17 and those who are online on a daily basis are among the most likely to maintain their own websites; 34% of each of these groups create or work on their own webpages.

Teens share their website building skills with others.

Those ages 12-17 are more likely to create or contribute to webpages for others than they are to maintain their own site. Currently, 33% of online teens say they create or work on pages for others, including for friends, for groups they belong to, or for school assignments. This incidence has also changed little since our 2004 survey, when 32% contributed to others’ websites. Online adults create webpages for others at much lower rates than teens, with 13% of adult internet users reporting building a website for others. And unlike teens, online adults are just as likely to build a website for themselves as for someone else.22

Girls have also become more likely to work on others’ websites over time; while there was no difference between boys and girls in 2004, 36% of online teen girls now say they create or work on websites for others, while just 29% of online teen boys report this.

Dramatic increases in teen blogging activity account for much of the growth in the content creation category.

Blogging has enjoyed rapid adoption since our last survey. In 2004, 19% of online teens said they had created a blog, while 28% now report blogging.23 Some of the websites that teens create for themselves or work on for others might take the form of a blog, as more than half of online teens who maintain their own webpage also say they blog. Teens also far surpass adults internet users in blogging – just 8% of adult internet users have ever created a blog.24

Since 2004, blogs have become easier to search, update and distribute to the world via RSS.25 Blogging has been embraced and encouraged by the educational and library community, and some schools are now incorporating blogging tools into their curriculum. In school, students may be asked to post their papers to a blog before class to allow other students to read their writing and post feedback online that can be incorporated into the class discussion.

Girls have fueled the growth of the teen blogosphere. Teens from lower-income and single-parent households are more likely to blog.

Girls have fueled the growth of the teen blogosphere.

Overall, girls continue to dominate the teen blogosphere; 35% of all online teen girls blog, compared with just 20% of online teen boys. As was the case in 2004, there is relatively little variation by age in blogging activity when looking at all teens. The gender gap for blogging, however, has actually grown larger over time. Virtually all of the growth in teen blogging between 2004 and 2006 is due to the increased activity of girls. Older teen girls are still far more likely to blog when compared with older boys (38% vs. 18%), but younger girl bloggers have grown at such a fast clip that they are now outpacing even the older boys (32% of younger girls blog vs. 18% of older boys).

Teens from lower-income and single-parent households are more likely to blog.

Beyond gender and age, two new developments emerged in this survey in the demographics of teens who blog. While there was little or no variation in blogging activity among teens according to household income or family structure in 2004, both variables have become important indicators in the 2006 data. Teens living in households earning less than $50,000 per year are considerably more likely to blog than those living in higher-income households; fully 35% of online teens whose parents fall in the lower income brackets have created an online journal or blog, while just 24% of those in the higher income brackets have done so.

An even more pronounced contrast is evident when looking at teens who live with single parents vs. those who live with married parents. Online teens living in single-parent homes are far more likely to have shared their writing through a blog; 42% of these teens keep a blog compared with 25% of teens living with married parents.

Teens who are most active online, including bloggers, are also highly active offline.

Teens who are daily internet users blog in greater numbers than those who report less frequent internet use. As is the case with many online activities, teens who go online more tend to engage in a wider array of online pursuits, and blogging is no exception. One in three teens (32%) who go online daily keep a blog, compared with just 23% of teens who go online several times per week.

However, we have yet to see compelling evidence that these highly wired teens are abandoning offline engagement with extracurricular activities in favor of having more screen time. In fact, in many cases, those who are the most active online with social media applications like blogging and social networking also tend to be the most involved with offline activities like sports, music, or part-time employment.

This is certainly the case with blogging, where those who are most active offline also appear to have the most to share online; 35% of teens who engage in three or more extra curricular activities keep a blog compared with 26% of those who participate in one or two activities outside of school. Just 20% of teens without any engagement in sports, clubs, youth groups, or any other extracurricular activity have created a blog.

There is also a strong correlation between blogging and other content creation among teens, with bloggers much more likely to engage in other content-creating activities than non-blogging teens. Given that blogs often serve as a place to display self-created content, the correlation between blogging and other content creation is unsurprising. Bloggers were major content creators in 2004 as well, but the relationships between blogging and other kinds of content creation have shifted in our current survey such that differences between bloggers and non-bloggers are somewhat less stark than they were in the past.

Bloggers Communicate through Multiple Channels: Teen bloggers continue to create, remix and share all kinds of media.

While broadband connectivity is still predictive of whether some youth engage in bandwidth-intensive activities like video viewing and downloading, it does not have an impact on most other online activities, including whether or not teens keep a blog. Teens with dial-up internet access are equally as likely to keep a blog when compared with those who have high-speed connections at home, with 24% of dial up users and 28% of broadband users keeping blogs.

Half of online teens read blogs.

While there are now more teens creating blogs than there were when we last surveyed, the teen blog-reading audience has also grown. Half of all online teens (49%) now read the online journals or blogs of others, up from 38% in 2004. Fully 59% of teens who go online on a daily basis read blogs, compared with just 39% of teens who go online several times per week.

Demographics of Teen Blog Readers

The older the teen, the more likely he or she is to follow the blogosphere; while 40% of online teens ages 12-14 read blogs, 58% of online teens ages 15-17 are blog readers.

Just as girls are primarily the ones who are authoring teen blogs, they are also primarily the ones reading them. More than half of online teen girls read blogs compared with two in five online teen boys (55% vs. 43%). Again, older girls lead the pack, with 64% reading blogs, while just 52% of older boys are blog readers.

Going online at school is not equivalent to internet access at home, whether because of time limits, rules about personal use of school equipment, or filters. Given the limitations of school internet use, it is not surprising that teens who go online most often from school are less likely to report blog reading. While 40% of teens who primarily have internet access at school read blogs, 52% of teens with primary access at home follow blogs.

Teens are now more likely to share their own artwork, photos, stories, or videos online. One in four online teens remix content they find online, and half of online teens post photos online.

Teens are now more likely to share their own artwork, photos, stories, or videos online.

Online teens are now more likely to report that they share their personal creations online; 39% say they share content such as artwork, photos, stories, or videos, up from 33% in 2004. Online adults are less likely than online teens to share online; 22% of adult internet users have shared something online that they personally created.26 In 2004, younger and older online teens were equally likely to share content; 32% of teens ages 12-14 had shared something online that they had created themselves, while 34% of teens ages 15-17 had done so. However, in 2006, 35% of younger teens reported sharing content, compared with 42% of older teens.

One in four online teens remix content they find online.

With all of the tools teens have at their disposal to post and share content, many have also become adept at editing and remixing digital content. Applications that allow users to edit images, music, and video are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Additionally, searchable libraries of content without traditional copyright restrictions such as those found in the Creative Commons section of the Flickr photo-sharing site are providing a seamless way for users to find content that they can sample and remix.

Remixing has grown in popularity since our last survey such that 26% of online teens now say they take material they find online – like songs, text, or images – and remix it into their own artistic creation, up from 19% in 2004. Adults lag behind teens in this creative arena; in 2007, 17% of online adults reported remixing content.27

Teen girls and boys are equally likely to remix content they find online, and there are no clear patterns of increased remixing activity among older or younger teens.

Looking at the subgroup of teen content creators – those who have engaged in at least one user-generated content activity – 41% have remixed online content into their own creation.

Half of online teens post photos online.

Often one of the anchoring elements of online profiles and blogs, digital photos are widely posted online by teens. With the proliferation of digital cameras and cell phone cameras in particular, many teens have the means to document the most mundane and profound moments of their lives through images and share those photos with family, friends, or the world at large by posting them online. About half of wired teens (47%) say they upload photos online where others can see them. Among adult internet users, a smaller portion (36%) of them say they upload photos.28

Girls eclipse boys in photo posting.

Online girls are far more likely to have posted photos online when compared with boys (54% vs. 40%). Older teens are also more active posters, with 58% of online teens ages 15-17 posting photos, vs. 36% of younger teens ages 12-14. Older girls are the mega posters, with 67% of them uploading photos, compared with 48% of older boys. Younger girls and boys are equally as likely to upload photos; 39% of younger girls ages 12-14 upload photos while 33% of younger boys do so.

Teens who live in homes with high-speed internet access are better positioned to upload content, and it shows. While 51% of broadband teens upload photos online, just 39% of dial-up teens post photos. Likewise, teens who are online frequently are more engaged with photo posting; while 59% of those who go online daily post photos, just 29% of teens who go online several times per week or less often have uploaded photos.

Teens who go online most often from home are considerably more likely to post photos when compared with those who are primarily at-school users. About half (51%) of online teens who access the internet mostly from home have uploaded photos, compared with 36% of those with primary access at school.

Most teens restrict access to their posted photos – at least some of the time. Girls are more restrictive photo posters.

In recent years, much attention has been paid to how teens share information online. Parents and policymakers shared concerns that teens were revealing too much information online, putting them at risk for predation or reputational harm, now and in the future. Previously released Pew Internet & American Life Project research29 suggests that teens are cognizant of the risks of placing personal information online. Two-thirds (66%) of teens with an online profile say they restrict access to it in some way, while just 50% of online adults with profiles restrict access. And 56% of teens with online profiles say they post false information of some kind on their profile. Teens also limit the type of real information they share about themselves online – only 11% of teens with profiles share both a first name and a last name online, and even fewer profile-owners (5%) share their full name, photos and city or state.30

But beyond just sharing personal information, teens are savvy about how they share images and video as well. Few teens who upload photos online consistently share them without any restrictions. While 39% say they restrict access to their photos “most of the time,” another 38% report restricting access “only sometimes.” Just 21% of teens who post photos say they “never” restrict access to the images they upload. Online adults are more lax in restricting access to their online photos; 34% restrict access most of the time, 24% some of the time, and 39% say they never restrict access to online photos.

Girls are more likely to restrict access to their photos (“most of the time”) when compared with boys; 44% of girls who post photos regularly restrict access, while 33% of photo-posting boys do so. Older girls are even more protective of their images, with 49% of photo-posting girls ages 15-17 restricting access most of the time vs. 29% of photo-posting older boys.

One in seven online teens has posted video files on the internet. Boys lead the video-posting pack.

Some 14% of all online teens say they have uploaded a video file online where others can watch it. In contrast, just 8% of online adults have uploaded a video.31 In a striking departure from the trends observed with photo posting, online teen boys are nearly twice as likely as online teen girls to post video files (19% vs. 10%). Not even older girls – a highly-wired and active segment of the online teen population – can compete with boys in this instance; 21% of older boys post video, while just 10% of older girls do so. 

Videos are not restricted as often as photos.

For the most part, teens who post video files want them to be seen. Just 19% of video posters say they restrict access to their videos “most of the time.” As previously mentioned, that compares to 39% of photo posting teens who usually set limits on who can view the photos they post.

More than one-third of teens who post videos (35%) say they restrict access to their videos “only sometimes,” and 46% say they “never” limit who can watch their videos. Adult internet video posters have a similar profile of restrictiveness; 23% limit access to videos they post “most of the time,” 30% do so “some of the time,” and 42% never restrict who can watch videos they have posted.

The group of teens who post videos (n=124) is too small to note any significant variations in privacy restrictions according to gender, age, or other demographic characteristics.

Posting photos and videos starts a conversation. Most teens receive some feedback on the content they post online.

The posting of content does not happen in a vacuum. Content is posted so that it might be seen by an audience, regardless of how that audience is limited by restrictions set on the content by the content poster. And often that audience responds to the content posted online, making the content as much about interaction with others as it is about sharing with them. About half (52%) of teens who post photos online say that people comment or respond to their photos “sometimes.” Another third (37%) say that their audience comments on their posted photos “most of the time.” Only 10% of teens who post photos online say that people “never” comment on what they’ve posted.

Video posters report a similar incidence of commenting on the videos they post online – a little under half (48%) say that people “sometimes” comment on their video postings. Another quarter (24%) say that people comment on their online videos “most of the time.” A similar number (27%) say that they “never” get comments on posted videos.

Comments and online conversation around content are not limited to images or videos posted online. As mentioned above, three-quarters (76%) of teens who use social networks report commenting on blog posts written by others.

Content creators are not devoting their lives exclusively to virtual participation. They are just as likely as other teens to engage in most offline activities and more likely to have jobs.

One of the persistent concerns that arises in policy circles, among parent advocates, and among health professionals is that teens might be too wrapped up in virtual life and that might turn them away from engagement in real-world social and academic activities. Our survey shows that content creators are just as likely as non-creators to participate in a most offline extracurricular activities and more likely to participate in certain specific offline activities.

Online Content Creators Are More Active Offline than Non-Creators

Compared with non-content-creating teens, those who create content are more likely to report participating in school clubs, with 42% of content creators participating compared with 26% of non-creators. Content creators are also more likely to have a part-time job than non-content-creators. Twenty-four percent of creators have a part-time job, compared with 18% of non-creators. 

Content creators are just as likely as non-creators to participate in a club or sports program that is not affiliated with their school, like a church youth group, recreation league, or community volunteer organization (60% of creators compared to 54% of non-creators), a school sports program (52% compared to 51% of non-creators), or some other extracurricular activity like band (42% of both creators and non-creators).

The “broadband effect” is waning among teens.

Broadband access does not seem to be as significant a factor with regard to online teen content creation.  In 2004, the difference in broadband access was much more pronounced between online teens that created content and those who did not.  At that time, over half of content creators (54%) had broadband access, compared with 46% of other online teens.  However, in our most recent survey, 76% of teen content creators report having a broadband internet connection at home, while 71% of teens who are not content creators say they connect to the internet using a high-speed connection.  The evening out of broadband access between content creator teens and other online teens is likely due to the wholesale increase of broadband penetration in households with teenagers.  Three-fourths (75%) of online teens reported having broadband internet connections at home in 2006, compared with 51% of online teens in 2004.