The Phone as a Tool for Combining Online and Offline Social Activity: Teenagers’ Phone Access to an Online Community

The Phone as a Tool for Combining Online and Offline Social Activity: Teenagers’ Phone Access to an Online Community

Stina Nylander (Swedish Institute of Computer Science, Kista, Sweden) and Malin Larshammar (Daytona Communication AB, Stockholm, Sweden)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/jmhci.2012100102


The authors have analyzed two months of log data and 100 surveys on the phone use of a Swedish online community for teenagers to investigate the mobile use of an established online service. This shows that the phone use mostly takes place during times of the day when teenagers have social time and the use is not influenced by the availability of a computer. The phone makes the community access more private compared to the computer, but teens do share the use when they want to. The cell phone bridges the online and offline social communities and allows teens to participate in both at the same time. The online community is not only a place for social activity online; it is also a social activity offline that is carried out face-to-face with friends. Thus, the cell phone was a tool for the teens to combine their participation in the online and the offline world.
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Playahead was an online community with mostly teenagers as users. The community was available as a regular web page and as a small Java application for cell phones. We chose Playahead for this study since its mobile solution supported most phone models available at the time of the data collection and thus made it available for its whole user population. The other large online community for Swedish teenagers at the time, Lunarstorm, had less support for the variety of phones and was therefore not included in the study. Facebook was not considered for this study since it was a small community in Sweden 2008, when the data collection started.

The regular web site provided standard functionality such as personal presentation, guestbook, buddy list, search functions, discussion forums, blogs, and chat rooms (Figure 1). Users could upload photos and videos to their profile and even add background music. They could also post short messages that were displayed to all logged in users as small banners at the top of the site. Awareness support was provided such as lists of logged in users that could be filtered, highlighting of logged in friends in the buddy list, and indications on users that were logged in from cell phones. It was even possible to see what other logged in members were doing. By putting the mouse over their user name a pop up message would reveal what they were doing, for example “xyz is reading her guest book.”

Figure 1.

Screenshot of a personal profile for the desktop web page of Playahead

The mobile application provided a subset of the web site functionality: a personal presentation, guestbook, messaging, buddy list, and a search function (Figure 2). Users could read and post to guest books, chat, and look at profiles but not edit their own profile from the cell phone. Data intensive features such as photo albums and video clips were not available through the phone client. The phone application provided audio notification when messages arrived if users were logged in.

Figure 2.

Screen shots of a Playahead guest book (left) and a chat room for a phone (right)

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