Brad Feld

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Undergraduate Viewpoints on Social Networks and Music

Oct 28, 2007
Category Technology

Following is a guest post by my partner Jason Mendelson.  All of the thoughts and grammar errors are his.  All of the formatting errors are mine.

Every year I go back to the University of Michigan and spend a day teaching undergrads in the economics department.   I’ve been doing it for a few years now and it’s a way to give back to the program.  Specifically, one of my former professors, Jan Gerson had a huge impact on me and I promised that I’d come back every year (if I ever got “smart”) and impart some knowledge.  I’m not sure that I ever got smart, but I do like to visit Ann Arbor

This year, I did something a bit differently.  Instead of me pontificating the whole time, I decided to ask some questions re: social networks and music usage, as I’ve been looking at several deals in the space.  I figured the undergrad crowd (of which I’m now twice their age, egads) would provide some interesting answers.  I’m not pretending this is a significantly accurate sample, etc., so take it for what it is worth. 

Over the course of the day, I was able to poll approximately 300 students, by my estimation.  Here were the “results.” 

  1. Students who said they DIDN’T use Facebook:  2.  Yes, 2.  And one of them was a 37 year-old undergrad (great guy, too).  I asked how many of them were “regular” users, as defined by 7 times a week and all but a dozen or so confirmed they were “regular” Facebook users.
  2. I asked how many of them used other social networks, or similar things, Flickr, Twitter, etc..  Shockingly 2 people indicated they used Twitter, 10 used MySpace about 20 used Flickr.  I was blown away.  My guess would be that they were using several networks.  MySpace was deemed “has been” material. Even for pictures, they are all using Facebook. 
  3. I asked how much of their “email” traffic was on Facebook and the vast majority said somewhere around 20% and growing. Many of they wanted my opinion on the Microsoft investment with most everyone thinking it was stupid. None of them could think of an applicable business model for Facebook and they all claimed they’d seen little to no advertising.  This was interesting in that there was a strong visceral reaction to the MSFT investment.
  4. I asked how many of them “bought music legally.”  No more that 15-20% indicated that they bought music legally.
  5. I asked how many of them “stole music” – 100%.  And all but a couple indicated that a majority of their music was stolen.
  6. Biggest concern of stealing music was not getting caught, it was that they “felt badly” for stealing it.
  7. Almost no one buys CDs, but those that do are all into classic rock and jazz (Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, AC/DC).  I was relieved to discover that “classic rock” is still “classic rock.”  If the definition had become “Pearl Jam or Nirvana” I would have had to kill myself. 
  8. I also had the opportunity to meet with a dozen or so folks after particular classes.  One question that I asked them was whether or not they felt computers aided in their education or detracted from it.  Almost unanimously, they all thought that computers detracted from their education because of all the distractions of web surfing, media consumption and social network participation.  I was surprised of their self awareness and a bit frightened by the answer.
  9. Best question of the day to me was:  “How did you make plans with your friends to go to parties if you didn’t have a cell or email?”  I let them know about a quaint little device supplied to all dorm rooms called a telephone. 

I’ve decided that next year I’m going to come even better prepared to ask questions and try to actually add some science to it – instead of asking questions in the open, fill out a questionnaire, etc.

I was not surprised by the attitudes around music, but was surprised about the uniformity of Facebook usage and the lack of any other social network in their lives.

Anyways, there you go – my un-scientific, scientific study.  It was fun.