Morgan Stanley
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Morgan Stanley is known for many things, and is perhaps most renowned by technophiles for its annual Internet Trends report, put together by Mary Meeker and her team. This annual report is always insightful, challenging, and informative.

Last week, you may have read that Morgan Stanley published a report by a 15-year-0ld intern, Matthew Robson.

To me, the  report should be ignored. It reflects a failure of gate-keeping at Morgan Stanley.

For instance, they published the report “[w]ithout claiming representation or statistical accuracy,” yet felt it provided “one of the clearest and most thought provoking insights we have seen.”

How can it be non-representative and inaccurate, yet clear and thought-provoking?

OK, I’ll relent on the “thought-provoking” point. It certainly provoked some unflattering thoughts about Morgan Stanley’s office in Europe, which sponsored the report.

The premise is awkward from the beginning — claiming that “[a]t the vanguard of this digital revolution are teenagers.” I don’t accept this. Teenagers are going through too many other preliminary social, identity, and educational modes to also be on the vanguard of a digital revolution. They’re preoccupied with their own personal revolutions, evolutions, and development.

The people on the vanguard of the digital revolution are those with major time, financial, and logistical constraints — major corporations, busy professionals, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, etc. There are enough opportunities and benefits from digital migration to draw these people to create the digital future. Teens are likely a trailing indicator.

One of the most quoted pieces from Robson’s report is that “[t]eenagers do not use Twitter.” We’re all supposed to fall down in shock over this insight. Sorry, but I knew that. What do they have to microblog about? They’re forming social connections much closer to home, so text messaging and phoning work for them. They’re not ready to publish stray thoughts to professional contacts and far-flung friends. Not yet, anyhow.

The deeper problem is that Morgan Stanley’s executives have let down the teenage author of this report by not discreetly teaching a young intern how reports like this are expected to be generated. That’s a failure of gate-keeping, of professional standards, an expectation of professionalism that goes far beyond statements like this:

Teenagers visit the cinema more often when they are in the lower end of teendom (13 and 14) but as they approach 15 they go to the cinema a lot less. This is due to pricing; at 15 they have to pay the adult price, which is often double the child price.

This said “[w]ithout claiming representation or statistical accuracy”? And all because Matthews’ mother met a Morgan Stanley employee while walking her dog.

When gate-keeping fails, it fails both readers and authors.

And the premise begs a question: Do teenagers matter to information businesses? As The Guardian noted in a critique of the report, “Today’s young persons rarely, if ever, pay for anything they can get for free. The big question then, is this: why do we care what they like?”

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.

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Discussion

3 Thoughts on "A Gate-keeping Failure at Morgan Stanley"

Then there’s this indication that teenagers are actually using Twitter, but not in the way you’d think–they use it for privacy, as a way of chatting away from Facebook which is filled with their parents and teachers. Kind of funny and counter-intuitive.

But you’re right here Kent, and there’s an annoying meme floating around about the “digital natives”, the kids who grew up using social networks, and how they’re all going to demand the same things from us when they’re adults and running the world. What I’ve seen from the kids I know is that as they age, their behaviors and needs change. They drop Myspace for Facebook, Facebook for e-mail (the one constant is messaging each other on their cel phones). I know that as a teenager, I spent hours gabbing on the phone with friends. As I grew older, I stopped doing this. So while it is important to understand that there’s a generation familiar with social networking, it’s also important to realize that what they do now is mostly irrelevant to what they’ll be doing when they’re ten years older. We’d be wise to let these sorts of technologies filter into our products where useful, but we shouldn’t think that copying what the kids use and pushing that on adult professionals is a good idea (see any of the sites that have described themselves as “Myspace for scientists” as examples).

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