Why it’s popular for teens and tweens: It doesn’t require a data plan, so it’s free. It also doesn’t require a Wi-Fi or cell connection—messages are transmitted device-to-device, not bounced off the nearest cell tower. It’s kind of like a high-tech version of two cans connected by a string, except it’s not just two kids, it’s the whole school.
Why it’s important: Texting is still the No. 1 electronic or social media activity for teens: 87 percent of teens text daily, way, way ahead of Facebook or Instagram. Kids can use Jott on an iPod or iPad—they don’t even need a phone number.
How many kids are using it: Jared Allgood, the founder, reports the app currently has half a million monthly users. It’s particularly popular among junior high school students, who are less likely to have a smartphone or a data plan.
How kids are using it: Kids join their school’s network by downloading the app and see who else at their school has already made an account. They can message one another within a 100-foot radius of their school.
Why parents can relax, a little bit: Allgood says, “This was created by two dads of middle-schoolers. When kids sign up, they give their real name and age. Based on their age and location, we match them up with the schools nearby. Seventeen-year-olds won’t be shown a middle school, for example. And users validate one another—you can’t join unless you’re validated.” There’s no anonymity allowed, and members can flag suspicious accounts. According to TechCrunch, a school principal tried to join a junior high school network with a fake name and age. The students sniffed her out immediately as an imposter and flagged the account, and she was promptly booted from the network. So that should give some parents some peace of mind about online predators. As for bullying, the real-name feature makes creating an anonymous account, specifically for sending cruel messages, a little more difficult. Allgood also has this bit of reassurance: “Jott lets you block users if someone’s messaging you in a way you don’t like. It’s safer than giving out your phone number.”
Why parents should worry, a little bit: Obviously, distraction during school hours is an issue—if kids were restricted from texting by lack of data plans, they’re not anymore. And even though Jott offers “disappearing messages” and “screenshot detection,” if a kid sends an ill-advised picture or message, the recipient can still screenshot it and share the snap with whomever they want.