Internet Expert Talks User Trends at AMC
"Television blew it. It was the only mass media that we knew in advance would be mass media. We should have tracked viewers before they got television to see how it changed their lives," said Jeffrey Cole, director, Center for the Digital Future, USC Annenberg School for Communication last week at the AMC.
"That three hours a day of TV;where did it come from? Talking as a family? Sleeping? Reading? How did it affect buying habits, politics, travel and people’s aspirations?" The Center for the Digital Future has been tracking Internet use for the past five years to see how its use has changed and where online user habits are headed.
Along with the prevalence of the Internet as an essential part of life, has come the phenomenon of user- generated content;reversing a 450-year trend (print). Communication used to flow from the few to the many; users couldn’t communicate back. But now they can.
Teens in particular want to generate content, rather than reading it passively. They want to blog, display photos. The number of Web sites is tripling every 2 ﾽ years. It’s no longer 15 minutes of fame that people are after, it’s 15 MB of fame.
Blogs are hugely significant, Cole says, in that they are personal thoughts put out there for anyone to see or read. But the fact is that few people actually read them. And not just that–bloggers are, for the most part, just anonymous writers. If they become known, it is because they get picked up by the mainstream media. Once brought to the attention of the public by a mainstream journalist, a blog gets read by 100 million eyes.
Cole went on to discuss the other most quickly growing uses of the Internet: grassroots political activism (election blogs, online fund raising) and medical care (patient knowledge of alternative treatments and therapies, which they can then discuss with their physicians).
In all three of these popular examples of user-engagement with Internet sites, the users are referring back to or referencing proven experts in the offline world.
Among 25 to 54-year olds, although this audience likes mobile for voice, says the research, it’s not their whole world. They get their information online, use RSS, and basically use the Internet less for social networking. They don’t go to unknown peers for advice–they want experts. They create content to share the experience and they do have personalized portals. They rely on email more than IM.
The Center’s research says that among 12 to 24-year olds, most are not reading printed newspapers, they are not using wired phones, they watch TV on their own schedule, and they trust unknown peers more than the experts. They will pay for digital content, he says, and most of their information is aggregated. It will all move to the mobile platform.
This is even more true in other countries, says Cole, where mobile phones can now be used underground, users can buy a can of soda via phone when they’re standing in front of the soda machine, there is more interest in user generated content and less interest in TV, and IM (instant messaging) is more popular than email.
Cole says that the people who are predominantly involved in the online media world are there as a function of their age [and media usage experience]. Audience developers and marketers need to be thinking about what forms of media audiences will abandon when they get older and as the technologies change.
For example, he says that teens do read magazines, but prefer to read their news online in aggregated portal environments. They are not buying print newspapers. And he cautions that magazines with online news will disappear as their current audiences age [i.e.in 20;40 years]. Most magazines will survive, he says, but their online and offline audiences will be integrated;the readers will be the same.