Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Is Social Media shrinking the digital divide?

In the age of the super information highway, the "Haves" whirl around the Internet faster than the "Have Nots" and that's called the digital divide. But a recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows that the gap is closing.
Respondents living in households whose annual household income is $20,000 or
less, saw broadband adoption grow from 25% in 2008 to 35% in 2009.
Respondents living in households whose annual incomes are between $20,000
and $30,000 annually experienced a growth in broadband penetration from 42% to

By comparision, the nation average for broadband access currently stands at 63% and there was relatively little growth in broadband access among the nation's wealthiest households. Between 2008 and 2009, broadband adoption for households with income of greater than $75,000 grew from 84% to 85%.

Clearly, we may be shrinking the digital divide, but we have acres of room to go and this is where social media comes in. Beyond the hype, the applications and visual media on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter provides a reason for non-information workers and their kids to have/need high-speed Internet. Accessing most of this information via dial up is a flat out pain in the neck.

A little background on why we became a fast speed nation.

Many have argued that Napster had more to do with increasing broadband subscription rates than any application before or since. With the emergence of Napster and its huge multi-mega-bit files, people abandoned dial up in droves, not wanting to wait hours to download an album when broadband access could reduce wait times to minutes.

Once the critical mass of broadband users flocked to the Internet, companies and their marketers could move away from text heavy Web sites to graphically pleasing multi-media sites. For a fun example of then and now, compare NASA's home page circa 2000 with today's fun site.

For the end user, faster browsing speeds meant exactly that, and jumping from site to site was a breeze, not a huge time suck. If you landed on a bad page, you could instantly jump off to a new direction. Cruising the Web went from a rush hour traffic jam experience to a rocket-propelled tour of the World Wide Web.

You can't put toothpaste back in the tube, and according to the Pew Project, you can't go back to dial up. Their research shows that when times are hard, people will cut their MTV and cable packages before they sacrifice the speed of a broadband connection.

So what has changed in the past year to warrant a better than 25% increase in broadband access among the nations poorest households? Well, the economy to be sure, but as it has gone south, broadband access has climbed, seeming in definance of the recession.

So again, what is different? You guessed it, millions of people signed onto Facebook and Twitter, which saw year-over-year gains of 253% and 1043%, respectively.

Like Napster ten years ago, social media is changing how people use the Internet. To date, marketers have focused on how to make money using social media. The real question is how do you make money on all of these people who are new to broadband.

Or is that what Fan Pages are all about?

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