If They Build It, Who Will Come?

Christin has heady (and accurate) praise for Eszter Hargittai's Beyond Broadcast presentation, "devoted to the subject of actual, documented internet usage and habits." She called Eszter's research a "reality check."

What may have been the most brief and subtle presentation of the first day of Beyond Broadcast may also have been the most relevant subject to many, perhaps all, of the presentations attended thus far… [T]he most telling data from her studies came from the research and observation of the “wired generation’s” knowledge and frequency of the most watched web 2.0 services. I was shocked to see the relatively low percentage of college-aged students who use or know about sites like del.icio.us, digg or flickr. But an even bigger reality check, especially for a group of media participants, journalists and bloggers, although it shouldn’t have been, was to see what the students who are reading blogs and other participatory sites are reading about. While political and activist uses are the favorites of public media gurus like Dan Gillmore, and thus far, some of the best uses of participatory media on the web, the truth is, most of these up and coming internet using college students, interact very little with these types of uses.

Andy Carvin summarized the main points of Eszter's talk:

The digital divide: We need to move beyond the binary thinking of haves and have nots and start thinking about the second-level digital divide – differences between people who are online and how they're using the Internet.

Various factors influence IT use – socioeconomic status, equipment, autonomy, social support, level of experience. And skills play a major part in influencing how they use digital media. But how do all of these factors interrelate? What's the relationship between skills and socioeconomic status, for example?

Differences in skill, not just access, may contribute to digital inequality. Skill differences may result in differential web use, suggesting different opportunities. It's not enough to focus on technical access; training and support are absolutely necessary.

Lynne d Johnson's thoughts on Eszter's findings:

perhaps bc i live in new york city i have a skewed opinion of what women and what african-americans do online. and perhaps they're not (all) yet on myspace, facebook, or tagworld, but they're on blackplanet and migente. to think that we of color who do blog, or who use the web medium for social interaction and social advocacy are still so far flung and few.

i think the wrong questions are being asked. maybe we should be asking about cell phone usage – and usage of gaming devices/consoles that hook up to the Internet if we want to know how some groups use (online).

Meanwhile, Bill Lammers, in the Plains Dealer, adds to the 2.0 skepticism with a summary of a new study by the Ipsos Insight Technology & Communications group on the question of "will the computer make the jump from your desktop to your living room?" Ipsos

concluded that the personal computer will be challenged by other digital platforms for supremacy in what it called the digital den of tomorrow.

"Americans don't have a huge appetite for replacing old entertainment options with new ones," the Ipsos report said. "Watching movies and TV content on the PC or portable devices is not exciting to mainstream America yet."

According to Ipsos, 88 percent of Americans use some device beyond a basic TV or dial-up Internet connection to display or deliver digital entertainment content. Of those digital platform users, 61 percent use their broadband-enabled personal computers for digital entertainment, 13 percent use cell phones, 10 percent use video-game consoles and 8 percent use digital video recorders.

"While music lovers have adopted the PC as a primary device to tap into the digital medium, to assume the PC will play a similar role for avid fans of video and games may be premature, or at least simplistic," Todd Board, Ipsos senior vice president, said in a statement. "Those who have already adopted the DVR and game console clearly have forged a strong bond with these devices and have marked themselves as avid consumers of higher-engagement multimedia experiences."

"The data reflect the reality that most consumers don't have some huge appetite for replacing old entertainment options with new ones," Board said. "The key to driving the digital medium into the living room hinges on simplicity and enabling this 10-foot experience for enjoying Web-driven video content.

"A huge question, though, is how many consumers are willing to bother modifying their desktop PC space to make that more conducive to the 10-foot experience – or to bother configuring device connections to pipe digital content to their TV," he said.

And, finally, from Richard Siklos, in today's NYT,

it seems the ultimate no-brainer that anyone with a fancy TV monitor and a broadband Internet connection will next be able to pluck their favorite TV programs and movies off the Web (and eventually choose to disconnect their cable or satellite provider, or, as I've written previously, at least force the cable operators to offer smaller and more appealing packages of channels)…All the elements are falling into place: sales of high-definition TV's that can also be used as computer monitors are soaring — they are already in 19 percent of American homes — and, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, sales of digital sets will surpass the sale of analog sets this year for the first time. Meanwhile, more than 40 percent of households in the United States have signed up for high-speed connections, and the number continues to rise.

But here is the swirling myth — or is it The Big Lie? — about convergence: It's not as close as all of that activity suggests. For various reasons, watching TV programs delivered by the Internet on regular TV looks like it will remain tantalizingly out of reach for all but the most enthusiastic gadget junkies for some time.

David G. Sanderson, who heads the media consulting practice at Bain & Company, offers four reasons most people won't be downloading their favorite shows onto their TV's any time soon: limitations in broadband infrastructure, the degree of readiness among electronics makers to provide a product with mass appeal, the behavior of consumers and the agenda of the players in the TV ecosystem.

"If you started from scratch, you'd do it differently," Mr. Sanderson said of the fitful process of making television shows available on the Internet. "But we have an entrenched structure in how programming is brought to consumers."

3 thoughts on “If They Build It, Who Will Come?

  1. Thanks for the coverage. I left a comment on Lynne D. Johnson’s blog and then had a follow-up email exchange with her about her comments.

    I wanted to clarify that I do not mean to suggest that there are no African American youth online or that none of them take part in such activities. The data are suggesting that they are less likely to do so than, say, Whites.

    Lynne D Johnson mentioned that they may be online through certain walled gardens. That’s fine from the perspective of my study. In looking at the types of activities to which people put the medium, I don’t discriminate between services. I do ask about some of them explicitly, but I ask about general use questions without specifying through which service per se so I should be capturing such activities in the figures. Same for blogging, I just ask whether they read blogs or interactive
    sites that allow for discussion, I don’t specify on which particular service per se.

    I do need to include more about cell phone uses and need to think about how to do that. I certainly welcome suggestions!

    Finally, just one additional note on the parts you copied from the various articles. I find the following sentence noteworth: “more than 40 percent of households in the United States have signed up for high-speed connections” – it is quoted with excitement, but in some ways, isn’t it more of a concern that ONLY 40 percent of households have high speed access? After all, think about all the limitations on people who are using dial-up.

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