by Scott Clark – Those of us who work online often talk about Web 2.0 and the participatory Internet that is changing “everything.” But even though the world is changing, it’s good to be able to put all of this into a bit of perspective. Recently the Pew Internet & American Life Project (PIP) has done this for us in a terrific new study classifying Americans into segments based on attitudes about Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs.)

starting a business blogIt’s worth considering that the “Technology Elites” are in a position of power, like owners of the Gutenberg press into the Renaissance.

The study forces a reality check for many technologists.  Three major groups from the “Technology Elites” to the “Non-Users” represent the American population based on a survey of 4000 people between February and April 2006.  Let’s run through the groups, and you can see where you fall in:

Technology Elites  (31%)

Omnivores (8%) – These are the young, ethnically diverse participants of Web 2.0.  They consume and produce information to and from a wide variety of places on a daily basis, expressing themselves using blogs or other web publishing tools.  Instant messaging andtexting are familiar modes of communications to them.

Connectors (7%) These people surround themselves with technology and feel that it enhances their lifestyle.  While sometimes they’ll need a bit of help, there are few new technologies they’ll avoid.  55% are women with higher education and income levels than average.  They’ve been online for around 9 years and have a median age of 38.

starting a business blogWhile we’d like to think of the Internet as democratic, sometimes looks can be deceiving.

Lackluster Veterans (8%)  They’re highly-educated technology users who usually don’t get excited by new gadgets.  Having adopted the Internet and cell phones before others, they now maintain a love/hate relationship with their ICTs, though usually not because of difficulty using them. Often fathers with children under 18, these users often seek breaks from being connected.

Productivity Enhancers (8%)  Similar to connectors, the forty-somethings in this group tend to use ICTs to help squeeze more out of each day.  They understand are remain interested in Web 2.0 technology, but are often too busy with families and jobs to really get involved.  They appreciate the ability to talk to a friend while stuck in traffic, or to juggle babysitters using text messaging.

Middle-of-the-Road Users (20%)

crackberryMobile Centric (10%) – The phone will be in use far more than the keyboard and mouse for this group.  They don’t think of ICTs as productivity tools, rather, as ways to remain connected and entertained.  Young and middle income, African-Americans have a disproportional representation in this group.

Connected but Hassled (10%) – While technology is felt to be a “necessary evil” they’re likely to turn the cell phone off.  There is a sense of information overload and perhaps a longing for days when technology wasn’t so ubiquitous.

Low Tech and Non-Users (49%)

Inexperienced Experimenters (8%) This group would possibly be placed in other groups if they had the technology available.  Their comfort level with technology is very high, and when available they tend to consume information rapidly.

Light but Satisfied (15%) – These have acquired technology but it remains on the periphery of their lives.  While generally happy with ICTs they employ the tools at the most basic level.  Only 15% have broadband connectivity at home, which is a third of the national average.  Only 18% have graduated from college.

Indifferents (11%) – They may own ICTs, but there is no feeling of loss when these devices are not available.  Often men in their late 40s, they could care less how ICTs make them more available to others.  They prefer Television and other media when available.

Off the Network (15%) – They do not have an internet connection nor do they own a cell phone, often actively resisting them, choosing to watch television almost every day.  They are typically from a lower income bracket and have lower levels of education.  Some may have digital cameras and use computers to support the display of these pictures, along with similar utilitarian tasks.

It’s worth considering that the “Technology Elites” are in a position of power, like owners of the Gutenberg press into the Renaissance.  The “paper” for the Web 2.0 “press” is today’s inexpensive Internet enabled browsing devices, and the movable type are search engines and blogs.  Even with participation spreading, it is still concentrated and Google’s ubiquitous presence in every corner of the Internet further warrants scrutiny of what is being said.  While we’d like to think of the Internet as democratic, sometimes looks can be deceiving.

Businesses and marketers will struggle to understand divisions in our information technology consumption in order to succeed.  What keeps some of the people from using technology?  Is it usability or cost?  Where are the niches yet unexploited?  How can technology become friendlier and less intrusive?  When is technology itself appropriate?  And of course, how can I reach those with money to spend.

Please check the other stories at Business Lexington

The Pew Study can be downloaded at:

The Questionnaire is here

Economist – Luddites in Cyberspace