Thursday, January 11, 2007

Watch out for the silver tsunami

I recently wrote about media time consumption in The Netherlands and noted that seniors are one more hour online since 2006. They now spend 3,1 hours online over against 2,1 hours last year. The editors of the Dutch magazine Emerce dived into the statistics of Stir and studied the internet habits of seniors. Now they use internet mostly for e-mailing. But once they have passed this phase in the internet experience curve, the question will be whether they start joining social networks?

BTW I am a silver surfer who turned 62 a few days ago. I have been online (professionally) since 1980. I have banked electronically since 1986. I blog daily since May 1, 2005.

Not in every country the number of silver surfers in The Netherlands will become a tsunami. When I was in Beijing in 2005 I learned that only 0,6 percent of the Chinese population is older than 60 years. In the Netherlands one quarter of the population will be older than 50+ by 2010. This wave is a permanent subject of discussion especially when it is linked with social security. But as a target group on internet they will become a most interesting segment to address as they have free time on their hands and they have money.

In comparison with young surfers seniors are still lagging behind in the internet experience curve. Presently 50+ people spend almost 80 percent of their internet time on e-mail, while young people spent 40 percent of their online time on funsurfing, gaming, online shopping, chatting and videostreams. Seniors in The Netherlands spend 20 to 30 percent of their online time on these past times. Also in electronic banking seniors are lagging; only 62 percent are banking electronically.

But the segment of seniors is growing fast in numbers and in time spent on the internet, certainly with the competitive availability of ADSL. Where do the seniors go on internet? Do they flee into the safe arms of providers who cater for seniors only or are they joining general networks?

In The Netherlands the first provider for senior groups was SeniorWeb. The network was set up to help the senior online with their computer. Elsewhere in the world there are senior websites such as ThirdAge and 50something. The website Eons makes it clear that it is for fifty plus people only.

But there are also seniors who just join social networks such as MySpace, Second Life and Hyves. On the Dutch site Marketingfacts I read that MySpace (now also available in France) has six million senior members on the 125 registered members; last year they had only 1,5 million senior members (statistics from comScore). The popular network Bebo in the UK, Ireland and New Zealand with 29 million members sees the average age climb monthly.

As the silver tsunami rolls in over the coming years not only in The Netherlands, but also in Germany and France, it will be interesting to see where seniors do go. As said seniors have time and money and they live longer than they used to do. As they become versatile with computers they will spend more time on internet and moist likely on gaming online and offline. Games as Brain Training by Dr Kasashima, Big Brain Academy and English Training on Nintendo will be just a few of the collection.

But I think that providers will have to dive into the habits of seniors before offering a special senior site. Seniors have an extensive network of family, relatives, friends and former colleagues. Especially with their children and grand children they like to stay in touch. Skype like services will be needed badly, especially easy to use ones. Do they want to belong to a network like MySpace, Hyves or Xinq? I guess that they like networks where they can start their family site with communication facilities, blogs and vlogs. They want to communicate with their kids, grand children and friends all over the world and show their latest photographs and movies and write about their latest trips.

PS Tsunamis have the habit of retreating, eventually.

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