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What is the Internet Population Anyway?

by Rok Hrastnik, editor-in-chief

I'm thrilled by the first response to the challenge from John and can only hope that others will join him soon. If you have anything to say on the subject of the debate, please e-mail me.

In his response John raises some interesting and very valid issues, but in my opinion fails to see the whole picture.

"Let me start off by saying I agree with Rok's statement that a change from email marketing to some other technology for marketing does involve a change in consumer behavior. However, I disagree with his assessment that Internet consumers are as technophobic and resistant to change as he paints them. Here are a couple of facts that I will use to counter his statement:

A study by REALNetworks a few years ago said that 86% of web users are more likely to stay to watch a multimedia presentation than they are to read a long piece of text on a web site."

First, everyone hoping for such a radical change of consumer behavior must take in to account the entire population, not just some of its smaller sub-groups.

We simply cannot look at the Internet consumers as a fixed population - because most of the modern world today uses the Internet. It's not simply a matter of a few small user groups - the Internet is global.

We cannot debate whether the Internet consumers are techno phobic and resistant to change or not - because in reality we cannot attribute Internet users to a single group.

Let's prove this with a table from CyberAtlas:

Internet Users Compared to Non-Users
By Age
All Americans
Note: This table reports the share of the Internet population
that comes from each group.
Base: 3,553, March-May 2002.
Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project

As we can see the Internet population is so wide that we can no longer think of Internet users as any kind of special part of the entire population. In essence, the majority of the people with access to the Internet and the resources to use it are actually using it, except for the somewhat older part of the population that is especially techno phobic.

So, when discussing the Internet population we are actually discussing the average general population ... and to this population we can attribute the fact that in average they are resistant to change.

We also need to take in to consideration how the Internet is used. Many people access it primarily from the workplace and are so bound by the software they have access to at the workplace - and that's their e-mail client when it comes to communication. And as more and more companies start enforcing policies against private use of the Internet while at work we can also forget about replacing e-mail with Instant Messaging, which many companies are already blocking with their firewalls.

The other important issue is that the average population really does not know that much about computers ... and many people don't even know how to install new software by themselves. And why should they? The computer (and the Internet) is only a tool for them - they need it to work, and that's all. They don't want to bother with software installations and such.

For instance, our seniors have only begun to use e-mail and are not at all ready to start adopting to new technologies. The same goes for most of the busy people that don't live their lives on the Net ...

In my opinion the only way for technologies such as RSS to get general acceptance and wide usage is to integrate their technology with software such as Microsoft Outlook - the software that most people are using today.

Internet marketers often forget that the great majority is not as attached to the Internet as they are and is also not as Internet-conscious as they are. Sure, they use it ... but only as "users", not "experts".

If you don't believe me ask your e-zine subscribers what they think of RSS. If they're not very advanced Internet users most of them won't even know what you're asking them ...

I stand by my conviction that technologies such as RSS have a long way to go before we can even start debating their general acceptance and wide usage. I might be wrong, but all the facts point in this direction. This might happen when RSS and such are integrated in to the most widely spread software already in use, but not before.

"Rok, do you really think consumers are going to say, "No, I do not want control of my information. I'd rather keep my email and put up with the porn, the drug dealers, the rip off artists. etc that I get in my email?" I think not."

RSS might be better for consumers in some ways, but ...

  1. They first have to know about it;
  2. They need to understand it;
  3. They need to want to understand it;
  4. They need to accept it.

Four things I don't see happening very soon ...

People in general are resistant to change. They don't have time for it. And what advanced Internet users that "live on the Net" feel is of utter importance is just one of the "by-the-way" issues for the average Internet user.

"IMHO, as consumers become more aware of what the alternatives to email are, and how easy they are to use, you will see more and more of them switching. Consumers want to be in charge and it is time that marketers came to grips with that reality. They are tired of having useless and unwanted information shoved in their faces and their inboxes."

What are they going to switch to? Five other technologies that will replace e-mail as a whole? Are they going to go on strike to get their companies to allow them to use IM at their workplaces?

And in the first place, for the switch to happen, consumers must form a desire to switch ...

I will write more on the subject of E-mail VS Other Communication and Delivery Technologies in one of the following days in the 2nd part of my "e-mail debate" series.

To conclude this response I would also like to address some issues raised about my view of the world, although I think this has no place in a professional debate. But here goes ...

"Rok is conservative, a traditionalist, and thinks that everyone else is too. Me, I am a radical, a thorn in the side of the establishment, and I think that people are more open to change, if presented to them properly."

I would never agree to the assessment that I'm a traditionalist, but I am however realistic. Personally I have no problem with RSS and other technologies, but I do like to have a realistic view of what we can realistically accomplish.

Because, right now, the wide adoption of RSS is only a far away dream.

But to come to that conclusion one must take a step back and take a more holistic view of the issue and not just limit it to his narrow sub-culture.

The proof? Ask your subscribers (provided they are average Internet users) ...

"Rok takes a more traditional approach to marketing. Rok would do well working for one of the prestigious marketing firms. Me, I'm a true guerrilla, not only in the sense that Jay Levinson uses the word, but more in the sense that Guy Kawaski uses the term. It is the guerrillas of the world that are in the forefront of the fight for changes. I would never be happy other than working for myself. I am never satisfied with the status quo. I believe there is always room for improvement."

I in no way take a more traditional approach to marketing ... and the issue of RSS adoption over e-mail is only moderately a marketing issue.

Speaking of guerrilla marketing --- guerrillas make it easy for their audiences to interact with them. There is nothing easy in forcing your audiences to suddenly switch from e-mail, which they have already adopted, to RSS, which they have never heard of before.

Yes, there is always room for improvement, but the approach must be sound and rational.

There are always better ways to do something, but they usually stop with the people.

Marketers must realize that it's the people that matter --- the better way of doing things must also be adopted by them if we are to have any hope of success ...

And I agree that Internet publishers should also start publishing using RSS ... but only as an option for their users and only in addition to using e-mail and their other existing delivery technologies.

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