Jeffrey Cole on Internet Usage Trends and Fads
Susan Bratton

Episode 206 - Jeffrey Cole on Internet Usage Trends and Fads

Jeffrey Cole founded and directs the World Internet Project, a long-term longitudinal look at the effects of computer and Internet technology, which is conducted in more than 25 countries.

In this insightful interview, Jeffrey (an ad:tech SF keynote) shares actionable consumer usage information that will impact your marketing plans.

If you are not following Jeffrey's research, listening to his speeches and making sure you get the 2011 report, you are missing out. He's a great trends guy for consumer usage of digital technologies.

Jeffrey Cole points the way to understanding where WE as marketers need to be to be ready and waiting when our customer change their online consumption behavior.

Get ahead of the curve with Jeffrey Cole's wisdom.



Susan Bratton: Welcome to DishyMix. I’m your host, Susan Bratton. And on today’s show you’re going to get to meet Jeffery Cole. Jeffery is the director at USC Annenberg Center For the Digital Future, and he’s the founder and director of The World Internet Project. That’s a big name Jeffery. Welcome to the show.

Jeffery Cole: Susan, it’s great to be here.

Susan Bratton: Nice to have you too. All right, so you’re here. It’s just before you go on for your big keynote at AdTech San Francisco, and the title of your presentation is Trends, Fads and Transformations: The Changing Face of the Internet. So why don’t you just lay on us like at the top level what you’ll be speaking about at your keynote today.

Jeffery Cole: Absolutely. Well what we’ve been doing is we’ve been tracking people for 11 years. We believe that we lost this great opportunity to understand the impact of television, and I became convinced about 10, 12, 13 years ago that the impact of digital was going to be even more powerful than television. So believing that we lost this great opportunity with television and that digital was going to be even more important, in the year 2000 we started tracking people. We’ve gone back to the same people 11 years in a row. We’ve watched as non-users moved to dial-up, as dial-up users went to broadband, we saw almost immediately broadband changed everything, not because of the speed but the always on and the direct connection to the web. We watched this about 2% drop off the web each year, and we want to know who are these people who leave and why, and more importantly do they return, and if so when and what brings them back. And then 11 years in we track the never users, who are the people who’ve never gone online, and how do they do the things offline the rest of us do online. So we started this in the U.S. We’re doing this in about 35 countries now.

So what I’m going to do in my talk in a few minutes is really share some of what we’ve seen over the last 11 years. I’m going to start with traditional media, and we think all traditional media survive. No media go away. If ever a medium were going to go away it would’ve been radio after the beginning of television when television sucked all the content out of radio, took the stars out of radio. Radio didn’t roll over and die. It adapted. It formed relationships with the music industry. Today radio’s a vibrant and important medium, but a smaller medium than it used to be. As we look at all of our media we think all of it will survive, most of it as smaller players. We’ve seen the film business shrink. It’s still a high profile, highly profitable business. We’ve watched music, which had a business model that was nothing short of extortion. If you wanted two songs you had to spend $16 on a CD. We’ve watched sales of music drop precipitously. We’ve seen newspapers, a sad truth for newspapers, not news. People have more interest in news today than they’ve ever had. We’ve figured out that what happens half way around the world can change our lives, but we know where the paper is concerned every time a newspaper reader dies they’re not being replaced by a new reader, and you can pull that out and see where that’s going to go.

So we think all media survive. Most survive as smaller players. The exception is television. We think television and video explode with growth, escape from the home, become our constant companion. Screen time, we know in 1975 in the developed world the average person spent 16 hours in front of a screen. Last year it was over 36 hours and it’s going to be over 50 in the next two to three years. So we’re looking at chances in traditional media. And then I’m going to spend a little bit of time looking at some newer trends. Beyond screen time exploding, we’re going to look at the fact that as much as people love this technology there’s a little bit of a frustration in pushback. Nobody gives up the Internet because they don’t like it. There are things about the web they don’t like: spam, spyware, viruses. None of that causes people to give it up. But most of us are looking for balance. We’re trying to enjoy the benefits of all this technology without having to experience the disadvantages.

For example, we know that 75% of people say that the web has made them more productive at work, 5% say less productive and 20% say it hasn’t impacted it at all. But employers are concerned that the people who work for them are spending too much time doing personal things at the office. Every time I hear an employer say that I say they should bit their tongue because we see that for every hour an employee spends at the office doing work, doing something related to their personal lives, they spend three hours at home doing work related to their jobs. We’re now working Saturday morning, Sunday nights, Christmas Eve, New Years day, so people are looking for balance, and the term we give this is “E’nuff already,” e-nuff. I will talk a little bit about how learning curves for marketers and for politicians and other people have to be steeper than action curves. We don’t think everybody has to be investing and moving and doing everything, but they have to be studying all this technology and being well aware of it. And probably the most powerful trend I’m going to talk about is the fact that mobile’s not just becoming the most important thing. It’s on its way to becoming the only thing. When the iPad first came out I tried to figure out is the iPad the fourth screen or does it replace the second screen? I’m now convinced it replaces the second screen. We have it. If you look at PC users, only four to six percent of people who own PC’s actually need PC’s – heavy duty number crunchers, computer assistant designers, big writers. The rest of us don’t. The rest of us don’t need a boot up that takes four minutes and occasionally falters. The ability to turn on a tablet, within a second be working is just extraordinary.

So we think in India, where Internet penetration’s at 15 percent, as it climbs to 20, 30 and 40 it’s not going to be with PC’s on the desk. It’s going to be completely through mobile. And in its finish, you know, one of the anecdotal things we’ve seen is we’ve seen mobile is so important that we’ve noticed people almost never lose their mobile phones. They can drop them in the gutter. They can be stolen. But the reason we almost never lose our mobile phones is that if we leave them on a table in a restaurant we can’t get to the door of the restaurant before we’re reaching for it and we’d notice that it’s gone. Whereas if I left my credit card on the table in a restaurant, it might take me two days to notice it’s gone, and then I’d have to retrace my steps. 80 percent of teenagers sleep within arms length of their mobile phones. There’s practically not a moment of a teenager’s life when they’re not in front of a mobile phone. So mobile, it’s when we started in 2000, we talked about the PC Internet, and off to the side slowly was this mobile alternative. That alternative is now becoming mainstream. And the fixed Internet is going to become the smaller part.

Susan Bratton: It’s interesting that you talk about the mobile because an earlier guest that I had on in a previous episode from here at the show, we talked a lot about how you format your email for the phone since people are pretty much now, especially younger people, that is their primary way of getting email. And, you know, what do you have to do to get open rates on phones as different than you would have open rates on your computer.

Jeffery Cole: Well interestingly if you look at the whole way teenagers use their phones, first of all – and a lot of people are starting to see this, a lot of parents know – teenagers consider voice rude.

Susan Bratton: Oh my daughter’s voicemail message says, “Please don’t leave me a message. I’m not going to return your call.”

Jeffery Cole: Yeah, teenagers don’t check their voicemail. They…

Susan Bratton: They don’t, they don’t actually need a phone, they just need a texting computer.

Jeffery Cole: But they consider someone who calls them on the phone and says, “Hi, what are you doing,” to be not just old but rude. It’s an invasion. They only want voice if it’s prearranged through texting or Facebook or some other way. So I mean it’s… Now our work, one of the advantages of what we do is we track people over years. For example, we saw in 2000 teenagers were wearing watches. 11 years later we see they’re not wearing them as they get older. Watch use is going to, it’s not going to disappear, it’s always going to be a market for very expensive watches. And we never bought expensive watches because they told better time, we bought them because they were jewelry or send messages to the world. But as we’re watching, we think voice will return. We think the complete reliance on texting and IMing and Facebook is more a function of age. And one of the most interesting things I do that I have the most fun with is to look at teenagers and to try to figure out which things are they doing because they’re young and have time. In other words, which things do they…

Susan Bratton: Yeah, that makes sense.

Jeffery Cole: Which things do they abandon when they get older and pesky things like jobs, spouses and children get in the way, and which things are they doing that are truly transformational, that they will take with them the rest of their lives and all those who follow will take? And on abandoning voice and moving to texting, we think that’s a transitory thing. We think they’ll come back. The advantages of email are the fact that of course you look at it when you’re ready, you answer it even later, you don’t have to be in front of a screen 24/7. And while teens are in front of a screen almost 24/7, we don’t think they will be their whole lives.

Susan Bratton: So we talked about this idea that peoples usage patterns evolve with age and lifestyle changes. What about the adults who are using technology, who have a phone, they have a PC, they might have an iPad, they have a television at home, they have TiVo. They have information overload. What in your trending, in this longitudinal information, what advice can you give marketers today and going forward that will help them connect with their customer in a way that’s pleasurable and welcomed rather than disruptive?

Jeffery Cole: Well to focus on the older user for a minute…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Jeffery Cole: since we’re [inaudible]…

Susan Bratton: And what do you call old Jeffery, ‘cause I…

Jeffery Cole: Well I…

Susan Bratton: What do you call old?

Jeffery Cole: In the television world, you’re dead when you hit 49.

Susan Bratton: I’m dead.

Jeffery Cole: I’d be dead today. No, that’s been one of the, that’s been one of the things that many people including me have really been trying to combat. Television, long before digital, was based on the view that the only audience the advertiser wanted to reach was 18 to 49 and especially 18 to 34. And that was based on the belief that once you get into your 40’s you’re pretty much set in your ways.

Susan Bratton: Yeah, you’re done buying a lot of stuff and you’re just….

Jeffery Cole: And you’re not changing your toothpaste or your deodorant. That’s so far from the truth. Furthermore, it’s people in their 50’s and 60’s who have all the money. So that’s always been a mistake. So old to most traditional media is, the exception of newspapers is over 49. That really is beginning to change. But in our work, you know, some of the most interesting things we’ve seen, if you look at people over the age of 60 they’re the heaviest users of social networks, and they’re the people who derive the most value from them. It’s not just Facebook, although it is Facebook. But it’s networks where they learn how to be a better chess player, to deal with the physical or emotional toll of cancer.

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Jeffery Cole: They’re the heaviest gamers. Now when I use the word gamer…

Susan Bratton: Parlor games.

Jeffery Cole: And gaming is everything from poker…

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Jeffery Cole: Solitaire. They’re not the heaviest users of massive multi player games.

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Jeffery Cole: That really is teenagers. But older people or people over the age of 60 are only different from teenagers in two fundamental ways. One, they use their mobiles mainly for voice…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Jeffery Cole: and not all the other Smart Phone functions, and second, they use the Internet as much or more than anybody else for information, but they use it much less to consume their entertainment. They’ll use it how to find out how to consume their entertainment, what time a movie starts, but they’re much less likely to watch their movies. So marketers have ignored this audience I think at their peril for a very long time, and it’s a very powerful audience who uses almost, they use television and print more, but they don’t use digital much less.

Susan Bratton: Yeah. I think it’s a fantastic market. My favorite customers are 60 to 80 year olds. They have experience. They have a little more time. They’re less entitled. They value the connection to your brand so much more. It seems to be, I’m generalizing, but I really like attracting…

Jeffery Cole: It’s all true…

Susan Bratton: 55 and up.

Jeffery Cole: But it’s just not of much appeal to the advertisers in today’s market. It’s growing. Now television likes you up till you’re 55.

Susan Bratton: Well it’s a good opportunity, it’s a good market for many brands because it’s, like you said, an ignored market, so there’s a lot of opportunity in that it’s less cluttered. All right, so I want to talk a little bit about where you see social going from a consumer’s perspective. What is it that they are really, what do they value about using social media now? What’s the real driver in social for the typical person you study in your research?

Jeffery Cole: Great question. There was a really interesting story in the New York Times on Monday…

Susan Bratton: Okay?

Jeffery Cole: talking about one of the key motivators for young people and social media is FOLO – Fear Of Being Left Out.

Susan Bratton: FOMO…

Jeffery Cole: Oh FOMO…

Susan Bratton: Fear Of Missing Out. FOMO.

Jeffery Cole: Fear Of Missing Out…

Susan Bratton: Yeah, right. It’s so funny, I was talking about FOMO earlier today. It’s such a great acronym.

Jeffery Cole: I thought it was Fear Of Left Out, but you’re right. It was…

Susan Bratton: It was Fear Of Missing Out, FOMO.

Jeffery Cole: Fear Of Missing Out.

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Jeffery Cole: It’s a really interesting motivator, the fear of missing out.

Susan Bratton: Yeah, it’s about being excluded, which no one wants to be. Everyone wants to be in a community, right?

Jeffery Cole: And I, you know, I spend a lot of time, I’m really interested in teenagers and their behavior. I always make the joke that I spend a lot of time with teenagers. I have tremendous respect for teenagers. I love teenagers, and I always say in every way that’s appropriate, stupid joke. But one of the, I’ve really been interested in this huge, in their what seems to be tremendous need to know what’s going on in each other’s lives. And particular as Twitter is concerned. And finally it was a really brilliant teenager who explained to me, “I don’t want to know everything that’s happening in my friends lives. I want to,” and it’s a great phrase, “I want an ambient awareness.”

Susan Bratton: Nice.

Jeffery Cole: “I want a general sense of what people are doing.”

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Jeffery Cole: We’re starting to see a little bit of push back, a little bit of saturation on Facebook. I myself believe that we’re going to see Facebook grow for another five years, and then begin to decline. We had predicted six years ago when Rupert Murdock bought MySpace and talked about it as the only way to reach teenagers who weren’t reading newspapers or watching much television, we thought MySpace was a brilliant investment for Murdock, but we predicted he would never be able to hang on to the teenager users of MySpace.

What we had seen, we had seen the rise and fall of Geo Cities, the rise and fall of Friendster, and we knew – we’d had a lot of coverage for this – we knew that to a teenager an online community is like a nightclub. And when the nightclub becomes too popular or the uncool kids show up, they’re out of there. And what’s the worse thing that can happen to a teen in the community? Their mother shows up. Well now their mother wants to friend them in Facebook. So we think Facebook itself is going to grow, ‘cause we’ve never had anything as monolithic as Facebook with 600 million people. We think it’s going to grow for another five or so years and then fragment. It’s not going to disappear. MySpace hasn’t disappeared. People just don’t go to it very often. But we think it’s going to, it’s still got a little ways to reach its peak. So as far as what teenagers are interested in, it is a little bit of fear of missing out, but I think it’s also staying connected, the feeling that they understand what’s happening around them.

Susan Bratton: What about texting in general? Since that is something that more and more people of every age are doing, do you see anything evolutionary or do you see any opportunities in the sphere of texting for marketers?

Jeffery Cole: There’s lots of stuff to learn in texting, including of course the great long-term questions, what’s it doing to our language skills. Although I actually tend to be very benevolent towards that. You know, when I was growing up my mother didn’t care whether I read comic books or I read great works of literature…

Susan Bratton: As long as you read.

Jeffery Cole: As long as I read.

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Jeffery Cole: And we know that until this generation, people haven’t been writing.

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Jeffery Cole: You know, our work show four percent of Americans write two or more personal letters a year. So I think the fact they’re writing and expressing themselves is a good thing. But as far as marketer opportunities, texting is an area they have to be careful, because that’s perceived as a peer in that work.

Susan Bratton: Yeah, it’s very personal.

Jeffery Cole: It’s personal and it’s private, and I think, I think…

Susan Bratton: Stay out.

Jeffery Cole: marketers, they can get in, but under certain rules, and I think they can get into social networking as well, but it’s a much more precarious place to be than lots of other places, so…

Susan Bratton: You want to know the text I  like to get from a brand? I like to get the Tahoe ski area snow report. And when my little thing goes off at 6:00 in the morning and it says, “North Star just got ten inches and Heavenly just got eight inches,” and I think, “Ugh, I’ve got to work today. This is so terrible.” But I still get to think about the snow, just think about the powder. It’s a service.

Jeffery Cole: The marketing that works in texting is marketing that is contextual and relevant, and obviously you at least want to think about what people are doing.

Susan Bratton: I want to think about snow.

Jeffery Cole: Yeah.

Susan Bratton: Even if I can’t play in it, right? So where are the opportunities for marketers? What are the up and coming opportunities for marketers? If Facebook has another five years and it’s going to fragment, we’re going to be playing there and we already are. What else do you see as an opportunity for us?

Jeffery Cole: We see incredible opportunities for marketers and social networking in television. We’ve seen the last year…

Susan Bratton: You mean integration of the two?

Jeffery Cole: Yes. The last year and a half we’ve seen the ratings for live events climb enormously, Superbowl, the highest rating in American television history, the ratings for the Grammy’s, the Emmy’s…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Jeffery Cole: Not the Oscar’s this time but that was probably because of the horrible hosts they hired. But we’ve seen the ratings for live events, and where that’s coming from we think is co-viewing through social networking. We’ve always co-viewed television with other people in the room, but now we’re co-viewing with people who aren’t in the same room. I think the little crawl at the bottom of the screen, which we’ve used after 9/11 for supplemental news, is going to be replaced by a social networking crawl. I think one of the great apps that’s going to be developed very shortly is an app that’s going to let five of us or 50 of us record the same program on a PVR or DVR and then watch it, synchronize it and watch it together as if it’s live.

So I think the opportunity for marketers to get into social networking and television are enormous because despite all the changes of television, it’s not on a schedule anymore for most people under the age of 40. We want to watch it, perhaps start it on a big screen high definition television, move it to an iPad, and finish it on a mobile phone. Despite all these changes, the appeal of high quality video is never going to change. It’s always going to be we’re going to reach the most amount of people at the same time, and the opportunities for marketers I think are enormous.

Susan Bratton: Have you looked at the app, the beta application for a company called Intelivision?

Jeffery Cole: No I haven’t.

Susan Bratton: It’s that co-viewing, it’s a co-viewing app and it’s in beta. And I’d be happy to introduce you to Tim Smith, the creator of it.

Jeffery Cole: I’d love to, because people…

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Jeffery Cole: always…

Susan Bratton: He’s here at the show, I’m sure.

Jeffery Cole: People always love to view with other people, which is why movie theaters assume the other people will be there, and of course until now that’s why television producers put in laugh tracks, so that even if you were alone you could feel like you were watching with other people. As artificial as it seems, it actually does enhance the viewing. We may see, this is not a big headline, but because of social networking and television we may see laugh tracks disappear. I mean that’s once again not a startling headline, but television producers may in the future be able to make the same assumption that film producers do. You don’t have a laugh track in a film comedy.

Susan Bratton: Well we’ll see if the, I hate those laugh tracks, so we’ll see if they go away…

Jeffery Cole: Everybody needs them…

Susan Bratton: They’re so hokey.

Jeffery Cole: and they are hokey and they are silly…

Susan Bratton: But they must have some subliminal, you know, trigger or something.

Jeffery Cole: People laugh more when other people are around.

Susan Bratton: Yeah, absolutely. Well do you think you’re going to get some laughs at your keynote today?

Jeffery Cole: I will do my best.

Susan Bratton: Jeffery Cole, thank you so much for coming on DishyMix. Where would you like me to send people to download as much information about this as possible?

Jeffery Cole: They can go to our website, which is just…

Susan Bratton: Lets do it.

Jeffery Cole: Digital Center, if they’re outside the U.S. it’s Centers of the American Way, or as we like to say, The Right Way, but

Susan Bratton: That’s a great URL. Jeffery Cole, director at USC Annenburg Center for the Digital Future and founder and director of World Internet Project. Go check out his amazing work, and I am your host, Susan Bratton. Thanks for tuning in to this episode of DishyMix. Have a great day.