Friday, November 30, 2012

Startups for our Parents

(With apologies to mom and dad)

Us young geeks don't understand a life without technology.  Thing is, virtually all of our life online has a non-web counterpart.  Email?  Actual mail.  Ebay?  Auction halls.  Social media?  Phones, dance halls, and intricate musical numbers (at least that's what West Side Story tells me).  The millennials grew up with the virtual side of things.  It's the natural way we live and communicate.  It's also fairly difficult for the average millennial to conceptualize a life without the internet.  Not so for other generations.

Can I fantasize for a moment?  How many people do you know would agree with the following:
"We have to find someone from a different generation to show us how to use [technology]"

Learning technology requires a time investment.  Have you ever tried to learn a new language or framework through a bad tutorial?  How many things have you never done because learning them took too long?

With that in mind, I propose a new website:

Ok, so that's not the most flattering title.  Perhaps we should go with or something like that.  We could direct our parents toward it anytime they need to ask about technology.  It'd have pleasant videos narrated by Paul McCartney detailing the basics of Facebook, Google, and Twitter.  They'd also have an ease-in forum where they could adjust to textual communication, with how-to's on emoticons and proper use of abbreviations.  We youngsters could also develop API's that would parse email from our parents and reply with a link to the correct tutorial.

Aside from this pipe dream, how could we make online life easier for older generations?

My parents are of the Baby Boomer generation.  They've grown up and lived with a disconnected world, are used to offline interaction and have become very good at it.  In short, they're digital immigrants.  Rather than looking at the fascinating new uses of technology, they see what they already have and say "so?"  New technology needs to convince them that it's better (read: simpler) than what they use now.

If we want to reach people who fit the description above, we need a new way of marketing.  Instead of "this is cool," say "this is the new way of doing [offline activity X] (and here's why it's better)."  We laugh at startup ideas that say "It's Facebook for pets!"  In reality, this may be the way to market startups to immigrants: "It's like mail but electronic!".

Focus on introduction.  There's a huge wall we need to scale in convincing non-natives to use our product.  Make it as easy as possible to actually use the part of your product that replaces what's currently being used.  Focus on the specifics of why it's better.  Remember, "better" doesn't mean "more features" in this case.  Make sure to run usability tests with your target audience.

Reaching technology immigrants may feel like it's pulling oil from tar sands instead of the usual wells.  There's a whole untapped market out there.  Good luck!

1 comment:

  1. Ha! Talk about immigrants. After reading this post, I started the one below it. First sentence: "What if you could use the same language anywhere you go?" I thought, "Great! I could find a place to stay and order dinner in any country in the world. Then I could really travel!"

    Oops - this is a blog about coding. Language doesn't mean language.

    Anyway - As I read this post, I thought about the early days of what is now called 'tech.' I was an early adopter, spending hours and hours learning MS-DOS an how to use the Internet, and teaching others. I pushed through this new land, discovering and settling it.

    As the next generation, born in this new land, grew, they (including the author of this blog) became more acclimated and opened up an even wider landscape than I had ever attempted.

    Anyway, I don't want to beat this analogy to death - just remember that this land once had no natives - just immigrants. Interesting times.

    I think one of the elements of the always-emerging tech landscape is a wild profusion of processes and features. Every program does a million things, but I only need it to do seven things. Finding my way through the overwhelming forest of features to find the few I want is most frustrating. To market to me, make it do one thing well. Or two, at most.

    I love the idea of the cell phone that just connects you to 911. That's all it does. Nothing else. Beautiful.