Social networking for the digitally challenged

Marketplace Staff Sep 19, 2006

Social networking for the digitally challenged

Marketplace Staff Sep 19, 2006


BOB MOON: Social networking sites are big money. Market-leader MySpace currently boasts over 100 million users. Last month, Google made a deal for ad placements on the service, guaranteeing $900 million in revenue in return. Even Martha Stewart is moving to connect her fork and trowel-wielding followers in a women’s network by 2007. But social networking could be used in even more revolutionary ways, says consultant and commentator Paul Lamb.

PAUL LAMB: So far social networking is mostly for the young and digitally restless.

But what about a MySpace for the rest of us? Some of us outside of the teen to 20-something crowd want to be connected too.

Take help that an elderly neighbor needs to move some furniture. What if seniors could access a local, Internet-based social network using only a telephone to ask for help? The technology already exists, someone just needs to take the lead.

More Internet-savvy neighbors could voluntarily exchange online profiles and learn about common interests, swap services like babysitting or dog watching, or explore small business opportunities with people nearby.

What about a school-based social network where students, teachers, and the community match school assignments, activities, or needs with individuals inside and outside the school who can help?

On the social services front, you could offer an online and phone service allowing an abused spouse or person recently released from prison to be linked immediately to a variety of temporary housing, counseling, and employment opportunities in their area.

They could find out what services are available and who’s best to talk to in real time before they even show up at a social service agency.

The market opportunity outside of the youth and professional social networking space is clear. More than half of the 86 million Americans over the age of 50 are online. That over-50 crowd controls two-thirds of the nation’s wealth.

Ads related to locally focused Internet searches could become a $6 billion market within five years.

But designers of social networking need to be thinking beyond the text-messaging, PDA and iPod sporting set. The real challenge is making the technology accessible to everyone.

Social networking could do better by being socially acceptable for us all. Whichever venture capitalist figures that out first will be positioned to reap both the spiritual satisfaction and the monetary rewards.

MOON: Paul Lamb is a management consultant for non-profit organizations in Vallejo, California.

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