Blog post

Do Web 2.0 User Demographics Matter?

By Gene Phifer | November 30, 2008 | 2 Comments

The Gartner analyst community has been having a fun internal debate over the last couple of months over the validity of Web 2.0 user demographics.  For a while we have been talking about digital natives, those who grew up in the era of the Web and who naturally gravitate toward Web 2.0 concepts and technologies, and digital immigrants, those who grew up before the era of the Web.   But some of my colleagues are questioning the validity of this categorization and arguing that age has nothing to do with it, that it is a state mind.

I happen to believe that there is a generational aspect to this.  The people that grew up in the 90’s and 00’s were immersed in the new era of the Web.  They live and breath it.  Take a random sample of 20 tweens, teens and twenty-somethings, and I’d bet 19 will have sent at least one text within the last 24 hours.  Web 2.0 is part of their lifestyle.  

I don’t argue that some digital immigrants exhibit digital native characteristics.  In fact, I’m one of those ‘naturalized digital citizens’, who was born in another era, but adopted the new world to the point where I act like many digital natives.  My point is that it didn’t come naturally to me.  I had to learn and adapt.  Just like an immigrant learns and adapts to their new country to the point where they can become a naturalized citizen.

Unfortunately, some digital immigrants probably won’t fully adapt, just like some immigrants never are fully immersed in their new country.  And there are a handful of digital natives that don’t participate in the new era of the Web, just like some natives choose not to vote.

So I think that there is an age thing working on the basic tendencies of Web 2.0 adoption.  Digital natives are highly inclined to use Web 2.0 concepts and technologies, and digital immigrants are highly inclined (at least initially) to not use them.  But more and more digital immigrants are crossing over, and are beginning to look and act a whole lot like a digital native, to the point where they could legitimately be called naturalized digital citizens.

Does this demographic categorization make sense?  If it does, there are plenty of ramifications to companies and the way that they interact with these demographic groups.

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  • If you look at your definitions, the native/immigrant model conflates “digital” and “web.” Computer-mediated communications were around a long time before web 1.0, and some of us “immigrants” (by the stated definition) have been using earlier forms for a very long time. How does that fit with the model?

  • Gene Phifer says:

    If you go by a strict interpretation, a ‘digital native’ could have grown up in the 70’s/80’s, as the world made major moves from analog to digital during those decades. From a purist perspective, the term ‘Web native/immigrant’ might be more accurate, but we chose the term ‘digital’ because its not just about the Web. All those folks texting on their cell phones are testament to that. So we needed something broader than ‘Web’, and we picked ‘digital’. Not perfect, but workable.