A Growing Technology Divide

According to a recent Pew survey, 91% of Americans are either unsure of or have never heard of the phrase “RSS feed”. It is a pretty amazing stat, considering the growing success surrounding this technology.

Most major news and information sites now have RSS feeds. Microsoft is including RSS support in its next version of Windows. Companies like SimpleFeed focus exclusively on providing corporations RSS services and software. Yet ask a fellow American (who falls outside of the “blogosphere”) about RSS feeds and they’ll most likely say , “RSS what?”

The New Internet is creating a growing technology divide, most evident by Americans’ ignorance not just of how to *utilize *an RSS feed but more importantly in even *knowing *what it is. Much like the old adage, “the rich get richer while the poor get poorer”, those who can explain what an RSS feed is, also probably blog and might even subscribe to or have their own podcast.

Perhaps an even scary statistic is that *only *67% of American adults are online. So, while blogs, RSS, podcasts, vidcasts, wikis, and other New Internet technologies are growing by the day, approximately 33% of Americans still would not even know how to open up a browser.

Thus for New Internet technologies like RSS feeds to move into mainstream America (i.e., beyond American Internet users having a 9% awareness of them), they must overcome this growing technology divide. The gap can begin to be closed by attacking it from two different angles: usability and education

  1. Usability. The New Internet must be simple to use. Technologies like RSS news readers or news aggregrators must be tightly integrated into browsers and not just from a plugin perspective. No additional software installation should be required for these technologies to work. Microsoft (and Apple) understand this concept (last week, Steve Rubel of Micro Persuasion briefly examined MS continued interest in RSS development).
  2. Education. This element is tied directly to usability. Without the New Internet being somewhat intuitive, educating users on how to use it will be nearly impossible. Think about a friend or family member who is not tech savvy. Explaining how to add a contact to an email address book is often a task. Imagine explaining how to create a blog (or even just how to write a comment on one) or subscribe to an RSS feed.

Businesses and organizations will need to cater to these various groups. They must be aware that the 33% demographic of non-Internet users will be shrinking by the day, while at the same time the percentage of people who have a “good idea” of what RSS is, will also be growing. Until the technology divide is closed, a successful online web presence will meet each of these groups where they are.