As is my sometimes habit, I ventured out into the real world this week to take the pulse of real people who use real new media. Nobody was paid nor bribed in the course of these discussions and all opinions reflected here represent the opinions of my (anonymous as they shun fame and fortune) focus group, expanded this time to include a few voices from the legal profession.
So here is what they’re saying out there in reality. Remember, real people with real money to spend on goods and services:
- On Cool New Inventions: One noted that he’d heard rumors that the next big invention will be a wireless battery charger. “Wireless?” everyone marveled, to the point that someone forgot to push the “down” button on the elevator. “That would be so cool!” The hows and whys of this potential lifesaver were glossed over rather quickly. Details are not this crowd’s strong suit.
One person suggested that surely such technology would cause brain damage or hair loss, but overwhelmingly, the group felt that this would the new technology that would save their collective lives. Because, even though it was generally agreed that wireless charging capability would require the purchase of a slew of new gadgets, the cost would be well worth it. As one noted, she was minus her cell phone that day because she’d forgotten to charge it. Leading to…
- Mobile Media: I will confess that a vast majority of the initial test group have a stronger-than-average working knowledge of the advances in mobile media. Yet they continue to resist the urge to download film and clips and sometimes even songs to their cell phones for one simple reason: battery life. One man put it best, “What if my car breaks down and I’m stuck on the freeway and late for a Clippers game and my phone is dead?”
This, dear mobile media advocates, is what you’re facing out there in the real world. The cell phone is not just a toy: it’s a communications device. And some people take the phone’s ability to communicate very seriously. They use their phones to talk to other people. Dead batteries simply won’t cut it, and, let’s face it, you can’t have a charger with you all the time. Improve battery life significantly, and maybe you’ll see some changing tunes, but right now, nobody’s that interested.
Also, price continues to be a barrier.
- Fantasy Worlds: No, not Second Life, this is real fantasy life. “Oh, I get it,” one said, “I’ll be able to charge my battery anywhere there’s a wireless network.” (Network was not the actual word used, but that was the implication). There was, briefly, consensus. Reality quickly hit as the participants realized that free wireless is not as ubiquitous as the fairy tales lead us to believe.
“You can get free wireless at Starbucks,” another insisted, rather stubbornly if you want my opinion. “No,” said another. “You have to pay.” “Pay?” This was said with the kind of disbelief usually reserved for “you just ran a stop sign.” Nobody liked the idea of paying Starbucks even more money for wireless access, “Seems like for a five dollar coffee, you should get the Internet free”.
In a hat tip to effective marketing, a good 50% of the group was fairly certain that T-Mobile was the service provider for Starbucks. The rest of the group had no clue.
- Wireless Connections, Hotel-Style: Later, someone opined that, “You get free Internet in every hotel in the world these days.” As with the previous issue, a small but well-informed crowd disagreed with this statement. “You have to pay.” “Pay?” Followed by “Why would I want to pay? I pay for the room.” There was brief discussion — more than a few people in the room traveled more than once a year — about choosing hotels with free Internet. Additional charges for the Internet were perceived as hotels trying to rip-off consumers.
Nobody really likes the idea of adding money for this service. It is generally seen as far more costly than the service deserves. Free Internet, oh hotel owners, free Internet.
- Netflix: Netflix continues to show surprising strength among adult women, or at least the adult women I encountered. In the course of our desultory discussion over really yummy potato chips, more than a few women began to discuss films they’d recently seen. Knowing that their schedules often make mine look leisurely, I was surprised at how conversant they were with modern culture. I decided to explore further. “When do you have time to watch movies?”
“Netflix,” they replied, almost in unison.
“Oh,” I said wisely, like I used Netflix, too.
What followed was a detailed discussion about why they’re happy with Netflix, how it works, how you see stuff you never thought you’d see, and no late charges. The late charge thing was incredibly important and cited as a key selling point. These busy people were actually watching more film as a result of the Netflix service and selection. I’m pretty sure there’s a life lesson here.
- Videos Featuring Cats: YouTube remains incredibly popular with the people I spoke with. Please note that not one person mentioned watching major media programming on the Internet, particularly on YouTube. No, like most Americans, they are desperately seeking funny, unusual fare. Like cats who play the piano and the terrifying Kitty Cat Song, which one person knew by heart. It was agreed that out of the 750,000-odd page views, she was responsible for 500,000. Animals signing, dancing, and generally exhibiting talent remain big draws. We have reached the age where cats with ordinary talent simply don’t cut it in today’s fast-paced world.
There was also discussion about in the world people use MySpace and Googling your name every now and then.
YouTube in general was seen as a good thing and nobody seemed willing to discuss any other video services. Blank looks all around, if want to know the truth. Those of you trying to become YouTube rivals: take note. You aren’t reaching audiences. Which leads us to our final item:
- Politics: A rapid but wide-ranging discussion on politics and the Internet ended our evening. From the Hilary Clinton/1984 video on YouTube (more metrics: 50% got the reference and genesis of the ad) to Mark Warner and John Edwards in the Second Life, there was a general awareness of the Internet’s role in politics in this room. One person, putting it better than I can said, “Anyone who doesn’t realize what they’re saying is going to be up on YouTube within ten minutes doesn’t deserve to win the election!”
There was some argument — some people running from office are apparently out of touch with reality — but good agreement.
There was good awareness of how bloggers are impacting the news by following threads that reporters can’t. And there was rousing debate on the future of journalism. I agreed with one who said that good reporting will continue to make a difference. Good reporting is expensive, sure, but even as some in the blogosphere serve as critic and cub reporter, it will be those who do actual investigation and analysis who rule in the future.
One final thought: the Internet is bringing something refreshing and almost forgotten to politics. Transparency. We are once again able to see past the polished package and get a sense of the human behind the speeches. This, we thought, was very good for democracy indeed.
Now back to the real world to see what they’re saying today.