TAO/SeniorWebNL's online contact services
- 1 Members’ analysis
- 2 From quantative to qualitative data
- 3 Focus group conversations on web contact services
- 4 References
Before implementing any actions or activities, UM-MERIT and SeniorWebNL conducted a study on the demographics of the SeniorWebNL members and the use of SeniorWebNL’s web contact services. The purpose of this study was to identify patterns and structures within the SeniorWebNL members that could later possibly help to tailor new services and products better to the needs of the target group.
The current web contact services that are offered by SeniorWebNL through their website are the following:
- Mailing lists
- Trefpunt, a social networking feature
- Fotowedstrijd, a photo contest
- Vraag & Aanbod (or Marktplaats), a classified advertising site
Besides those interactive web contact services, the more passive web contact possibility of PCHulp, PC assistance, is also included in the analysis. The reason to include these (partly offline) activities in our analysis is that obviously these services are very effective means for SeniorWebNL to attract new members, to bind members over time, and to acquaint members with the online offerings of SeniorWebNL. The PC assistance has two features, either online, via the website, or offline, face-to-face at home. At the same time, especially the mailing lists and the forum also offer SeniorWebNL members the possibility of IT learning and solving IT problems.
Methodology and data
For the analysis of SeniorWebNL’s members’ demographics and the use of SeniorWebNL’s web contact possibilities several databases were formatted into CSV files and these were merged into one single SPSS database. The different databases included the regular members’ database, the ambassadors’ database (ambassadors are the volunteers of SeniorWebNL that give trainings, PC assistance and classes) and the various databases of the website, the online forum, Trefpunt and mail group platforms. The collected data were also processed in SPSS. Not the complete history of the different databases could be checked, simply since some of the data only started later or was reset in the past years. In general most of the data are from the past 4 to 6 years.
The member database had 114.003 members at the moment of analysis (February 2011). This database (with geographical and demographic information) was combined with the user databases of the mailing list system, the forum, the photo contest, Vraag & Aanbod and Trefpunt and also the archives of the PC assistance database.
Analyzing the SeniorWebNL members’ database, among other observations, the share of males is slightly bigger than the share of women, and most members join SeniorWebNL between the age of 65 and 75 years. Interestingly, SeniorWebNL manages successfully to attract also a considerable share of persons in the so-called fourth age (76 and older), a group that is usually considered to be aligned with diseases, inactivity and isolation. Assumably, SeniorWebNL’s services capture the need of those in the fourth age that are still active and healthy enough. Since TAO focuses on persons in the third age, this phenomenon was not further investigated in our study and remains thus as a subject for future research. The Fourth age is defined 76 and older with reference to Lähteenmäki & Kaikkonen (2004), Lamdin & Fugate (1997) and Williamson & Aslab (2009). Besides the aforementioned, there are no particular observations that really stand out as interesting.
Web contact services
In the following table an overview is presented of the different web contact services and compared to the general SeniorWebNL members database:
- The percentage of users using the service
- The percentage of male and female users
- The average age of the users
- The percentage of the different age groups
For the active users (users of mailing groups, forum and/or Trefpunt), 10.522 are using only one web contact service. 2.773 members and 665 members are using respectively two and three services. In total, 13.960 members (12,2 %) are users of the SeniorWebNL web contact services.
In the following part we will present several observations per web contact service.
|General||Mail lists||Mail groups||Dig classes||Forum||Trefpunt||Marktplaats||Photo||PC Assistance||PC Assistance at home||PC Assistance via Internet|
|Age||n = 109916||n = 6761||n = 5435||n = 1675||n = 4810||n = 6099||n = 1797||n = 1737||n = 29133||n = 11971||n = 23342|
Mailing lists: Mailing groups & digital classes
For our research we split the mailing lists topic-wise to mailing groups (social contacts, hobby clubs and interests) and digital classes (learning groups for software and/or hardware).
- 6923 members make use of the different mailing lists SeniorWebNL offers.
- For all mailing lists, i.e. both mailing groups and digital classes, more women are making use of this web contact service.
- Almost 80% of the forum users (who subscribed to the forum) did not post anything or only once.
- There is a very small ‘elite’ of 17 members that all posted over 1000 messages.
This observation seems to suggest that the forum is rather used as a passive “news service” by the vast majority of the SeniorWebNL members than as an interactive communication platform. If this interpretation is true it might have implications for the introduction of Web 2.0 services, which are designed for interactive usage. If the members’ behaviour at the forum indicates a general reluctance to interactive services it is likely that Web 2.0 services will face significant ignorance or even resistance. However, it might also be the case that the forum and/or its contents do not attract others to share their opinions and suggestions. Whether or not the activities that have meanwhile started to implement Web 2.0 services will have success and incite more members to actively create and share content will be proven within the next months.
- Marktplaats or Vraag en Aanbod, the classified advertisement part of the website, counts 1838 users.
- These users posted 3737 ads, which is almost two per user.
- The average user is slightly younger than most SeniorWebNL members.
- The photo contest counts 1771 users of SeniorWebNL’s current members.
- The database counts a total of 1946 members and these members uploaded a stunning amount of 37446 photos.
- With an average of 68 year old, the photo contest user is also a bit younger than the average SeniorWeb NL members.
- 12.388 members already made use of PC assistance at home.
- The PC assistance at home team got 24892 calls of which 23343 got solved, i.e. 93,8%.
- Almost double as many members, 24.023, made use of PC assistance via Internet.
- Here, 94646 out of 101984 calls got solved, i.e. 92,8%.
- Almost 40% and 60% made different calls for respectively PC assistance at home and via Internet.
- With 30.046 unique members making use of PC assistance, this service is by far the most popular interactive service from SeniorWebNL (26,4% of the members use it).
With regard to the forum and Trefpunt, the number of created profiles does not reveal the real use or about the activity of the participants. There are not only many members who only created a profile, but also quite some lurkers. The website visitors and page view statistics are more conclusive for this purpose. To analyse these statistics, Google Analytics was used to compare the different web contact services.
The biggest differences between amount of users and amount of visitors and page views can be found at the forum and at Trefpunt. Trefpunt has a very limited number of users, with 5.5% of the members having a profile. But only 2% of website visitors visit this part of the website. SeniorWebNL already indicated that this is a self-built application they have on their website and the maintenance and answering the questions by staff members cost a lot of time. The forum scores the best ratings (7%). Especially after publication of the newsletter there are always peaks in the amount of visitors and page views. On the other hand, only 0.9% of the members post messages.
From quantative to qualitative data
SeniorWebNL web contact services are offered in different flavours. More than 10% of the members and visitors use these services. They fulfil several functions:
- Help / learn from each other
- Expanding social network and the member’s life world (one can talk to people he would not meet in his traditional environments)
- The web contact services serve as the human face of SeniorWebNL as an association, this is the best opportunity for the members to have direct interactions with the organisation.
- Opportunity for the members to express themselves in new forms and contexts (e.g. photo contest) and to gain reputation that cannot be gained at home or in circles of the family or friends.
To analyse and elaborate on these functions, complementary qualitative research is needed. In the second part of the exploration phase and preliminary research this is provided by several focus group conversations.
Focus group conversations on web contact services
Methodology and data
In order to analyse the motivations behind the usage of the web contact possibilities, different series of focus group conversations were organised with SeniorWebNL members. Focus groups have been introduced by Merton et al. in the 1950s. They study people in an atmosphere more natural and relaxed than a one-to-one interview and this setting creates the possibility to explore unanticipated issues as they arise in the discussion. Focus groups are useful for introducing and discussing new technologies, since the group interaction is used to “produce data and insights that would be less accessible without the interaction found in a group” (Morgan, 1988, p. 12).
In the following sections we give more information about the recruitment of the respondents, about the followed procedure and the central themes of the conversation. Finally, we give a word of explanation about the processing of the data.
Through a small poll on the web contact possibilities of SeniorWebNL members were asked to fill in their usage and interest in a focus group conversation. The recruitment for the focus group conversations was done on the basis of these poll results.
For every web contact possibility (mailing groups, forum, Trefpunt) a separate focus group conversation was organised and next to that, conversations were set up for multi-users, being members that use all three web contact possibilities, and non-users, being members that do not use the web contact possibilities, or that are drop-outs from these possibilities. The obvious purpose of the selection of these groups was to capture different typical groups with regard to usage patterns of SeniorWebNL’s offerings.
The following planning was handled:
- April/May 2011: Setting up focus group target groups
- Creating topic list and survey
- May/June 2011: Selection and invitations
- 20/6/2011 - Focus group: mailing group users (Maastricht)
- 21/6/2011 - Focus group: forum users (Utrecht)
- 27/6/2011 - Focus group: multi-users (Utrecht)
- 27/6/2011 - Focus group: non-users (Utrecht)
- 28/6/2011 - Focus group: Trefpunt users (Den Bosch)
The focus group interviews always applied the following procedure:
- Reception of the participants;
- Request of permission to record the conversation (audio and video);
- A short presentation about the project, the goals of the focus group conversation and the upcoming topics;
- A round of introducing each other;
- Discussion about the several topics (see below);
- Completion of the interview after 1.5 to 2 hours;
- Acknowledgment of all participants and issue of incentives.
For focus group conversations it is recommended to be flexible with the questionnaire. Thus, better responses can be expected in the natural dynamics of a group discussion. The focus group interviews in this research were structured according to various topics and their related questions. The overarching themes are the same themes that are used in this analysis.
The topic list for the focus group conversations:
- General online use and web contact
- Web contact possibilities SeniorWebNL
- Online contact possibilities outside of SeniorWebNL
- Future: remarks, improvements, comments, compliments
One researcher and one employee of SeniorWebNL were present during all focus group conversations. All conversations were recorded with at least one camera and an audio recorder. The conversations are summarized in accordance with the themes.
The SeniorWebNL members are very satisfied with the service and very loyal. The website provides a protected environment (technical and personal) and is experienced as a very reliable experience. On the other hand the invited SeniorWebNL members are quite conservative. The participants do not want change. Proposed changes of the services are therefore not really appreciated.
Web contact services
Apparently, the SeniorWebNL members are quite picky. They typically use no other senior or computer (learning) websites. Most of them only use one web contact service offered by SeniorWebNL and stick to that. The participants agree that learning from and helping each other is very important. They experience it as a stimulant. They want to discover all aspects of using computers and the Internet (together) and not stay behind.
Personal contact is perceived as very important by the users of the web contact services. The atmosphere and the usefulness of the information are decisive factors in the continued use of a service. The participants do not mind ‘lurkers’, since they do this themselves a lot.
According to the participants, the web contact services fulfill two important functions:
- To encourage, learn & help
- Social contacts, friendships, also offline (to overcome loneliness)
Experiences with the web contact services:
- Mail groups users experienced receiving emails in their mailbox as a stimulant, it is experienced as more personal than reading emails or posts on a website.
- Forum users favoured that you only read the threads or posts that you're interested in.
- Trefpunt users appreciate the coziness and the superficiality of the service.
For beginners, it is difficult to get used to these services (probably true for all of SeniorWebNL). They are technically not experienced with these services, but are easily helped with tips and tricks from experienced users (for example how to create an additional email address for the receiving post from the Mail Groups). Also with regard to a personal level of contact it would be better to get started with a little help, since beginners often have the impression to join a close circle of friends, where it is difficult to settle. Finally, quarreling and brawling deters many participants.
Social media and other Web 2.0 services
SeniorWebNL’s services are - compared to other social networking sites (SNS) - experienced as very user-friendly. Other SNS, such as Facebook, Hyves and Twitter, are seen by many participants as a threat to privacy, as impersonal and as something you will never get rid of. Members who make little or no use of SNS consider avid users (such as children and grandchildren) as addicted to the Internet. All participants read Wikipedia articles, but never wrote or edited.
Thresholds and drivers
Thresholds for using web contact possibilities:
- Abundance of (irrelevant) information
- Not user-friendly interfaces
- Fear of violation of privacy
- Fear of becoming addicted
- Online disputes between SWNL members
Drivers for using web contact possibilities:
- Connection to a personal interest/hobby
- Fast solution to or support with computer problems
- Pleasant contact with other SWNL members
- Learning and keeping pace
- Offline meetings
- Lähteenmäki, M., & Kaikkonen, A. (2004). Designing for aged people communication needs. Paper presented at HCI and the Older Population, Leeds, UK. Retrieved September 27, 2012, from http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/utopia/workshop/lahteenmaki.pdf.
- Lamdin, L. and Fugate, M. (1997). Elder learning: New frontier in an aging society, Phoenix, AZ: The Oryx Press.
- Morgan, D.L. (1988). Focus Groups as qualitative research, Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
- Williamson, K. and Aslab, T. (2009). Information behavior of people in the fourth age: Implications for the conceptualization of information literacy.