The Digital Divide 2.0

First big questions:

  • Who are the people getting involved?
  • If only 20% of public are actively online, why not just work with that group instead of working to encourage greater participation?

Example from Gov 2.0:  Tweets for Africa, where SMS was being used in certain communities because it’s the most pervasive platform in those areas

  • it’s about understanding which platform works best or is most adopted by a particular community
  • exception:  when barriers to developing for multiple platforms are too high, and an app is designed only for one, limiting reach (e.g., iPhone app AreYouSafe is ONLY for iPhone, rather than for multiple platforms

People have cell phones, but getting them online via PCs or using data-side of mobiles is more difficult (whether it’s activating data features of their phones or getting computers, and then making the leap to discovering/using/being comfortable w/Web tech).

App-development issues:  Designers go after most popular platforms; even if you design an app, the bar is set differently and high by each platform owner (and can keep people from devoting time to create multiple implementations).

  • For example, when Twitter first premiered, early adopters had set ideas of how the app would be used, and got upset when pool grew and users started using it differently (i.e., screwed it up); some people use Facebook to keep in touch w/family and use Twitter to follow celebrities, and haven’t thought about fresh ways to use the tools).
  • App designers aren’t usually prepared for the variety of ways the community will use the apps (Gov 2.0 speaker:  “one size doesn’t fit all, but multiple sizes will fit most”); most people teach common denominator, because it’s the one that will be used.
  • the specific apps may go away, but formats/modes of communication persist (e.g., the shift of users from single communicators to broadcasters within the same medium, SMS –> syndicated Twitter)
  • also, for early adopters, there’s a comfortable feeling when tools make interaction easier; but for users who have no idea of earlier adaptation, changing to new tools is foreign

Getting-online issues:  PC access in libraries generally falls into two categories:  express stations (15 minutes, which requires the skills to find information/do tasks quickly) and longer-use stations (generally 1 hour at a time)

  • library staff commented that people for 1-hour stations, biggest challenge is helping people get their resumes together (limited station time and staff time) and the dearth of stations to accommodate people coming in to apply for jobs online)

Innovative solutions are needed to accommodate user training needs as well as resume building; examples:

  • in buildings w/affordable housing, buildings include computer lab on ground floor w/training programs that help people develop skills and build resumes (and hence, find jobs)
    • Community Preservation & Development Corporation in DC does this
  • Creating mobile labs (SUV/vans) w/computer stations and taking them to places that need the services; people who are low-income are working more hours for less pay (i.e., don’t have or won’t take time to go get trained and go to library to use resources)

Offline engagement is much more resource-intensive (retail politics, talking to people one-on-one or in groups); also, for people who don’t have basic technical knowledge, it’s a much more uphill learning process, especially for older users.  Nonusers have a difficult time relating to the Web if they don’t understand navigation/content relationships (i.e., not just the mechanics, but the base concepts).  One example is the dual meaning of common Web terminology:  one user taking “default” to mean something bad, rather than an automatic go-to (i.e., user associated “default” with loan/credit trouble).

How does this all relate to Congress (app development, constituent relations)?

  • Tools have to be chosen to maximize # of connections, not just optimizing connection w/existing users
  • Policies are generally tailored for engaged citizens
  • Counterpoint:  Congresspeople know who their audience is, so they can more easily figure out the right tools to reach them (in a way that other organizations may have to work harder to do)
  • Counterpoint again:  It’s not always certain how people are being reached, so being sure about which tools are working (or could work) isn’t always clear
  • Web apps can allow Congresspeople to hear from people more directly, rather than always having the filter of staffers
  • Engagement concern:  as we create/implement new tools for constituent relations, we should be thinking about how these tools can bring in new audiences, not just engage the ones you have (i.e., early adopters)

Could we reaching potential underserved users as part of their education?

  • Lacks:  tech-savvy teachers, equipment at home to continue use, broadband reach
  • TSA was trying to get agent feedback via tech tools, but agents generally weren’t in front of computers

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