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The theme song for social networking sites could be Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'."
For the past few years MySpace, Facebook and other sites with profiles and friends were considered to be the domain of teens and 20-somethings as they kept in touch with friends from all over. Baby boomers have started to embrace this new culture and entrepreneurs are looking to capitalize on this shift on the net. As well, there appears to be an increase in sites focusing on bringing together people who are already close to each other.
According to a Sept. 11 CNET News.com article, baby boomers learned their computer skills in the workplace and are now finding the time to put them to recreational use. A Nielsen/NetRatings study showed the number of Internet users over 55 is about the same as cyber-surfers in the 18-34 bracket. The September 2007 issue of the Media Post states a fall 2006 study showed more than half of MySpace users were over 35.
Sites such as Multiply and Eons are aiming to capture the interests of computer users who grew up with Paul McCartney rather than Britney Spears. Robin Wolaner created Parenting magazine in 1987 and is a co-founder of the social networking site TeeBeeDee. She said in the CNET News.com article online networking is a logical next step for her generation.
"We're not going to hang out at the AARP site. What is there for us?
"There's a recognition that this generation now uses the Internet just like younger people. The one thing this generation hasn't done yet is network online."
When the boomers go online they want to discuss their issues rather than the latest bands, which means some of the current popular sites are less of a draw. "I feel like I'm putting down roots, building relationships," Meg Dunn, 38, a Multiply user was quoted as saying. "My feeling on MySpace is that people give you a poke, and then they're gone and you never see them again."
Investors and advertisers also seem to be warming up to the idea of catering to an older audience. "Teens are tire kickers - they hang around, cost you money and then leave," said Paul Kedrosky, a venture capitalist and blogger. "The older demographic has a bunch of interesting characteristics, not the least of which is that they hang around."
While Internet companies are looking for an older crowd, they also want to capture the market close to home. In New York City, Jared Nissim started MeetTheNeighbors.org in his East Village apartment building because he wanted to know the people who lived near him, according to a September 2007 story in the Media Post.
His site is certainly not alone. The Front Porch Forum in Burlington, Vermont, has assisted neighbors in selling cars, finding roommates and host block parties as well as getting to know each other.
"There's a powerful and organic connection between social networking and community," said Greg Sterling, founder of Sterling Market Intelligence. "I think it's an interesting, undeveloped area."
However, it is not one without its risks. It remains to be seen if these smaller sites can draw the advertising dollars to make then profitable, Sterling said.
"The fundamental question really for all these community sites is where is the money going to come from?"
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