Sunday, February 15, 2009

Women Over 55 Discover Facebook

The other day I came across an interesting article highlighting the explosive growth of Facebook users over 35. This trend is especially interesting in the 55+ demographic and it mirrors my recent experience.

To my surprise, about a month ago my Mother-In-Law began talking about getting on Facebook. Now that all of her children and grandchildren were on Facebook, she felt left out. Why hadn't she hadn't seen that great picture her family was talking about? Why was she the last to know about a fun day of sledding?

The situation got me thinking about how under served this demographic is on the internet and with technology in general. A few companies have tried to cater to them, but nobody seems to have hit the winning formula. Examples that come to mind include Eons, Web TV, and Jitter Bug.

Now that the network effects of Facebook (and other technologies) are so strong, older users are ready to sign up as well. There is an opportunity to modify these existing sites & technologies to better cater to this group. For example, why not a scaled down Facebook with larger text specifically for older people? My Mother-In-Law doesn't care about 95% of the applications and isn't tech savvy enough to sort through them. However, she does want to see family pictures, maybe get status updates, or remember everyone's birthdays. How about streaming Facebook photo albums to her digital picture frame?

One of the more interesting stories I've heard about older Americans on the web was from a digital entertainment conference at the MIT Media Lab. The presenter, who worked at an MMO gaming company, described how older players (55+) were joining the game as priest characters. They weren't really interested in the fighting aspect of the game but they enjoyed interacting in the virtual world. This was especially true for retired people or people with limited mobility.

Many older American's have the money and are more than willing to spend it to stay up to date with their family; However, the technology has not been modified or marketed to them. Why not market the iPhone to grandparents? They would love the ability to see the latest photos, use Loopt to keep track of grandchildren, or utilize the GPS to get directions. With a little help on the setup I'd say the iPhone is easier to use than most cell phones.

No doubt creating technology for older Americans can be a risky proposition. However, over the next few years I hope to see some websites that cater to my aging parents and make it easier for me to share my digital life with them.

Monday, February 2, 2009

iPhone Billing Problems

You should have seen my face on Christmas day when I unwrapped my new iPhone 3G. I spent the next couple weeks glued to the screen getting it set up just the way I wanted it. One such customization was to change the number that had been assigned to me to a new phone number. I made sure not to activate the default number and went to the At&t store on December 27th to get the new number set up.

After a month of blissful usage my problems began about a week ago. I got a bill from At&t for the number I had never used. When I called customer service the agent gave me a bit of a hard time until I pointed out there was no usage for the number so clearly it wasn't active. Then I got an SMS saying that I had racked up a big text bill. I called to straighten that out and the agent discovered that my request for the 200 text plan had never gone through. Today I logged in to my At&t account to find a bill for $1,269 which had auto charged to my credit card. Apparently, when they changed my number they didn't set it up on the iPhone data plan, which is odd because the agent didn't mention that when she added my text plan.

I think the interesting thing is that my iPhone bill was well over $1,000 for one month of data usage at $.01 per kb. When I was using the MediaNet plan for my old phone I didn't have a sense for how much heavy mobile internet usage would cost me so I just went with the unlimited plan. Of course, it is so much easier to use the iPhone data but I it just goes to show that At&t has decided to set up their pricing so that the unlimited plan (text and data) is really the only practical option.

After over 45 minutes of talking to customer service and a $1,200 credit card charge it would have been nice if they threw me a few extra minutes for free. All the agents were friendly enough but considering I'm accruing interest on my card it would have been nice to get a little compensation. A few years back when I was on T-Mobile they would always give some extra minutes if you had a major customer service issue.