Eons: 'MySpace' for the boomer set
Seniors are logging on to Eons.com and discovering the world of online networking.
The online posts appear earnest, but not plaintive.Skip to next paragraph
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Ladybird calls herself a "transplanted New York State grandma" living in Michigan who hopes to trade e-mail with some new local friends. JoeMarty – who has never been in a chat room or posted a message online – wants to know if "anyone out there" is into bikes – the kind with pedals, he notes, not internal-combustion engines.
Like some 300,000 others in recent weeks, they have logged on to a new website, Eons.com. The site is banking on a digital awakening among recreation-minded boomers and matures, a growing and increasingly active demographic – online and everywhere else.
"Our goal is to be the center of gravity on the Web for adults 50-plus," says Linda Natansohn, senior vice president for strategic development at the firm, a Charlestown, Mass., offshoot of job-board giant Monster.com.
This is not your grandchild's Internet. Social-networking websites from MySpace to Facebook to Friendster have long been the virtual neighborhoods of choice for – primarily – Gen Y youths and young adults.
Burrowed into these web-based warrens, registered users can trade text, images, and audio – in total anonymity or with starkly candid, photo-accompanied attribution.
Today, such sites are exploding – and the demographics of their user bases have broadened. Executives increasingly use sites such as LinkedIn.com to conduct "back door" checks on references. Wal-Mart runs a site for teens called the Hub.
Social-networking sites in the form of interactive games exist for children as young as 8. (See http://weblogs.csmonitor.com/weekend_zone/ for related story.)
But it remains unclear whether an older crowd will comfortably ease into communal clusters. So far, websites aimed at the senior set – AARP.org, thirdage.com – have tended to be more informational than interactive. A recent study by Jupiter Research found older users to be the group least interested in online social networking, says Corina Matiesanu, a senior analyst there.
Still, Ms. Matiesanu says, 20 percent of nearly 900 respondents ages 55 and older were open to the function. And Jupiter estimates that 62.4 million over-50 adults will be online by 2010.
They just might seek one another out. "The fastest growing group for Internet dating is older people," Gloria Steinem told The New York Times earlier this month.
Social-networking sites frequently form organically around interests – stick-shift cars, for example – without regard for networkers' ages. But mixed-topic sites could succeed just by mining broad veins of generational interests.
"There's a strong bias that we have toward interacting with people who are demographically and physically similar to ourselves," says David Krackhardt, a professor of organizational behavior at Carnegie Mellon's Heinz School and a leading expert on social networks.
Age, he says, "is one of the strongest, most persistent predictors of how networks form."
Others submit that in an online environment packed with distractions, it might not be enough.
"Is being over 50 years old a strong enough affinity? I'm not so sure," says Howard Rheingold, a writer and well-regarded expert on the social implications of communications technology.
"There are plenty of boomers in communities that discuss health or investments – two concerns of aging onliners that come immediately to mind – but I really wonder what the founders of Eons.com plan to do to achieve a critical mass of participants," he writes in an e-mail.