TAO/Open TAO Workshop
On May 15th, 2013, volunteers from organizations representing older adults met with administrators of online communities for an open workshop in Ulm. The central question of the workshop was: How can we help people to use the Internet so it’s really useful for their everyday life?
Invited presentations in the morning provided insights into successful communities’ strategies to integrate and engage the “50+” age group. In the afternoon, discussion groups provided an opportunity for participants to talk about these strategies, develop new ideas, and expand their professional network. About 50 people accepted the invitation by the Centre for General Scientific Continuing Education (ZAWiW) of the University of Ulm. The Berner Fachhochschule (BFH) acted as a cooperating partner in the organization, with Thomas Gehrig, TAO Project Manager, chairing the event. The workshop was later documented in the TAO handbook in Wikiversity.
Well-known online communities from Germany presented their strategies for encouraging members aged 50+ to take an active, long-term role in their offerings. Their practical knowledge was complemented with findings from project TAO.
- Markus Marquard (ZAWiW, University of Ulm): “How ageing can be enriched by online communities”. The third age is heterogeneous. Therefore, online communities should not develop their strategies based on age, but based on needs, motives and skills of members. Action Research with partners SeniorWeb.NL, SeniorWeb.CH and Wikimedia Germany lead to the development of a typology of users and strategies on how to address them.
- Verena Simon & Frieder Leipold (seniorbook.de): “A network between shrill and beige”. The service was founded in 2011 and offers features similar to competitors like Facebook, with differences geared towards the needs of members aged 45 and above. These differences include an emphasis on privacy and encouraging offline activities of the users.
- Alexander Wild (Feierabend.de): “15 years of Feierabend.de – Web 3.0 as a win-win strategy between volunteering and advertisement”. With more than 170.000 members, Feierabend.de is Germany’s most successful senior online community. Founded in 1998, the business model originally revolved solely around targeted advertisement. It has since been expanded to online shopping, product recommendations from the community, and crowdsourced product development.
- Dr. Elvira Schmidt (Wikimedia Germany): “Silver Knowledge – Sharing knowledge in Wikipedia”. Wikimedia Germany is a non-profit association fostering free knowledge since 2004. Traditionally, the Wikimedia communities (Wikipedia, Wikiversity etc.) are dominated by young users. The project Silver Knowledge developed strategies to include more people from the age group 50+ as well.
- Elisabeth Weinberger (Seniorweb.nl): “SeniorWeb.NL – Volunteers as an essential success factor for a community”. SeniorWeb.NL is a non-profit organization from the Netherlands operating a very popular web portal for older adults with 140.000 users. Over the course of the last 13 years, its strategies to attract, motivate and retain members have been constantly refined. Currently, SeniorWeb.NL is focusing on keeping up with technological innovations and adapting to demographic changes.
- Rüdiger Glott (MERIT, University of Maastricht): “Third Age Online – field-tested results and recommendations for action”. The presentation connected data on demographic changed with untapped business models for online communities geared towards older adults. In the majority of cases, online communities are still limited to one or two revenue streams like paid advertisements and online shopping. In the future, the contributions of their members will become valuable services for companies and social institutions.
During registration, participants of the workshop had the option to mark topics they were particularly interested in. Based on their statements, the organizers then prepared discussion groups with four different topics. After the presentations had concluded, participants could choose to join one of them.
- DG 1: Public relations and engaging new members. There was wide agreement within the group that clarity on the target audience’s needs and wants is the most important prerequisite to consider. Online communities need a clear vision on how to address these needs and wants in public relations, in platform development and in user support. The participants exchanged knowledge on needs and wants of the age group 50+.
- DG 2: Retaining members and volunteers. One of the most difficult processes in the management of online communities is getting members to contribute on a regular basis. The discussion group exchanged ideas on which incentives work best for which community. Another topic was the support and management of offline activities of volunteers.
- DG 3: Funding and business models. The group discussed practical applications of newer business models, including co-creation, open innovation and living labs. If community administrators want to adopt more revenue streams, they have to make sure their members are accepting of the changes. Communities might have reservations about the harnessing of their user generated content for commercial gains. The distinction between leisure activities and work becomes blurred and we are only beginning to make sense of the cultural change.
- DG 4: Usability. The participants viewed tablet computers as the most important trend in the industry. Due to their ease of use, these devices seem suitable for just about everyone. However, they share some of the same problems as desktop devices when they are in the hands of less computer literacy people: confusing user interfaces, bewildering amounts of pre-installed services, foreign-language text or issues with data privacy. Interestingly, websites targeted to older adults often are marred by the same problems.