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Baby-boomers need social network sites based on their own needs

24 June 2009 Aalto University

Social network sites should be designed to meet the needs of 55-65-year-old people. Researchers at Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT found out that many baby-boomers think social network sites like Facebook are unfit to them. This is the reason why so few of them use any social network services on the net.

According to a study to be published in HCI2009 conference 55-65 year-old Finns consider social network sites unsecure. In addition, they consider the behaviour at these sites often inappropriate. According to researchers Vilma Lehtinen, Jaana Näsänen and Risto Sarvas young people, for instance, usually find it natural to publish a personal pictures on the web, but many Finnish baby-boomers consider that inappropriate as self-assertion.

The difference is explained by the fact that baby-boomers are used to being in touch with their friends in ways established in the past decades. The boomers’ manners and assumptions about social interaction have been formed in a world without intensive digital interaction. On the contrary, younger people’s relationships have been built up in an environment where digital interaction is an integral part of maintaining human relations. Rules on what is considered appropriate have been formed to fit each world respectively. Most popular social network sites are built to fit the behaviour rules of the younger people’s world. This is the reason why the baby-boomers’ world of friendships does not fit easily to this environment and older generations do not find the sites appealing or intuitive.

Researchers say there is a need, for example, to create services not emphasising the search of public attention and openness to the whole world: baby-boomers’ values and habits make the boomers consider personal privacy management and protection very important.  People should also be able to learn to use the web services in groups and with their old friends so that the long-term friendships could be transformed naturally to the web.

It is important to open social networking technology for older generations. Changes in life – retirement, deterioration of health, family members moving away – may make place and distance independent online human relations very beneficial.

Network society is one of the research areas of Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT. HIIT is a joint research institute of Helsinki University of Technology TKK and the University of Helsinki for basic and strategic research on information technology.

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