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February 03 2012

16:30

Pew data: Facebook has room for passives as well as actives

If it’s so much better to give than receive, why are some Facebook users sitting on their hands?

The Pew Internet and American Life Project released a new report today that suggests Facebook users are not a uniformly active bunch. According to the study, the typical Facebook user gets more friend requests than she sends, is tagged in photos more than she tags, and has posts Liked more often than she Likes herself.

But wait — shouldn’t it all even out? After all, every friend request has a requester and a requestee. If a typical user is skews passive on Facebook, where’s all the action coming from?

The answer: a collection of “power users” who, according to the report, are becoming specialists of a sort. You know that friend who only posts tons of photos, or the one who goes on a Liking spree, or the one who seems to rack up an inordinate amount of friends? Yup, they’re doing the work for the rest of us. Even on a flat platform, behavior still moves toward a division of labor:

A proportion of Facebook participants — ranging between 20% and 30% of users depending on the type of activity — were power users who performed these same activities at a much higher rate; daily or more than weekly.

Essentially, in the funny parlance you could only get in a report about Facebook: “People are liked more than they like.” Some data:

Facebook users in our sample on average contributed about four comments for every status update that they made. On average, users make nine status updates per month and contribute 21 comments. Some 33% of Facebook users here updated their status at least once per week. Still, half of our sample made no status updates in the month of our analysis.

Discussion of social media circles around the word “engagement” — but even for many users of social networks, the experience is more about taking-it-all-in than about response and conversation. For a news industry with a long history of one-way communication, that might be a little…comforting? Facebook’s value, at least to media and other companies looking to tap into audiences, is that it’s a super-broad platform built for content and transactional activity. A link is posted; it’s rewarded with a like. A question is asked; it elicits comments. The Pew survey paints a picture where that action is less than reliable:

A third of our sample (33%) used the like button at least once per week during this month, and 37% had content they contributed liked by a friend at least once per week. However, the majority of Facebook users neither liked content, nor was their content liked by others, in our month of observation.

If Facebook activity disproportionately relies on a subset of power users with busy hands, that’s an opening for news outlets or individual journalists to fill that need. The conversation is far more distributed than it was pre-Internet, but it’s still not evenly distributed.

Pew says that Facebook comment-leaving is a bit more reciprocal than some other kinds of Facebook behavior:

More than half our sample (55%) commented on a friend’s content at least once in the month, and 51% received comments from a friend. A large segment of users, a little over 20%, contributed or received a comment every day. The average of 21 comments given on friends’ content was nearly identical to the average of 20 that were received. Again, there are some extreme users as well, about 5% of our sample contributed and received over 100 comments in the month of our observation.

Pew’s data is based on a sample of 269 Facebook users, initially identified through a random phone survey, but who then allowed Pew to track their trails on the site. While its findings may give a (slight) challenge to the idea that Facebook is a heavily engaged network where everyone’s sharing all the time, the report still found big, enticing numbers for any publishing looking to reach a big audience: The median user in their sample is within two degrees of separation (friends of friends) of 31,170 people on Facebook. (For one uber-connected user, that number was 7,821,772.) We already know Facebook is growing as a top referrer to many news sites, so what’s clear from this report is that they need to keep it up. If power users are the straw that stirs the drink on Facebook, then it’s more important than ever journalists and media companies play an active role.

Meh button by Ken Murphy used under a Creative Commons license.

June 16 2011

12:00

Are Americans becoming more isolated from each other? Maybe, Pew says, but don’t blame Facebook

The accusations are familiar: The Internet is making us sad. The Internet is making us lazy. The Internet is making us lonely.

Pew has taken all of those ideas head-on with a new study, “Social Networking Sites and Our Lives” — the first national, representative survey of American adults on their use of social networking sites. Pew interviewed 2,255 of those American adults, 1,787 of them Internet users, between late October and late November of 2010; the survey group included 975 users of social networking sites (SNS) like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Twitter. The survey builds on Pew’s 2009 report on technology and isolation, which found that, while there’s been a correlative decline in the size and diversity of people’s closest relationships since the advent of digital technology, the decline hasn’t (whew!) been caused by the Internet.

And today’s findings corroborate that. Americans’ use of social networks has nearly doubled since 2008, Pew notes, and “there is little validity to concerns that people who use SNS experience smaller social networks, less closeness, or are exposed to less diversity,” its report concludes. Furthermore: “The likelihood of an American experiencing a deficit in social support, having less exposure to diverse others, not being able to consider opposing points of view, being untrusting, or otherwise being disengaged from their community and American society generally is unlikely to be a result of how they use technology, especially in comparison to common predictors.”

While it’s still legitimate, I think, to wonder how the structures of social networks play out on the broader cultural level, it’s increasingly clear that our early dystopian fears of an Internet of Isolation are largely unfounded. We may be bowling alone, yes — but we’re also doing a lot of other things together, as a community, online and off.

Trust

In its 2009 survey, to measure how much trust people have in their fellow citizens, Pew asked its participants: :Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?” And only 32 percent, less than a third of Americans, fell on the “can be trusted” side of things. So the 2010 findings bring good news: This time around, a comparatively whopping 41 percent said that most of their fellow citizens can, indeed, be trusted.

And here’s where things get especially interesting: Internet users tend to be much more trusting than non-users. Of online Americans, 46 percent said that “most people can be trusted.” Only 27 percent of non-Internet users said the same.

There are demographic elements to those findings: Education and race can affect people’s levels of trust in each other independent of communications tools. Even controlling for that, however, Pew found, Internet users are more than twice as likely to think that most people can be trusted.

And, among those users, Facebook-ers seem to be the most trusting of all. “When we control for demographic factors and types of technology use,” the report notes, “we find that there is a significant relationship between the use of SNS and trust, but only for those who use Facebook – not other SNS platforms.” (Twitter, just to be clear, is included among those platforms. Which, hmm.)

The study also found, intriguingly, an apparent correlation between time investment and overall trust: Facebook users who use the service multiple times a day are 43 percent more likely than other Internet users — and about three times more likely than non-Internet users — to agree that “most people can be trusted.”

Viewpoint diversity

Another knock on the Internet is that it isolates its users from the broader world in the embrace of familiarity otherwise known as an echo chamber — and that, in the process, our online existences prevent us from the fullest expressions of IRL empathy. To tackle that idea, the report’s authors measured what psychologists call “perspective taking” — the ability to adopt the viewpoint of another person (or, in the context of politics, to consider “both sides of an issue”) — on a scale that ranged from 0 to 100. And what they found is that social network participation, while it doesn’t necessarily encourage empathy, doesn’t seem to harm it, either. “Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter users are no more or less able to consider alternative points,” the report puts it.

The one exception, interestingly, is MySpace. “Controlling for demographic characteristics and other types of technology use, MySpace users tend to have a greater ability to consider multiple sides of an issue in comparison to other people.” Whether that has something to do with the well-documented cultural differences between, say, MySpace and Facebook would make for more fascinating study fodder.

Meantime, though, there seems to be a similar social-networks-don’t-change-human-behavior phenomenon when it comes to the most obvious IRL demonstrations of social capital: belonging to local groups like sports leagues, religious organizations, and volunteer outfits. While 74 percent of Americans now belong to social networks offline — way up from the 65 percent who said the same back in 2008 — that bump has little to do with social networking online, Pew says. MySpace users actually have a negative correlation with voluntary group participation, even controlling for demographics, and “use of all other SNS platforms does not predict belonging to a voluntary group.”

Civic engagement

And what about more explicit political activity? Demographic factors — age, gender, education — have always been, and are still, the most predictive factors of political engagement. But even accounting for that, Pew found that Internet users, and Facebook users in particular, are more likely to be politically involved than their non-Internet-using-but-otherwise-similar counterparts.

“Controlling for demographic characteristics, Internet users are nearly two and a half times more likely to have attended a political rally (2.39x), 78 percent more likely to have attempted to influence someone’s vote, and 53 percent more likely to have reported voting or intending to vote than non-Internet users,” the survey found. And a Facebook user who visits the site multiple times per day is two and a half times more likely than the standard Internet user to have attended a political rally or meeting. That user is also 57 percent more likely to have tried to convince someone to vote for a specific candidate, and 43 percent more likely to have voted to expressed an intention to vote.

Overall, then, compared with non-Internet users, Facebookers are 5.89 times more likely to have attended a political meeting, 2.79 times more likely to talk to another person about voting, and 2.19 times more likely to report having actually voted.

It’s noteworthy that the engagement metrics here aren’t just about passive participation — clicking a “Like” button on Barack Obama’s Facebook page or otherwise engaging in virtually mindless acts of “hacktivism.” What Pew is measuring are intentional, physical, IRL actions — rallying, voting, arguing — that stew together, physically and palpably, to form a democracy. And Facebook, more than any other major social network, seems to be encouraging those actions. It’s worth wondering why, exactly, that is. And it’s worth considering what news organizations, which share both an economic and civic interest in encouraging public participation, can learn from it.

January 13 2011

15:30

The Newsonomics of 2011 news metrics to watch

[Each week, our friend Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of the news business for the Lab.]

In the digital business, the old aphorism — “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist” — is rapidly moving from article of faith to fundamental operating principle. Measurement systems are just getting better and better.

Yes, there are still quite a few naysayers in the digital news business, those who believe that editorial discretion is superior to any metric the digital combines can kick out. They’ll say you can’t measure the quality of journalism created — and, of course, they are partly right. The truth of the moment is that good (to great) editors, armed with good (to great) analytics, will be in the winners in the next web wars. The same is true for digital marketers working for news companies. Unless they combine their knowledge of markets, customers, and advertisers with often real-time numbers about performance, they’ll lose business to those who do.

The counting of numbers, though, is tricky. So many numbers, so little time, as 24/7 digital keystrokes stoke endless reams of data. Which ones to count, and which to pay closest attention? Meaningful numbers, of course, are called metrics, and meaningful interpretation of those numbers we now call analytics. These analytics, discovered or undiscovered, then drive the business, and they are particularly important in great times of change, when whole industries move profoundly digital. As that old investigative reporter Sherlock Holmes said, “Data. Data. Data. I can’t make bricks without clay.”

In the spirit of the new year, let me suggest some of the more valuable emerging metrics for those in the news business in 2011. Further, in that spirit, let’s pick 11 of them. These aren’t intended to be the most important ones — the mundane price of newsprint, trending up recently, still is a hugely influential number — but ones that are moving center stage in 2011.

1. How much are news companies getting for tablet advertising? Or, in more numerical terms, what’s the effective CPM, or cost-per-thousand readers? In 2010, those with tablet news products reaped a small windfall, gaining rates as high as $150 per thousand readers, which would be 20 times what many of them get for their website ads. Much of that business was “sponsorship,” meaning that advertisers paid simply for placement, not actually based on number of readers. It was the blush of the new, and the association with it, that drove that kind of money. While early 2011 pricing is still very good, as the tablet market goes mass, what will happen to the rates news companies can charge advertisers? This is a huge question, especially if tablet news reading does hasten movement from ad-rich newsprint (see “The Newsonomics of tablets replacing newspapers“).

2. What percentage of unique visitors will actually pay for online access? It’s going to be a tiny percentage — maybe one to five percent of all those uniques, the majority tossed onto sites by search. If it’s less than one percent, paid metered models may be of little consequence. At two percent, especially for the big guys, like The New York Times with its imminent launch, the numbers gets meaningful and model-setting.

3. Where are the news reading minutes going? The Pew study showing that Americans are reading news 13 minutes a day more, probably given smartphone usage, was a thunderbolt — a potential sign of growth for a news industry that has felt itself melting away. With tablet news reading joining even more smartphone reading (only 20 percent of cellphones are “smart” right now), each news company will have to look at its logs to see which readers are reading what with what kind of device — which will tell where reading is increasing and where (let’s guess, print) it is decreasing. Then comes the job to adjust products accordingly.

4. How good are the margins in the fast-developing marketing services business? Tribune’s 435 Digital, GannettLocal, and Advance Internet are among the leaders selling everything from search engine marketing and optimization to mobile and social to local merchants. It’s a big shift for big newspaper companies used to selling larger ticket ads to relatively few customers. There is no doubt that local merchants want help in digital marketing. The number to watch for the newspaper companies is their margin on sales — after paying off technology partners from Google to Bing to WebVisible. Once we see how those margins settle in, we’ll know whether marketing services is a big, or small, play to find local news company profit growth.

5. How much of digital revenue is being driven by digital-only ad sales? McClatchy has been a leader in unbundling print/online sales, with digital-only now approaching 50 percent. That’s a big number for all media companies to watch. Not only is the market pushing them to offer unbundled products, but the sooner they sell digital separately on its own merits, the faster they grasp the growing business and slowly cut the cord to the declining one.

6. How much of news traffic is now being driven by Facebook and Twitter? A few companies, including The Washington Post, know daily how much of their traffic is driven by social media; many others have little clue. Those that do watch the number know that Facebook and Twitter are the number one growth driver for news “referral” traffic, and that social traffic (friends don’t let friends read bad news) converts better to more regular readership than does search traffic. This metric then pushes newsrooms to more greatly, and more quickly, participate in the social whirl.

7. How much will membership grow at the highest-quality, online-only local news start-ups? MinnPost just hit 2,300, an impressive number, but it’s been a three-year road to get there. It is hiring a membership director and trying to better convert regular readers to members. The Texas Tribune is pushing toward 2,000 and Bay Citizen 1,500. Can membership be a significant, and ramping, piece of the new news business model, or will it have to look elsewhere — advertising, syndication, events, more grants — to find sustainable futures?

8. How many titles — and readers — is Journalism Online able to bring into its Press+ network? Journalism Online has moved from a question mark to a well-situated player in the iPad-fueled universe of paid content. Its Press+ network offers the promise of that elusive “network effect” — but only if it gets real scale.

9. How much “extra” do news companies charge for digital access? Okay, every publisher wants to be paid for news content. But as they test out pricing, they’re all over the board in how much to charge. Some want to charge as much for digital as for print; others are willing to throw in digital access for “free” if readers maintain print. The number to watch is one probably about 10-20 percent higher than print alone — as an opt-out upsell — and see how much that sticks with print readers. If that works, new “circulation” revenue helps replaces some of that disappearing ad money — and provide a route to a time of mainly digital, partially paid access.

10. What’s your cost of content? No journalist likes to be thought of as a widget producer, but news is a manufacturing trade, as the Demand Media model has shown us. How can news companies lower the cost of content while creating more? That’s why we see new Reuters America deals, Demand partnerships, more user-gen, more staff blogging. Editors are more needed than ever to make quality judgments about new content, but they and their business leaders must understand what content — high-end and low — really costs to produce.

11. How much do you spend on analytics? Ultimately, investing in the collection and interpretation of data is a big test of news companies’ ability to play digital. I’ve noted (“The Newsonomics of the FT as an Internet retailer“) how the Financial Times has set the pace for the industry in establishing a new team of (non-newspaper) people to run its analytics arm. That operation now numbers 11, up from nine last year. A good beginning metric for any news company to ask: How much money are we investing in understanding our business with the tools of the day?

September 14 2010

04:01

Five important mobile app findings for news orgs

A new report out today gives news organizations reasons to start thinking mobile apps (if they haven’t already). The Pew Internet and American Life Project partnered with Nielsen to survey cellphone users on their app habits, finding that about 43 percent of cellphone users have an app on their device, though only about 24 percent actually use them. With smartphone market share expected to accelerate its rapid growth, app usage is also sure to increase. Here are five data points from the Pew-Nielsen report that stood out to me as noteworthy for news organizations:

Young people like apps

Struggling to get those young consumers? They’re the single most app-friendly bunch. About 47 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they’ve downloaded an app, compared to 39 percent of 20- to 49-year-olds and just 14 percent of 50-plus. That’s important, particularly when paired with a previous Pew finding that showed that young people have taken to giving mobile donations. That’s a good mix for nonprofit news organizations. (Though even with Apple’s newly explained rules, in-app donations aren’t allowed on the iPhone.)

People who use apps consume news online

Apps could be a good way to hang onto your audience, letting them follow you onto another platform. The report surveyed app users about their online activities, revealing that they are more likely to be online news consumers than are non-app users: 90 percent of app users consume news online, compared to 75 percent of non-app users. Also, they are more likely to visit a video sharing site, 80 percent versus 66 percent.

News apps do relatively well

Sure, puzzles (36 percent), Facebook (42 percent), and Google Maps (35 percent) are wildly popular with app users, but look down the list and it’s clear that news isn’t insignificant. Asked which apps they used in the last month, 9 percent of users said CNN, 8 percent USA Today, 7 percent New York Times, and 7 percent Fox. Other local apps for food and entertainment pull in similar percentages, perhaps a good indicator for local news organizations.

People digest apps in small doses

The study found that most users who use their apps daily do so for less than 30 minutes. Asked for context, 71 percent said they use their apps when they’re alone, 53 percent while waiting for someone or something, and 36 percent while commuting. It seems like people want a few moments here and there with their apps, an environment where a good headline or a snappy lede is particularly important.

People will pay

Of all the apps downloaded in a typical month, more were paid than free. That’s good news, though the largest category, 28 percent of all downloads, was still only in the $1-$1.99 category. Another 17 percent of all downloads were in the $2-$2.99 range, 17 percent in the $3-$4.99 range, and 23 percent were $5 or more. Though small amounts, they’re still more than zero — the amount many have proven willing to pay for content on the web.

July 09 2010

14:00

This Week in Review: Time’s non-pay paywall, free vs. pay in Britain and what to do with content farms

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

A Time quasi-paywall discovered: Thanks to some collaborative online sleuthing — OK, basically just wandering around on a website and asking some simple questions — we found out that Time magazine is planning an online paywall. Reuters’ Felix Salmon ran into the wall first a few weeks ago, but saw that it had disappeared by the next day. Then on Tuesday, the Lab’s Joshua Benton noticed it again, pointing out that this was an odd kind of paywall — one without any sort of way to pay online (“a paywall without a door,” in his words).

All Things Digital’s Peter Kafka got word the next day that the paywall is part of a company-wide strategy at Time Inc. to separate its print and iPad content from its online material. The Lab found out that Time does indeed have a plan to give that paywall a door and provide a way to purchase articles online, and The New York Times reported that this paywall sans pay is part of a gradual effort to retrain readers to pay for content online and noted that not everything from the magazine is gone from the website.

PaidContent’s Staci Kramer called the move not a paywall, but “the magazine equivalent of a condom” — a way to separate online readers from its print content. She noted that the move limits non-print access to Time to a very select group of people — namely, iPad owners. Essentially, it’s a hardware requirement to read Time magazine, something Publish2’s Scott Karp asked whether we’re going to start to seeing more of.

All Things Digital’s Kafka wondered why Time wouldn’t just offer its print articles for free if the magazine’s print and online audiences were as separate as they’re typically said to be. New York’s Chris Rovsar posited that the new wall is about protecting its $4.99 iPad app: If all your print stuff is available through the iPad browser for free, why buy the app? DailyFinance media critic Jeff Bercovici made the same point and argued that while Time may appear forward-thinking here, this move is really a regression. Newsweek’s Mark Coatney, a former Time staffer, was ruthless in his assessment of the strategy, saying that it all comes back to value, and Time hasn’t articulated why its print content is worth paying for, but its online stuff isn’t.

A paid-content contrast in Britain: Time was far from the only paywall news this past week: Three relatively small Gannett papers put up a $9.95-a-month paywall last Thursday, and the most important new paywall may have been at The Times of London and The Sunday Times, two of Britain’s oldest and most respected publications, which began charging for everything on their site last Friday. That development is particularly important because it’s the first move in the paid-content crusade that Rupert Murdoch has been gearing up for since last summer.

Steve Outing and Poynter’s Bill Mitchell noted that the Times’ paywall is among the most impenetrable we’ve seen yet in newspapers: All non-subscribers can see is the homepage, and even the headlines are blocked from online news aggregators. New York’s Chris Rovsar took stock of what The New York Times (planning its own paid-content system next year) could learn from how the Times rolled out its paywall, and basically, it boils down to, “Whatever they did, just don’t do it.” He and the Press Gazette’s Dominic Ponsford ripped the Times’ paid-content strategy, criticizing it for not being RSS-compatible, not linking, and giving away desperate-looking freebies. (Rovsar and Ponsford do acknowledge that the site is cheap and pretty, respectively.) British journalist Kevin Anderson used the Times’ paywall as an opportunity to light into the thinking that leads newspapers to charge for content online in the first place.

Meanwhile, the Guardian, another prominent British paper that is staunchly in favor of free online content, released a Wordpress plugin that allows blogs and websites to embed the full text of Guardian stories for free. (Steve Outing demonstrated with a post on the iPad.) It’s an unprecedented move, and one that made for a pretty easy contrast with the Times’ protectionist strategy online. Outing did it most explicitly in two posts, arguing that the Guardian’s strategy taps into a worldwide revenue potential, while the Times relies on its brand-loyal British readers. Murdoch “apparently still doesn’t understand that this whole pay-for-news-online thing is not about the needs of publishers like him. It’s about what the audience for news is willing to do and willing to pay for,” he wrote.

Learning from (and fighting with) content farms: Since acquiring the online content provider Associated Content in May, Yahoo has become the latest online media company to begin producing articles based on a calculation of search terms, including for its new news blog, The Upshot. The Wrap’s Dylan Stableford took a look at these “content farms,” focusing on why journalists hate them and what news organizations might be able to learn from them. (On the latter point, Stableford’s sources said content farms’ acute attentiveness to what people are interested in reading could be particularly instructive.)

One of the people Stableford quotes, NYU professor Jay Rosen, gets some extended time on the subject, and another, Jason Fry, posted some additional thoughts, too. Fry, who is quoted in the article as saying, “If you want to know how our profession ends, look at Demand Media,” clarified his stance a bit, saying that what bugs him is not the low pay, but the lack of quality. Still, he acknowledged that because of cost-cutting, many small- and medium-sized newspapers’ content is just as mediocre. Peter Berger, a CEO of Suite101.com, one of those content generators, said the concern from news organizations is a red herring, and his industry really presents the biggest threat to non-fiction books.

Canadian writer Liz Metcalfe voiced some similar thoughts, arguing that the problem with the “demand content” model isn’t the model itself, but the poor quality of what gets produced. Newspapers should find a way to incorporate the model while producing high-quality material, and beat the content farms at their own game, she said. On the other hand, Harvard prof Ethan Zuckerman said dictating content based on search would be a bad way to run a newspaper: “You’d give up the critical ability to push topics and parts of the world that readers might not be interested in, but need to know about to be an engaged, informed citizen.”

A private group called the Internet Content Syndication Council wants to do something about these dastardly villains, and they’re exploring a few options, including drafting a set of content-quality guidelines, licensing content syndicators and asking Google to tweak its search formula. CNET’s Caroline McCarthy wondered what a guideline or licensing system would do with bloggers.

Chronicling an accelerating shift to mobile: The Pew Internet & American Life Project released a couple of fascinating studies in the past week, the first on the future of social relations online and the second a survey of Americans’ mobile use. The latter study in particular turned up a raft of interesting statistics, led by the finding that 59 percent of adults go online wirelessly, including 47 percent of Americans with their laptops and 40 percent with their cell phones.

Poynter’s Mobile Media focused on the rise in “non-voice” uses for cell phones over the past year (Silicon Alley Insider has it in graphical form). The New York Times and Washington Post centered on the survey’s finding that African-Americans, Hispanics, young people and poorer Americans are among the heaviest mobile media users, with the Times stating that “the image of the affluent and white cellphone owner as the prototypical mobile Web user seems to be a mistaken one.”

Here at the Lab, Laura McGann seized on another tidbit from the study indicating that about a fifth of young adults have made a donation via their cell phone. She tied that finding to the public radio station WBUR’s attempt to find a way to allow users to donate via an iPhone app, something Apple doesn’t allow, asking how nonprofit news orgs might be able to find a way to tap into that willingness to give through their cell phones.

Reading roundup: Lots of really thoughtful stuff this week that’s well worth your time (I assume it is, anyway — maybe your time’s much more valuable than mine):

— The debate over objectivity and journalism raged on this week, fueled by the firing of CNN’s Octavia Nasr over a remark she made on Twitter. Many of the arguments circled around to the same ground we’ve covered with the Gen. McChrystal and Dave Weigel flare-ups, but I wanted to highlight three takes that stand out: Salon’s Dan Gillmor on America’s “technically good subservient press,” Jay Rosen on “objectivity as a form of persuasion,” and Mediaite’s Philip Bump on a journalism of individuals.

— Many new media folks have been following the fate of the nonprofit Texas Tribune, and the Columbia Journalism Review has a pretty definitive account of where they stand.

— ReadWriteWeb has a handy resource for zooming out and taking a look at the big picture — a summary of five key web trends so far at 2010’s halfway point.

— Spot.Us’ David Cohn takes a look at the short-lived journalism startup NewsTilt and comes away with some helpful lessons.

— Finally, Google researcher Paul Adams has a presentation on the problems with the way social media is designed that’s been making its way around the web. It’s a whopping 216 slides, but it’s a simple yet insightful glance at what feels just a little bit wrong about our social interactions online and why.

July 07 2010

20:30

Attention nonprofits: Young adults love texting donations

This afternoon the Pew Internet and American Life Project released a study on Americans’ mobile device and wireless habits. The full report has many interesting figures, but I’m going to zoom in on just one portion that signals an important trend for nonprofit journalism.

Pew asked survey participants whether they had ever made a charitable contribution via text message. A surprising 10 percent of all cell phone users have. When you look at young people, it gets even more interesting: 19 percent of 18 to 29 year olds have made a charitable donation via text. Other age groups text donations considerably less: 10 percent of 30 to 49 year olds, 8 percent of 50 to 64 year olds, and 4 percent of 65 and up.

I emailed with Peter Panepento, the web editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy, to put the 19-percent figure in perspective. Surprisingly, he says 26 percent of people in their twenties have mailed in a donation in the last two years. (Who knew 20-somethings were so generous! And so likely to use the mail!) “What’s startling about that number [the 19 percent] is the fact that it is catching up with other forms of giving so quickly,” Panepento wrote. “Giving through mobile phones is still in its infancy and only a small percentage of charities even have the ability to set up mobile-giving programs. These programs are still too expensive for most groups, whereas direct mail and checkout-counter-style giving is a huge part of how most nonprofit groups raise money.”

The survey also showed differences among demographic groups in donation texting. Of cell phone users of all ages, 23 percent of English-speaking Latinos have sent a charitable text, 16 percent of African Americans and 7 percent of whites. Pew has previously found similar racial differences among mobile news consumers.

Here’s the question for journalism: Can nonprofit news groups figure out a way to cash in on the potential of mobile fundraising, particularly when the next generation of donors clearly like giving via their cell phones? Earlier today we an item about a new iPhone app for Boston NPR station WBUR, which is inching public radio closer to mobile giving. This growth is the reason Apple’s ban on in-app donations matters: WBUR was forced to come up with a series of workarounds that complicate the process. Those aren’t quite the same as, say, texting the word “HAITI” to give ten bucks to the Red Cross.

Photo by Paul Hart used under a Creative Commons license.

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