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Closing the gap between “digital first” and “digital all”

16 December 2014 · By Anette Novak

Though an increasing number of people are using the Internet, there is a divide between those who simply use it for fact finding and those who use it to its full potential. News media has a responsibility to become community educators when it comes to closing the digital divide.

Have you ever been surrounded by “digital” people, speaking a lingo you only approximately grasp, dropping names and abbreviations you definitely don’t understand, using tools and platforms you’ve never heard of?

Well this is how a great part of your audience feels, too!

So how about changing your vision from “digital first” to “digital all,” making it your mission to close the knowledge gap, getting everyone on board.

The movement toward the connected society is picking up in speed. The number of new digital initiatives, hardware, platforms, and services are constantly increasing. Even the most avid early adopter has tremendous difficulties keeping up.

Know your RFP, CDN, CPAs and CTRs.* No clue what those mean? Well, guess what – neither do your audiences!

As the world is propelled – at increasing speed – into the digitised future, it is crucial we adopt an awareness of this fact.

Digital is not supposed to be the equivalent of “gibberish.” Information and communication technologies (ICTs) should be a great support – in the best cases, so invisible and intuitive that the users don’t even think about it. They just get the amazing experiences they crave; they just notice an enhancement of their lives.

Sweden might be a country far away that you constantly mix up with Switzerland (because of the “sw” alliteration), but it is a country of highly educated early adopters. It is a nation with a fantastic penetration of high-speed broadband.

What the Swedes do might be interesting to keep track of, so listen up. The latest national survey on Internet user behaviours in Sweden, published some weeks ago, provides a great overview, even though one critical factor clouds the overall impression: The categorisation of “Internet” as “prime information source” as opposed to linear television or print.

Internet should not be seen as media. Internet is a media carrier, where you find every other media. For relevance, the question of “primary information source” must be posed with more curiosity on the details behind the “where.”

But let’s not get stuck there; the same error exists in similar statistics from an array of measurement and evaluation bodies.

To me, this year’s report was revelatory. The similarities between age groups concerning, for instance, how we search for facts are clear. Age is no longer a decisive factor. Senior citizens use Google as much as everyone else.

But when we scrutinise other statistics, there is a clear divide. Not between young adults and elderly. Not between women and men. But between those who are actively exploiting the Internet to its full potential and those who are not. And the latter exist in all age and gender categories.

I claim what we are seeing here is the beginning of a trend: the “two-speed interactivity.”

My point: If you merely use the Internet to look up the spelling of a word or a piece of fact – if you are an “information seeker” – you have merely translated your old walk to the library into something more efficient and updated. It is still the same old world in a new packaging.

If you are actively using tools for Big Data curation, if you have built into your professional activity means of networking with the crowd, co-creating knowledge, seeking out global opportunities, if you are an “interactivity pro,” then you are bound to develop, individually as well as professionally, and, as a result, perform at a higher level.

You could claim this is personal choice, part of your individual freedom by opting out of too much interactivity. Or we could raise the stakes and claim that it is about “digital literacy.”

Understanding and being able to use these new tools is as important as learning how to read. And not only using them, but understanding them and actively affecting them. Being able to understand the algorithms, criticising them, rewriting them.

Here is the perfect role for the media company in search for new relevance. Heck, you are supposed to be the information experts!

I have blogged about the opportunity of becoming community educators before, but I cannot avoid coming back to it. The bond you build with someone with whom you build knowledge is extremely solid. Long-term.

Isn’t this exactly what you wish to create together with your former audiences? A partnership. Co-creating the future, a society where every citizen is a media outlet, where every company is a media company.

Sweden is found on many of the top lists of the world for its competitive economy, gender equality, and innovation. One of the explanations behind this fantastic development is a long-term vision – well anchored in the Swedish population – that we don’t want anyone to end up behind.

Despite a period of increased disparity concerning income, if we focus on education disparities, the vision is not far from being fulfilled.

Most of you in the traditional media companies are currently carrying out huge competence development efforts, internally.

By inviting all your community into this digital lift, by adopting “digital everyone” instead of merely “digital first,” you can help close the divide before it gets too wide. And by doing, so you will automatically have shaped strong, sustainable bonds with your readers, users, and customers.

Digitise everyone. They will remember. And they will return the favour. ROI is no longer return on investment. It’s return on involvement.

*If you really need to know what these terms mean, check out this glossary by IAB.

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About this blog

I am Anette Novak, CEO of Interactive Institute Swedish ICT, which conducts world-class applied research and innovation, creating groundbreaking user experiences. Also, I am an international media consultant, World Editors Forum board member, gourmet, long distance runner and Francophile – mainly because the Parisians walk and talk as fast as I do. I am former editor-in-chief of the Swedish regional media house Norran. I believe in digital opportunities for publishers, open innovation. The future belongs to media companies that are able to maintain the trust of the audience, who define themselves as active community players, and who are able to create amazing experiences.


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