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Web 3.0 and the Digital Divide.

Back in 1943, the CEO of IBM said, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” In 1949, Popular Mechanics predicted, “Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons”, and even in 1977, the president of Digital Entertainment Corporation said, There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” While each of these predictions were spectacularly wrong, the kernel of truth that remained was that computers would be too costly for everyone to have one. Time has proven that to be true. Even in 2013, 15 percent of Americans do not go online or use email, a fact that has been a bane to internet marketers. Individuals, businesses, government agencies, and non profit organizations have all grown accustomed to the speed and ease of communicating with clients through the internet. A “digital divide” that separates 15 percent of Americans from this form of communication makes the cost of communicating vital information rise. However, recent changes in mobile technology have made the internet, email, and computer technology more available to the masses. This post will explain how Web 3.0 is dramatically changing the digital divide, and why small business owners need to embrace mobile marketing now.

In an episode of the Simpsons (after 500 episodes there’s an example for anything somewhere on the show), Professor Frink parodied and summarized the early computing pioneers above when he predicted, “In the future, computers will be so large and so expensive that only the five richest kings of Europe could afford one.” The modern smartphone is the epitome of why early predictions about computing technology were so wrong. For most basic uses, a smartphone is just as useful as a PC or laptop and it can be bought for less than $100. So the exact opposite of what Professor Frink said is what happened (which was the point of the joke), computers have become so small and so inexpensive, everyone can afford them. 

In the Pew study cited above, “19 percent of non-internet users cite the expense of owning a computer or paying for an internet connection” as the reason they aren’t online. Another way to look at it is that only 3 percent of adult Americans (19 percent of 15 percent) say that they are unable to afford to be online. Mobile devices also address some of the other concerns of people who aren’t online. Mobile phones are only available in places where there are signal towers. For the 1.5% of Americans who say they can’t physically use the internet, the mobile internet makes it possible for people in rural areas to get online. Also, nearly a third of the people who say they don’t get online said it was too hard to do. Cell phones are much easier to use than full computers because their are fewer functions to navigate. For most smartphones, there are just a few buttons and a touch screen. Developers can’t create overly complex programs if they wanted to. 

A large reason for the decline in people not using the internet is the growth in cell phone use. In another Pew Research study from 2013, 63 percent of adults in American use their phones to get online, and 34 percent of theses people say their mobile device is the primary way they access the internet. 

“A majority of the public now owns a smartphone, and mobile devices are playing an increasingly central role in the way that Americans access online services and information,” said Aaron Smith, a Senior Researcher at the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project. “For many, such as younger adults or lower-income Americans, cell phones are often a primary device for accessing online content—a development that has particular relevance to companies and organizations seeking to reach these groups.”

The effect of Web 3.0 on the digital divide is more than a conversation topic for researchers and sociologists. For business owners and marketers, it should serve as a reminder of the importance of mobile marketing. For example, since 21% of all adult cell owners now do most of their online browsing with their mobile phone, and not a desktop or laptop computer, having a website that isn’t mobile compatible it tantamount to turning away one out of every five visitors to a website. Similarly for businesses and non profit organizations that are trying to reach people with lower incomes, marketing services and products on mobile apps is better way to reach a target audience than paying for banner ads on websites. There is also every indication that mobile marketing and Web 3.0 technology will grow in importance across all demographics. 

Advances in mobile phones and mobile internet have changed the dynamics of computer ownership and decreased the effect of the digital divide. Some commentators have suggested that Web 3.0 is the fulfillment of the promise of the computer age. While it may not be as flashy as anything in predicted in science fiction movie, Americans do walk around with mini computers with them at all times that are always connected to the internet. It doesn’t take much to start mobile marketing. Begin my ensuring a company’s website is mobile compatible and check to see what forms of mobile advertising might work best. For any small business owners who were waiting for the right time to embrace mobile marketing, that time is now (if not five minutes ago).

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