It’s easy to caricature the platform divide as an age one for news: Young people read on their phones, the middle-aged read on their laptops, and the elderly read in print or watch TV news. But of course, the reality is more complicated than that. Millennials are more likely to pay for news in print than in digital; Americans 65-plus have higher smartphone and tablet adoption rates than you might think. And the intersection of technological and demographic trends guarantee there will only be more older people interacting with more digital news in the future.
It’s in that context that Melody Kramer — ex-public radio digital person, incoming Visiting Nieman Fellow — continues her admirable series of posts on breaking out of the news-nerd bubble and talking to real people about how they consume journalism. One recent post was about her neighbor Betty:
Today I walked to my friend Betty’s apartment to drop off some spaghetti and meatballs. Betty is 89 and lives just up the street. She doesn’t drive much anymore, though she still volunteers (at the White House, of all places.)
After we drank tea, I watched Betty read articles on her iPad. Her Internet was really slow. She kept accidentally clicking on the ads, or on parts of the story that she didn’t mean to click on. And she was getting a bit frustrated and worried — that by clicking on something, she was going to install malware or not be able to return to her story.
There are 13 million people between the ages of 75 and 84 in the US. There are 5 million between the ages of 85 and 94. (census) That population will grow. At some point, it will be composed of digital natives but that’s a while away. In the interim, are there better ways to design websites for this population? Are there better ways to design the news for them? Of course.
She proposed some ideas, and the post got some traction on Hacker News, where many said Betty and her generational peers were hardly the only ones who find navigating news sites treacherous. And one reader named Daniel Davis decided to go a step further and actually build a site called NewsForBetty.com, which aims for simple navigation and an aversion to user error. As Mel wrote in an update:
Last night, I went over to Betty’s, and told her about all of this. First she said, “Does that mean I went viral?” Then we went to the site together. She loved it! She found it intuitive! She knew exactly what to do, without asking me — and she couldn’t get lost on a homepage. Click a story, read a story, go back, do it again. That’s it! It’s now a bookmark on her iPad screen. Thank you so much Daniel!