Social Media for the world wide web, not the wealthy western web
I stole this headline – it’s from a Smashing Magazine article. It grabbed my attention on Twitter as it spoke directly to an issue that has cropped up for me about a dozen times in the last month.
In February I was lucky enough to attend Webstock in Wellington and a large number of the speakers made this very same point. If you are designing websites or apps for people just like you in situations just like yours, then you are not addressing your cultural bias and you are missing out on massive potential markets.
Here’s an example – we often focus on the design of a website and how people feel when they use it, all so we can control a users experience. We often forget about the ‘unsexy’ web – performance, accessibility and security. Designing for optimal performance means, although your site might be beautiful and have lovely pictures if that picture takes 9 different fetch requests and delivers a 2MB image to a mobile phone in rural Indonesia then… do I have to explain why that might be bad for business? (Check out Lara Hogan’s talk slides here and information on the World Internet Project here for a bit more on this. Edit: Lara’s Webstock talk has just been published. It can be viewed here.)
Not everyone has the same access to the internet we have in the West – even within the west, coverage and access to affordable data plans is not guaranteed. What has this got to do with social media? While blogging heralded the switch from static webpages (web 1.0) delivering content to waiting consumers to active participation of those consumers in content creation (web 2.0), it was more than the sudden discovery of blogging that drove the explosion of social media.
It was hinged on two other major developments: Affordable (and here, ‘affordable’ means households with disposable income – middle to upper class individuals and families) access to new infrastructures including, high speed connections, ‘always-on’ connectivity, ubiquitous civic WiFi connection points and near full 3/4G data coverage. The second was the availability of mobile tools to take advantage of that infrastructure. What’s the one thing these have in common? It is overwhelmingly the story of the western, urban web experience.
There are a great many places, and many of them are developing countries, which are creating rail, water and waste infrastructures at the same time as technological ones that might bring faster rural broadband to farmers. There’s a lot to do!
The world is bigger than being white, male, and cis gendered. It’s bigger than than the middle and upper classes and it’s also MASSIVELY bigger than the western orthodox view of the world. It is its people. Here’s another example: We use different messaging services here in NZ (Messenger) than what is popular in Japan (Line) which is different again from India (What’s App), Indonesia (BBM), and South Korea (KaKao Talk). It’s the same story for social media platform choice.
These sorts of divisions show that although we are communicating across geographical boundaries and across cultures like never before, we are often still conversing/collaborating/connecting among ourselves. As I discussed in a previous post, our affinity groups further entrench our ways of thinking.
When we are using social media, who are we targeting? A small community in our neighbourhood? A group with membership across the globe? Does the choice of tool matter? Yes it does. Your tool is closely related to the infrastructure that supports its use and the ability (and willingness) of the people to access your message on the platform you’re broadcasting from. The world wide web is the WORLD wide web, not the wealthy western web – at least it is if you want to do business with the world rather than solely with your cultural neighbours.
(Fun thing: Try running your blog or site through ‘What does my site cost?’ The home page of Obstropoloulah cost $0.16c to load in CANADA! maybe I better spend some more time optimising my images!)