Not a divide but a continuum

by greg on May 8, 2005

Seth Godin‘s put up a thought-provoking post where he posits a new digital divide – instead of the computer-literate vs. the computerless, he sees a divide between the ‘digerati’ and the ‘left-behind’. One group uses Firefox, another uses Internet Explorer. One group has a blog, knows what RSS is, gets news from Google… one doesn’t. Seth goes on to note that the ‘digerati’ are the most-influential of all customers, and they need to be understood by any marketers that have a chance of being successful.

All of this is reasonably accurate, and it’d be all too easy to agree unreservedly with Seth. However, this second ‘divide’ is an oversimplistic abstraction I’d rather not see popularized. First off, it’s not a simple on/off divide – not like ‘having a computer’ / ‘not having a computer’ is. The knowledge and behavior that make one a part of Seth’s digerati are acquired piecemeal over time. There was a time when I had a blog but didn’t know what RSS was. Most of the people who qualify as ‘digerati’ when through a similar process. I suspect there are a great many people right now in between the two categories. One’s position on this continuum isn’t a matter of choice, either – at least not a conscious choice. No one gets up and says ‘I’m going to choose not to learn about feed aggregators.’ Claiming everyone’s digerati status is entirely up to them and not at least partially a product of their environment fosters feelings of elitism and a belief that there’s something wrong with a person who doesn’t use a RSS reader, which is quite evidently bunk.

But these are minor quibbles, compared to my main point of objection – the people who aren’t ‘digerati’ are still profoundly important, and a company that ignores them is at just as much a risk of failing. The digerati might be able to bring something the general public would find interesting to that public’s attention – as a Canadian, I was particularly struck by the role played by the blog Captain’s Quarters in our corrupt government’s sponsorship scandal. That said, I’m not convinced the digerati have the power to get the public interested in something that doesn’t particularly affect them, no matter how much is blogged. My parents might be very interested in the troubles of the Canadian government, but a hundred million trackbacks couldn’t get them to care about RSS – not until it’s made obvious how it can be used to benefit them.

I know when I think of a new product or service, I do think of the web-savvy and how to get them involved – but I know I also have to think of the people who are just starting their journey from beginner to expert. If a product is of interest only to the digerati, it will ultimately fail – they might have a disproportionate sense of the influence, but all those folks ‘left behind’ drive a disproportionate share of the revenue. I can see this for myself every weekday – the website I work for has never been a hot topic in the blogosphere, but the money keeps coming in, day after day after day…

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