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The Changing Face of Social Media - June 2011

Jimmy Magahern | Jun 9, 2011, 2:32 p.m.

— The format, which combines non-competitive puzzle games with a chat screen, encourages visitors to join groups and help each other by trading pieces and points, which can be redeemed for prizes. Its kinder, gentler environment has become a hit with players like Bruning, who, in turn, has recommended it to others, including her 50-year-old daughter, Debi Watts.

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Wearing a bright red hat, Michelle Kaplan doubles as the helpful navigator Winnie Winster on the 5-year-old social networking site www.winster.com.

“My mother told me about it,” says Watts, who now lives in Tucson. “I used to play games on Facebook, but it kind of got overwhelming, and I’m not into the drama situation with the younger kids.” On Winster, Watts says, she’s made friends with people her own age who are delighted to find a site that’s the equivalent of the grown-up’s table in the world of social media.

“It’s not geared toward kids,” Watts says. “In fact, the games that you play there would probably be boring for the younger crowd.

“But that’s just how we like it,” she adds with a laugh.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

In some ways, everything new that social media has brought to the Internet is actually old.

In a recent op-ed piece for the social media news blog Mashable.com, blogger Josh Rose pointed out three ways social media seems to be bringing back the values of the older generation.

By sharing photos on sites like Flickr, Instagram and Facebook, Rose observes, we’re bringing back the family slide show, replacing the slide carousel with our Facebook wall photos. And indeed, one of Facebook’s main draws for older users is, as some put it, “That’s where the pictures of the grandkids are.”

Secondly, by using our cell phones to “check in” at restaurants and shops utilizing location apps like Foursquare or Facebook’s Places feature, which allow merchants to offer preferential deals to frequent customers, we’re bringing back rewarding “the regular.” “I had one older relative who went to the same restaurant so much they named a sandwich after him,” Rose recalls. “Yesteryear’s sandwich naming is today’s Mayor’s Badge.”

Most importantly, Rose says, social media has brought back the practice of family and friends checking in with each other on a daily basis. We may not be gathering around the dinner table anymore to share the highlights of our days, but every family member is posting and checking one another’s status updates, sometimes hourly. And, by way of texting, teens are finally letting parents know their comings and goings — and disproving them the day after with their Facebook party photos.

Ideally, it should be an online environment where seniors feel more at home than ever. And yet, while their numbers may be growing the fastest on social media sites, AARP says only a quarter of its members are yet on Facebook, and some older adults are still infrequent Internet users.

Obsolete technology, and an unwillingness among the age group to upgrade, is responsible for some of this. The Pew research study found that people over 65 remain among those least likely to have high-speed Internet access at home — and as anyone who’s tried it knows, playing Farmville on dial-up can be an exercise in futility.

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