February 5th, 2014

The Divide that Keeps DevidingOur wellness solution is multi-modal. And for good reason – we engage consumers in their health and help them achieve lasting behavior change when we reach them through their preferred media. Consumer learning styles and preferences vary. As do their media access options – for some audiences more than others. Ours is a stream all consumers can swim, not one restricted to those with Internet access. But more and more, the opportunities and solutions consumers have access to are broadened, sometimes significantly, with that proverbial membership card to the World Wide Web – broadband.

That’s why we continue to be reassured as we watch the wall between the web-enabled and the web-without falling further and further into rubble and dust. The more access is shared, the better. Two weeks ago, the Pew Research Center released a compelling Demographic Portrait of consumer technology use – evidence the racial divide of Internet access, specifically between white and black Americans, is positively evolving. And rapidly. There’s still a divide, especially within specific income brackets and in the retiree age subpopulation. But the racial landscape of the web-enabled is expanding. And some of the shifting terrain is enlightening.

According to Pew’s latest survey, 86% of African Americans aged 18-29, 88% black college graduates and 91% African Americans with household incomes of $75,000 or more are active Internet users AND have broadband access within their homes. Those are adoption rates identical to white Americans of similar ages, incomes and education levels. Also compelling, African Americans lead their white counterparts in some areas of social media utilization, with 96% of black Americans aged between 18 and 29 utilizing social networking of some kind.

Pew’s stats indicate blacks and whites are equally likely to own a cell phone, and the two populations have comparable rates of smartphone ownership. The divide between these two racial populations remain, however, when it comes to home broadband. Pew’s survey shows a 74% home broadband access for white Americans versus 62% of their black counterparts. That’s 12 points. Until that chasm is bridged, it remains critical that solutions hoping to effectively engage all populations offer smartphone-optimized consumer experiences on par with their desktop web solutions. The smartphone can only provide a leveling of the “high speed access gap” if the solutions offered consumers via their handheld devices are as compelling, convenient and dimensional as those offered to consumers accessing from their home computers. What advantage does smartphone accessibility offer if the access merely brings the consumer the opportunity to view static thumbnail images the detail of microfiche, or dynamic platforms impossible to navigate with even the most dexterous thumbs?

Pew released a different set of stats in May that found 15% of American adults do not use the Internet at all. Another 9% of adults use the Internet, but not within their homes. When asked why, 32% stated they found the consumer experience of the Internet frustrating. The barrier of consumer frustration, in fact, trumped lack of access and the expense of internet services combined.

Access is essential. But so is design. And consumer experience. If you need proof these things matter, just ask the White House and Department of Health about the tough lessons learned in rolling out the Affordable Care Plan. One of the most significant works of legislation of a generation, and it dangled perilously over potential ruin, months on end, largely due to web site design. Or web site under-design. That may be a simplified view, but make no mistake – the difference between success and failure, between access and alienation, between engagement and missed opportunity, between positive impact and wasted resources hinges, more often than not, on the technology that underpins the access point of the solution itself. And the consumer experience when the technology is activated.

The digital divide continues to disappear. And that’s a good thing. Its place on the endangered species list is welcome. And where barriers to access fade, opportunities to win and advance consumer experience compound and, potentially, flourish.