Is New Over-50s Site Anti-Social?
A new social networking site aimed at the over 50s has been criticised by Help the Aged for encouraging segregation between its users and other demographics, Tim Hoang reports.
Earlier this month Saga, the travel and financial services company for the mature customer officially launched a rival to MySpace and Facebook. Its social networking site, SAGA Zone is aimed at the over 50s market and has so far attracted 13,000 users since its initial testing phase in February. Users can attend online parties, participate in conversations and swap recipes in a similar fashion to MySpace and Facebook, but with one key difference: users are all aged 50 or above.
The site has tapped into the growing market of so called ’silver surfers’ - a report by Ofcom found that almost a third of all time spent online is by the over-50s. The European Interactive Advertising Association’s statistics also appear to support SAGA Zone’s potential. Research found that 18 per cent of people aged 55 and over visit social networking sites at least once a month. This is comparable to 16 to 34-year-olds where 28 per cent access such sites. The ‘grey pound’ has become a rather lucrative market and Saga is looking to target this affluent age group with SAGA Zone.
However, UK-based charity, Help the Aged, speaking to NMK, has criticised the social networking site for only allowing those over the age of 50. David Sinclair, Head of Policy at Help the Aged believes that social networking sites, such as SAGA Zone which caters only for one age group risks segregating their members from other social groups. "The Internet is mainly used by older people to keep in touch with family and friends of all ages and SAGA Zone risks excluding its members from communicating with these different age groups. Our vision would be not to have separate sites; instead different groups would all use the same network to communicate with each other."
Sinclair further doubted the need for a social networking site targeted specifically at those over the age of 50, citing how many older people were all ready very active on the likes of Facebook and MySpace and the simple nature of SAGA Zone could be perceived as patronising. "Older people are already very active web users and the success of the MySpace band, The Zimmers was testament to this."
However, Sinclair was keen to point out that although he had his reservations about the site, it could potentially prove helpful in getting more people over the age of 50 online. "A site aimed at older people could prove potentially useful by paving the way for increased usage of the Internet."
Many in the business world have also questioned whether SAGA Zone is able to replicate the success of the more popular social networking sites in terms of revenue, especially as the ‘grey market’ is notoriously reluctant to part with money online. Mark Chirnside, chief executive officer of Ukash, the alternative online payment method was sceptical whether SAGA Zone members would prove attractive to potential advertisers.
"Many of them (people over 50) are not spending online. This is predominantly because, for this generation, financial information is to be treated with respect. It is highly unlikely that they will disclose any information that they regard as sensitive to strangers in general, never mind to an anonymous, faceless channel called the Internet. While these over 50 ’social networkers’ might be happy to chatter on SAGA Zone there is no way that they will be giving out their credit and debit card details online."
Rupert Miles, Chief Executive of Saga Publishing, the branch of the company responsible for the website has referred to SAGA Zone’s already established user base and an indication of its potential.
"There are 13,000 profiles registered on the site and around 300-400 simultaneous users all actively participating in forums and group conversations," said Miles.
"It has really taken off, especially for people who are unable to get out of the house or have mobility issues. Now there are people who log on to a forum just to say good night and good morning to each other. They go online to tell their new friends what the weather is like where they are or how they are feeling."
SAGA Zone users would tend to agree and posts on the site suggest that rather than excluding this age group from more inclusive social networking sites, there is little evidence to suggest that they would be visiting those sites in the first place.
"The people here are intelligent, well read, and interesting, and they know something about life," says a 65 year old user known as "Jen". Others have suggested that the more youth orientated social networks are rather intimidating with their vampire bites and werewolf invitations.
"I felt like a nosy perverted eavesdropper and constantly ducking flying sheep and getting bled by the attacks of vampires gets tedious," said one man whose family had persuaded him to join Facebook.
Despite what criticism SAGA Zone has levelled at it, it would seem that so far the site has been a resounding success and the number of members appears to be growing. "There 20 million people over the age of 50 in the UK and SAGA Zone will continue to cater specifically for their needs," said Miles.