You’ve probably heard the term ‘digital native’ before, it’s a phrase that’s been chucked about liberally in our line of work but apparently it’s out of date.
Back in 2001 Marc Prensky described the difference between Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants as those who have grown up with digital technology in every aspect of their life, whose brains (he argued) are wired differently as a result, and an older generation who struggle to ‘get it’ and are distinguished by their behaviours (he calls them ‘accents’, things like going to the internet second as a research tool).
The focus of his work was on learning and he described how educators would struggle to reach this new type of student – he said that education needed to be reinvented from the ground up. It was a powerful argument and the ‘Native’ has gone on to pop up in design thinking and future gazing ever since.
But the Natives/Immigrants metaphor is now 10 years old. At the time it was published there was no Myspace, Facebook, Youtube or Twitter. Mobile phones looked like this
So instead of this blunt typology, David S White and Alison Le Cornu last year proposed a continuum of behaviour between ‘Resident’ and ‘Visitor’.
They’re based on the two extreme metaphors of the web as a ‘tool’ to get things done and as a ‘place/space’, where people hang out in an area common to them, projecting aspects of their identity, and the massive difference in motivations between the two uses.
I particularly like the assertion that for the residents, UI designers are like town planners and architects:
Just as physical, geographical places have architectural characteristics and town planners can make a real–life city more, or less, user–friendly to navigate, so software designers are responsible for the navigability of platforms, and Facebook users are familiar with the frustration of suddenly ‘losing their way’ when the platform is upgraded and changed.
White and Le Cornu say that people are on a continuum somewhere between the two extremes of ‘Visitor’ and ‘Resident’.
Visitors are on the utilitarian end of the spectrum, they use the web as a tool to get stuff done:
We propose that Visitors understand the Web as akin to an untidy garden tool shed. They have defined a goal or task and go into the shed to select an appropriate tool which they use to attain their goal. Task over, the tool is returned to the shed. It may not have been perfect for the task, but they are happy to make do so long as some progress is made.
They add that in the extreme, the visitor is worried about privacy, wary of setting up a Facebook page etc.
Residents assess the value of their time online as much through the relationships they gain as much as knowledge:
Residents, on the other hand, see the Web as a place, perhaps like a park or a building in which there are clusters of friends and colleagues whom they can approach and with whom they can share information about their life and work. A proportion of their lives is actually lived out online where the distinction between online and off–line is increasingly blurred.
The simple thing that makes this so much more useful than other metaphors for online engagement, is that it’s a continuum (not a binary distinction between two extremes, or a subset of clearly defined types), that we all sit on and may move along.
It recognises that, like all of our behaviour, we are slightly different people depending on where we are, what context we’re operating in (e.g. professional vs personal) and what we’re expecting to get from being there – that there’s a spectrum between visitor and resident that we operate in, that may be completely divorced from age or technical skill.
[Quick note: I first put this post up (a rougher version) on my personal blog, but a chat with Ross and few others made it clear that the Resident-Visitor thinking has interesting implications for loads of aspects of social business, from customer services to adoption of internal social tools. Hope you find it interesting.]