Recession sending droves of Americans online

Ronny Kerr · July 15, 2009 · Short URL:

Millions turn to social media to cope with and respond to economic downturn

Internet + recessionWhile the Internet has received much blame for beating down old businesses (most notably, print media like newspapers and magazines), we hardly hear anyone talking about the good the Internet is doing during the recession.

So, it’s a breath of fresh air when a report comes out detailing every which way a huge percentage of people are using the Internet to their advantage during hard times.

About 69% of American adults, who compose 88% of the country’s Internet users, are utilizing the Internet to cope with and respond to personal problems created by the recession, according to a report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Identifying two key paths in recession-related Internet activities, the Project’s Director, Lee Rainie, says that people are “seeking highly practical advice about how to survive. And they are going online to gain understanding of what went wrong, and what policies might fix the economy.”

The most common economic-related use of the Internet evidenced in the report, unsurprisingly, is price comparisons. Two-thirds of users are scouring the Web for the best deals on purchases and over a third seek out actual coupons. Beyond that, it seems that Americans are just trying to get educated. About half go online to find information to explain the situation currently afflicting the world. Finally, 41% of people are using the Internet for just plain job-searching.

As Pew points out, this research does not at all say that people are completely replacing their old ways with online methods. Instead, we must assume that people are adapting to changes in the world by supplementing their normal way of doing things with the power of the Web.

Furthermore, this isn’t only about finding a new job.

As Rainie points out, “In many cases, the internet is also a pathway to contributing ideas – and rants – about hard times and a source of expert commentary.”

Social networking sites are continually showing evidence of not just being friend networks, for 34% of users studied are sharing reactions to the recession on Web sites like Twitter and Facebook. As more and more people use the status update to express worries about job loss and money problems, it becomes clear that these sites are literally merging with traditional physical communities by becoming places for sharing sympathy and advice.

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Twitter is an online information network that allows anyone with an account to post 140 character messages, called tweets. It is free to sign up. Users then follow other accounts which they are interested in, and view the tweets of everyone they follow in their "timeline." Most Twitter accounts are public, where one does not need to approve a request to follow, or need to follow back. This makes Twitter a powerful "one to many" broadcast platform where individuals, companies or organizations can reach millions of followers with a single message. Twitter is accessible from, our mobile website, SMS, our mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, our iPad application, or 3rd party clients built by outside developers using our API. Twitter accounts can also be private, where the owner must approve follower requests. 

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Twitter started as an internal project within the podcasting company Odeo. Jack Dorsey, and engineer, had long been interested in status updates. Jack developed the idea, along with Biz Stone, and the first prototype was built in two weeks in March 2006 and launched publicly in August of 2006. The service grew popular very quickly and it soon made sense for Twitter to move outside of Odea. In May 2007, Twitter Inc was founded.

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Our engineering team works with a web application framework called Ruby on Rails. We all work on Apple computers except for testing purposes. 

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There are a few ways that Twitter makes money. We have licensing deals in place with Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft's Bing to give them access to the "firehose" - a stream of tweets so that they can more easily incorporate those tweets into their search results.

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