Internet Users Unfamiliar With Terms
July 20, 2005 9:25 PM   Subscribe

Research finds that 87% of internet users are unfamiliar with "podcasting" and 91% have never heard of "RSS". The study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project also found that only 3% of users still don't know what spam is. Here's a PDF of the findings.
posted by tapeguy (59 comments total)
And nobody ask "What's a PDF?", OK?

My favourite part of the research is the bit that says:
As a rule, online men are more likely than women to be aware of these terms. Those with college degrees are more aware than those with high school diplomas, and heavier internet users are more familiar with the lexicon than lighter users.
No, really.
posted by tapeguy at 9:27 PM on July 20, 2005

Are you surprised by this, tapeguy? 90% of internet users still use Internet Explorer, fer chrissakes.

Geeks (you know, the kind who while away the wee small hours caring about things like "enclosures" and "W3C Standards) would do well to remember that the vast majority of internet users regard it as a way to email relatives or bid for antique dolls on eBay.
posted by Jimbob at 9:29 PM on July 20, 2005

It is telling that I initially read that as 87% of internet users are unfamiliar with procrastinating, and immediately doubted the claim.
posted by dreamsign at 9:31 PM on July 20, 2005

You'd be surprised at how many people refer to Photoshop as just "Adobe".
posted by clevershark at 9:31 PM on July 20, 2005

Research finds that 87% of internet users are unfamiliar with "podcasting"

Maybe they should've asked them about "casette recording", because that's all it really is. Next fad please
posted by angry modem at 9:49 PM on July 20, 2005

You'd be surprised at how many people refer to Photoshop as just "Adobe".

You'd be surprised by how many members of my family refer to PDFs, Adobe Acrobat, and (interchangeably) as just "Adobe".
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 9:50 PM on July 20, 2005

Count me as one of the ignorant 90% or so that, well, doesn't really give a crap.
posted by kyrademon at 9:56 PM on July 20, 2005

I'll add myself to the smugly ignorant as well.
posted by Absit Invidia at 10:06 PM on July 20, 2005

Apparently this is supposed to be somewhat shocking, but it doesn't seem like anything striking to me. I'd be willing to bet that (at least) 90% of photographic camera users don't understand even very basic terms like f-stop or SLR, let alone things like exposure bracketing, or aperture priority mode. Any highly complex and diverse technology that is used widely by the general population is going to have many many more casual, generally unknowledgeable users who only achieve the most basic mastery.

And for the record, I knew of RSS but couldn't have defined podcasting for you.
posted by Wingy at 10:07 PM on July 20, 2005

The more vital question, namely that of "who the hell cares?", remains unanswered...
posted by nightchrome at 10:13 PM on July 20, 2005

RSS is handy for some... but I really cannot see the draw to podcasting. Sounds like some people making their own little shows like I did when I was 9 and then hoping some people will care. Of course, in this day and age...
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:15 PM on July 20, 2005

3% don't know what spam is?! Can I get one of their email addresses?
posted by birdsquared at 10:17 PM on July 20, 2005

I wish they'd also polled for "ajax," "folksonomy," "blogosphere," "bleg," and "Alt-F4."

You'd be surprised at how many people refer to ___ as "Adobe".
Same people who call Word "Microsoft."
posted by brownpau at 10:20 PM on July 20, 2005

Sounds like some people making their own little shows like I did when I was 9

In fairness, professional radio networks are now offering shows as "podcasts", but I still don't understand why it's such a big deal. It's really just encoding a radio show into mp3 and letting the public download it. As far as I can see, there's an extra obfuscation in that the link to the mp3 is in an RSS file, and is intended to be put straight on a portable mp3 player, meaning that I have to go through a few extra steps to download that mp3 onto my plain old harddrive where I want it.

What's wrong with just providing a link to the mp3 and letting people download it to where they want it?
posted by Jimbob at 10:25 PM on July 20, 2005

Podcasting? I'see seen the term (here), but couldn't care less if I ever learn what it is.
posted by mischief at 10:26 PM on July 20, 2005

I agree with kyrademon and nightchrome.
posted by Balisong at 10:28 PM on July 20, 2005

I think we need to go with the term Webcasting - and drop podcasting. A lot of the podcasting capabilities let you bring stuff to your desktop - and you can listen to it there as well as a remote player.
posted by commonmedia at 10:34 PM on July 20, 2005

I know what podcasting is and have even tried it, but I didn't inhale and kind of thought it smelled a little like sour milk.

Hey, neat preview pony! Yeeha!
posted by fenriq at 10:45 PM on July 20, 2005

I'm surprised that 13% of all internet users have heard of it. That's incredible, considering it took about five years before "blog" got many mentions in the mainstream. Podcasting as it currently exists started less than a year ago.
posted by mathowie at 10:48 PM on July 20, 2005

Podcasting is great for the quantity of random amateur-quality drivel you can end up with on your hard drive. Yes, it's the same as those cassette shows you made when you were 9, only in this case you subscribe to someone else's show, and then they fill your system with it while you aren't looking.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 10:52 PM on July 20, 2005

Podcasting? It's a goddam MP3 download and people have been doing this long before iPods were around...

Spade!!! SPADE!!!!
posted by JGreyNemo at 11:21 PM on July 20, 2005

It's a goddam MP3 download and people have been doing this long before iPods were around...

Nope, it's a system to automatically fetch and download a specific set of MP3s you want to grab the moment they are posted to the web.

So it's really a periodic bot checking and automatically doing the "goddam MP3 download" part and loading that into iTunes awaiting the next time you dock your device to listen to it.

It's definitely something more than simple mp3 downloads.
posted by mathowie at 11:24 PM on July 20, 2005

Is this something I would need a computer to know about?
posted by Balisong at 11:36 PM on July 20, 2005

Is this not the beauty of technological advancement? That it be accessible to the masses no matter the terminology or exotic applications? I might refer to photoshop as "photoshop," and know damn well what podcasting is, but it is to our benefit, everyone's benefit that the popular culture enrich the content of media delivered by geek means. Pat yourself on the backs, but celebrate everyone's gain.
posted by IndpMed at 11:46 PM on July 20, 2005

I've done a fair amount to encourage the growth of RSS, but it doesn't surprise me at all that 91% of Internet users don't know about it yet.

RSS would be considerably bigger if:
1> Blogger had been forward thinking and supportive of their userbase by adopting it as a free, standard feature, ideally integrating their service with an online RSS newsreader.

2> If Google had been as supportive to RSS as they were to APIs and other ways of users finding cool things to do with Google-generated data. When they acquired Blogger, they acted like they had acquired ATOM. They only had a real use for RSS when it came to selling ads and making money, not when it came to helping their users.

3> If certain digerati hadn't screwed the users by trying to ditch RSS in pursuit of new means of syndication (ATOM/ECHO), rather than using their leverage to see to it that RSS became vital and unified. None of the users out there either needed or wanted ATOM, but that didn't seem to make a difference.

4> If Dave Winer was less argumentative earlier, and if enough prominent people actually approached him earlier to create an advisory board for RSS, rather than going on the warpath. I spoke to Dave during the initial push for ATOM, and not only did he like the idea of such a board, he welcomed it... and soon thereafter, he helped create it. He just didn't want RSS to be dominated by any particular company.

Now, of course, we all face the potential for yet another fork.

Good luck, then, to the 91% who don't know a thing about RSS...
posted by insomnia_lj at 11:48 PM on July 20, 2005

Wow! So this study actually found that there are people that don't give a shite about computers and the internet?! Unbelievable!
The next thing you're gonna tell us is that a person can actually live a full life without computers and the Net. Impossible!
posted by johnj at 12:35 AM on July 21, 2005

How about people who know what sage is and filter set g. If you are one of my brotha's throw yo motha fuckin hands in the air.

and matt, i would agree with you about podcasting being something new in terms of automation. I think that this started with rss feeds from torrent sites like supernova, to automate file grabs. It just made sense for bogs, if rumors are to be believed this is the beginning of the influx of ross applets.

Synch this fool.......

Still, i dislike calling it podcasting, how about media serve, or media dump... that way i can chuckle about the death of brand marketing while they devour my disk space.
posted by sourbrew at 12:55 AM on July 21, 2005

crap.... even with snazzy live preview i let rss become ross on spell check....
posted by sourbrew at 12:56 AM on July 21, 2005

What's a PDF?
posted by flabdablet at 1:17 AM on July 21, 2005

What's wrong with just providing a link to the mp3 and letting people download it to where they want it?

Virtually every podcaster offers that too, and many find the majority of their listeners access their content that way.

But don't underestimate the importance of the subscription element of podcasting, that's the bit that makes it easy for occasional listeners to become regular listeners. I don't think podcasting is going to usurp radio and change the world, so it is being over-hyped by some people, but it has a good chance of becoming a significant broadcast medium.

There's already some good stuff out there, and who cares if most of the population hasn't heard about it, isn't it great that thousands of people are involved in making their own shows? That creativity is worthwhile in itself.
posted by malevolent at 1:34 AM on July 21, 2005

I work on the web.
I had no idea what podcasting was until Matt kindly defined it. I can't see myself remembering to use it, though.
I've never liked RSS because (although I'm a coder) it's far, far too spartan, functional and kludgy and not nearly elegant enough.

(disclaimer: I only started as a web monkey so that I could work with artists every day)
posted by NinjaPirate at 1:36 AM on July 21, 2005

Damn I'm ranty today......

Podcasting is marketing meme for "semi automated downloading of preordinated content on user-demand" aka push the dammed mp3 player on cradle and fuggetaboutit.

So Joe Simple must only connected the goddammed device on the goddammed cradle and listen to the latest stuff he digs...without engaging brain.

It will work
posted by elpapacito at 2:39 AM on July 21, 2005

You'd be surprised at how many people refer to ___ as "Adobe".

Of course, I blame Adobe for renaming Acrobat Reader to "Adobe Reader." Of course people call the format "Adobe" now!
posted by grouse at 2:57 AM on July 21, 2005

I'm looking forward to reading this...I just went through this report by Catalyst that prolly does the same stuff, and went through what the best practices would be for their observations...
posted by rzklkng at 3:46 AM on July 21, 2005

actually jimbob, although it may not be completely accurate according to this site 67% of internet uses use IE versus 19.7% using firefox. just sayin.

shame about the lack of knowledge with RSS and podcasting. Being in web design I have to explain these services quite a bit to clients.
posted by freudianslipper at 4:12 AM on July 21, 2005

I still meet people who don't know what blogging is. Recently an educated & hip relative was very worried when he asked me... I didn't ask him what he thought it was, but from his tone it sounded like his guess was online prostitution or such.
posted by loafingcactus at 4:14 AM on July 21, 2005

I wish I had never heard of podcasting, RSS, or spam. Or blogging. Or email. Sigh.
posted by realcountrymusic at 5:10 AM on July 21, 2005

Podcasting has a horrid name, but as of iTunes 4.9, it's not something that requires any sort of special geekiness to enjoy.

Of course now the problem is the near total lack of decent content. Where's my This American Life podcast, dammit?
posted by mosch at 5:13 AM on July 21, 2005

"Prestiwebitating" - the phenomenon of re-labeling something, but for the Internet. It was sort of done with the "e" and "i", like "e-Commerce" and "i-Pod", but "podcasting" and "weblog" are of a different sort. They are not technologies, per se, but really re-inventions of current, perhaps even mundane, activities.

Thanks, Adam Curry!
posted by benATthelocust at 5:31 AM on July 21, 2005

I'll be honest, I gots no idea what podcasting is. no one I know has an ipod. I presume it has something to do with broadcast the contents of an ipod.

RSS, however, is DA BOMB!
posted by mcsweetie at 5:58 AM on July 21, 2005

Wingy writes "I'd be willing to bet that (at least) 90% of photographic camera users don't understand even very basic terms like f-stop or SLR, let alone things like exposure bracketing, or aperture priority mode. Any highly complex and diverse technology that is used widely by the general population is going to have many many more casual, generally unknowledgeable users who only achieve the most basic mastery."

I completely agree. I'm not sure what's surprising about this result. It seems more like a marketing survey than it does something that actually tells us something of note. "According to the results, it was the name RSS people didn't like. See how much better spam did as a brand-name? So, we've come up with some alternatives to RSS: "Ramen", we like that, it says fast, it says easy, it says cheap and now. We like "Red Bull" for the same reason. Ok, we'd probably have to get in bed with the actual Red Bull people. I'm not sure what the marketing deal is with Hormel, but the spam people worked it out, so we probably could..." /lame joke.
posted by OmieWise at 6:13 AM on July 21, 2005

I knew what podcasting was because NPR did an All Things Considered segment on it, but I admit I'm looking up RSS on Wikipedia because I've never seen an explanation of it.
posted by alumshubby at 6:14 AM on July 21, 2005

Me too alumshubby -- I know what podcasting is, but not RSS; I mean, I've heard the term, but I couldn't tell you what it is.

Also, here's an oldie for you -- where I worked in the early 90s, everybody said "Aldus" when they meant "Pagemaker." I have no idea what they did once Adobe bought it.
posted by JanetLand at 6:19 AM on July 21, 2005

There's a lexicon to "our" internet that deliberately keeps "noobs" out, and it's always been that way. Blogs are nothing more than frequently updated personal web sites, RSS is nothing different than syndicated content, and a podcast is an MP3.

From that Catalyst article I mentioned earlier, here's the reasons why the "experienced" but not "blog-aware" internet user (with no discussion about the criteria of an experienced internet user) is hesitant to use RSS as a new technology:

  • spam

  • security

  • intended for different audience

  • concern that subscribing cost $$$

  • posted by rzklkng at 6:43 AM on July 21, 2005

    ya know.. i fought the podcast trend tooth and nail.. it's not just for ipods, and its not much of a "cast"... but alas.. with the new itunes, it's completely transparent..

    It's changed the way I use my mp3 player. pure and simple. I wake up in the morning, stroll to the metro and listen to the new podcasts (itunes automatically deletes the ones I've already listened to).

    And this isn't amatuer stuff I'm listening to. TechTV's guys doing their show, ABC news, CNN, ESPN, etc. My morning news, automatically on my ipod, on demand, and only stuff that is of interest to me. How is that not cool?

    Right now I'm listening to a "alternative hiphop" show by Alpha Pup Records.. So now, instead of just news and such, I'm getting new music... It's everything "push" promised to be but failed.
    posted by rulethirty at 7:00 AM on July 21, 2005

    How many people don't understand electricity?
    posted by srboisvert at 7:54 AM on July 21, 2005

    Bloggers overestimate their own importance and influence. No film at 11, or ever.
    posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:04 AM on July 21, 2005

    I imagine there are a fair number of people around who drive their cars to work every day without any idea whatsoever what is under the hood. It doesn't surprise me. People who don't need to learn the details do not bother unless they're interested. As frustrating as it can be to try and get a novice user to differentiate between Office XP and Windows XP (Thanks for making that so clear, MS) let alone anything web-related, not knowing the difference doesn't hurt them any. They take the car to a mechanic when it breaks, and they call someone who gives a crap about DLL files, firewalls, and open port vulnerabilities when the computer won't work.

    Technology is like that. People generally only learn enough about it to know what they need, and nothing more. My wife's grandma refuses to have anything to do with a VCR; my dad still refers to any video game console as a "Nintendo". There's nothing wrong with either of them, they just have no need to learn any more about the technology involved, so they haven't bothered to do so, and it hasn't hurt either of them.

    I find the number of Americans who can't point to their own country on a map to be much sadder than the number of people who haven't heard of podcasting.
    posted by caution live frogs at 9:18 AM on July 21, 2005

    I imagine that there are a lot of people who drive cars but don't have any idea what the technical features of the cars are.

    I imagine that many people eat food that they would not know how to make themselves and have no idea of the difference between various preservatives.

    I imagine that many people use conditioner for their hair and have no idea how that differs from shampoo.
    posted by flarbuse at 9:45 AM on July 21, 2005

    So, they have the internets on computers now, eh?

    "Technology is like that. People generally only learn enough about it to know what they need, and nothing more.'

    I see that as a problem. So much is spoon fed to us that many people have forgotten the simple joys of fucking around with something - creatively playing, etc.

    Anyone know what Usenet is? I asked my collegate cousin if he knew. He didn't. And he's learning computer science.

    Sophistication is like that. The neo-rustics aren't luddites, but that knee-jerk to castigate refined tool use as effete or degenerate has been around a long time.

    It's not simply a matter of knowing how the tool you are using works, such as knowing what's under the hood of your car (although it's a good idea) it's knowing how to get full use from your tool. As though you never went over 40 mph or used your turn signals. Or perhaps never used your GPS & mapping system, but you paid for them.
    You bought & paid for the thing, might as well get full use out of it.

    But this is academic, the real question is: where are the good podcasts?
    posted by Smedleyman at 10:03 AM on July 21, 2005

    mathowie writes "That's incredible, considering it took about five years before 'blog' got many mentions in the mainstream"

    Well, Apple didn't have an interest in blogs.
    posted by Mitheral at 10:53 AM on July 21, 2005

    My AM happened to snap on to Rush Limbaugh's program today right as he was spewing something about how the Free Republic "wouldn't even be read if Yahoo didn't include it on their RSS feed."

    Rush is part of the hip 9%? I'm sure that his namedrop drove the Q a few points higher...

    I think that content aggregation, be it by podcast or RSS, is valued most by "high consumers" -- folks who need a large volume of content on a regular basis. I'd argue that this largely excludes Joe User who sees the internet as e-mail, porn and Amazon.
    posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:01 AM on July 21, 2005

    Yes Rush is one of the hip 9%. I listen to him about once a week to get the inside scoop on the enemy point of view and I am often amazed at his fluency with computer jargon. He tells his listeners how many megabytes are in a file to download off his website for example. It is clear from the way he says it that he knows that is a critical information bit.
    posted by bukvich at 11:35 AM on July 21, 2005

    I think the person that said that RSS is everything that 'push' was supposed to be is spot on. I started using RSS a few months ago and finally settled on Newsgator as my aggregator. It's really become the main way of using the web. I basically scan thru each feed (currently 79), open the ones I want to read in a new FF tab, save the good ones to, which is set to automatically post to my blog once a day and then go from there. RSS is really handy for irregularly updated content, like subscribing to another person's feed.

    Podcasting I finally got into when Apple released the new iTunes. Yes you could say that this sort of thing has been around for ever but I think that they have made it easy not to have to go to each site and download the mp3's. You could sort of say that it's like a Tivo for your radio.

    And yes, Podcasting as a term has got to go. I don't have an iPod and have no plans to replace my 1gig mp3 player that I have.

    Good podcasts: TWiT, Accident Hash, ACIDplanet, and the Rock and Roll Geek are a couple that I've found the past week.
    posted by daHIFI at 1:54 PM on July 21, 2005

    Smedlyman: where are the good podcasts?

    Ahh, the basic trend in the history of mass media is that we get bigger access to a bigger pile of shit than our grandparents could ever imagine.
    posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:00 PM on July 21, 2005

    srboisvert - nailed it, "How many people don't understand electricity?" and cautionlivefrogs' got a good analogy.

    People. are. stupid.

    It's too bad that stupid people and their stupid decisions/practices hurt others.
    posted by PurplePorpoise at 8:57 PM on July 21, 2005

    RSS and podcasting might appear to be pointless wastes of time to many people here, but for blind people they're great.
    • If you're blind and want to listen to a radio show you usually have to navigate TV websites with hundreds of links on each page every time you want to find the latest episode. With podcasting you get a list of the latest shows and hit a button and you can start listening right away.
    • Same for RSS and news items. For example, the front page of BBC News has 171 links on it. Which of these are the latest headlines? With an RSS reader you can just get a list of them, updated constantly. Want to read more? Hit the item and get the news page in your web browser.
    RSS and podcasting are the standardised web page structure that the web never had and probably never will (h1 = title, h2 = section title, mark up navigation bar with class="navBarX", mark up main body section with class="main", that kind of thing.)
    (I develop free RSS aggregators and podcatchers for blind people: you're welcome to suggest that my implementation is lousy, but the attention they've got is indicative of the success of the technology.)
    posted by alasdair at 5:59 AM on July 22, 2005

    I recently had a friend tell me that her photos of a wedding came out blurry and underexposed, and asked me if she could use "Adobe or Photoshop" to fix them. So, yeah...

    As a frequent Web user who isn't a coder or a sysadmin or whatever, I can easily point to one reason that more people aren't familiar with terms like podcasting and RSS: While new tech may be intimidating, many geeks and early adopters are infinitely more so. There are probably quite a few people reading this right now who are snickering at me for using the word "sysadmin" right now, one or two of whom will make snarky, not-quite-trolling-but-damn-close comments about it in the thread.

    Remember that tech support character Jimmy Fallon used to do on Saturday Night Live? That didn't come from nowhere, folks...

    (And it's probably the only mildly funny thing that guy ever did...)
    posted by hifiparasol at 7:10 AM on July 22, 2005

    The most significant part of this study, to me, is that those of you who are amazed that people don't know the jargon can now correctly identify yourself as part of the forward edge (notice I didn't write "leading") of technology. This should be significant not because it permits you to brag and preen, but because it means you need to be more careful about presuming to know what "most people" are doing or thinking. It's a bit of a warning.

    It's also encouraging to see that the jargon and technologies are staying invisibile to most people. That's they way it should be. Such things should stay invisible until they are toasters—not a metaphor for Cylons, but a metaphor for easy-to-use. As much as most of the podcasting hype irritates me, I have converted over my automated recording of streams, for the most part, to downloading podcasts. So I can envision the day when iTunes pre-subscribes new users to podcasts right out of the box, or offers some kind of "if you like that music, then you'll like this podcast" wizard or wizardry.
    posted by Mo Nickels at 8:49 AM on July 22, 2005

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