Do you know where your customers are?
They communicated first via Instant Message and made the sport popular. After webcams were affordable, dating sites emerged. By the time YouTube opened up the face-to-face world, research as we knew it had changed permanently. Then social sites like MySpace, and Facebook blew onto the virtual landscape. Television is becoming secondary to seeing what you want when you want it (this is the ongoing theme) and BitTorrent (among others) is the way to find preferred media, not TV Guide.
If your business is looking for its next generation of customers, what kind of online presence do you need to attract and keep the techno-oriented Y'ers who spend big bucks online? Although neither exhaustive nor scientific (my sample was everyone I know under 35), here is a list of popular places where young folks come together online. If you market, you should consider these sites.
Download Squad and its cousins – people want to know what's out there as soon as it's launched. DLS not only tells you what's there but also make it easy to find plus they let you know if it's worthwhile. With so much information out there, DLS and its cousin sites offer today's specials so you don't have to bother with the entire menu.
Gmail, Google News Reader, Google Docs – free online services by King Google are the prime haunt of many 20-35 year olds. Make sure you know how they work so when you build apps on your site you try to mimic the look and feel. When they want world news, they often use the links at the top of the pages.
The News Empire – the business-oriented target group seems to enjoy CNN's plethora of sites including cnn.com for news, cnnsi.com for sports, and the new CNN video area. They find news at their local paper's site as well as at the major news sites including The NY Times, WaPo, Google and Yahoo!.
Things Technical – if the users are geeky (a term I use with respect), they're likely to grab the most current news available from sites like Slashdot, Digg, Techmeme, Engadget and Reddit. Never heard of them? Each is a field-leader and they all use a blog-like or RSS-like updating system. Ease of use and consistent uptime can be more important than design. (A site is successful when its name becomes a verb, like, "Google that..." or "My review was slashdotted...")
Sharing Socially – social networking sites are more than just a "what's new" news item. Facebook and MySpace connect this international generation like virtual glue. Many users consider these sites to be their homepages and include links to other sites they want to visit (like Twitter, Google Reader, Pownce, their favorite blogs) right from those pages.
Photo Share – Got a shelf full of quaint photo albums? Today's shelves are online on a Flickr, Picasa or other photo site's servers. With the rapid availability of fast bandwidth, pictures go online instantaneously and can circle the globe in less than a morning. Others can comment and you can share all the photos you upload from your digital camera or more likely from your phone. In the olden days, we taught people how to attach a photo to an email. Today, we read the Flickr feed to see a picture that might interest us.
It's All in the RSS – most everyone who leans toward the technical has an RSS reader, whether it's Google or FeedDemon or others. The younger online group gets the feed for whatever interests them and checks that feed several times a day. It's neater and cleaner than browsing all over the Web and they get what they want when they want it (the ongoing theme) and have time to read it. If you don't yet have an RSS feed, what are you waiting for?
Share, Share, Share – the definition of social sites is sharing. We share not only photos and text but also we expect sharing in return. It's almost as if the Web has come full circle. From the olden days of the early 1990s to the mid-first decade of this millennium, the Web has evolved from open and free (when I started) to pay-as-you-go (when they expected you to pay to get news) and has grown into freely shared spaces that are your own. The mantra of sites is "Twitter/Pownce - Digg - Flickr" for the younger and clued-in audience.
Whether you consider this generation of Internet users to be egocentric and instantaneous gratifiers or open-minded and savvy, the proof of the online pudding is in the feed. Click a few links and see how they are coming to the knowledge that will make them – or keep them – from becoming your future customers.
If your fav site was omitted, please add it in the comments. You'd be surprised how many great sites we find out simply by asking others who are slightly more geeky than we are.