But still has some surprises

Pew confirms lots of social networking stereotypes

Pew has released a new report today detailing America’s usage of social networking tools, and much of the report confirms things many people already suspected.

First there’s Facebook. It remains the undisputed king of social networking, with a reported 72 percent of Internet users having an account with the service. Of those, an estimated 70 percent visit the site at least once a day, making it the most popular social network in terms of both sheer numbers and actual usage. Then there’s Pinterest. The site is gaining users — roughly 31 percent of Internet users have an account with the service — but is still half the size of Facebook. But the more interesting tidbit in Pew’s report is that the stereotype about Pinterest being dominated by women is true: 44 percent of online women are said to have an account with the service, while just 16 percent of online men do.

That’s a trend throughout Pew’s report. Basically, if there’s an assumption that has been made about a social network’s users, it’s probably accurate. Just look at Snapchat — 41 percent of smartphone owners between the ages of 18 and 29 use it or tools like it; that number drops off a cliff as a group’s age increases. Snapchat really is used predominantly by teenyboppers and young millennials.

Then consider Pew’s report on the popularity of message boards like Reddit. The site, and others like it, is used mostly by young people. It also has a much higher percentage of male users (20 percent) versus female users (11 percent). Might that discrepancy have something to do with that particular forum’s reputation for sexism, as shown by attacks on former chief executive Ellen Pao?

And then there’s the evidence showing that LinkedIn really is for people who want to get ahead in their careers. It’s the only social network used more by older people than young people. It also shows more popularity among college graduates than people with only high school educations, or with people who have jobs versus those who are unemployed. None of that comes as a surprise.

Of course, there is a question about which came first, the audience or the stereotype. It’s possible that early stories about each of these networks influenced their demographics. Pinterest being described as a woman’s social network probably scared off many men, and Reddit’s portrayal as a haven for sexism isn’t likely to have endeared it to women who’ve never visited it.

Either way, it’s clear many stereotypes about social networks are (partly) true. But there is at least one surprise in Pew’s report: Tumblr’s unpopularity.

The blogging tool is said to be used by just 10 percent of online Americans — that’s less than are using message boards, LinkedIn, and every other social service. It’s enough to make you wonder why the site is paid so much attention by the tech press, at least until you learn about the site’s popularity amongst urbanites.

Pew’s report shows that 16 percent of Internet users from urban areas use Tumblr. That number is halved when you move to the suburbs (8 percent) then halved again (down to 3 percent) when you consider rural areas. Tumblr is plainly used mostly by people who live in cities — which is where many tech reporters also live. Could this mean the Internet habits of roughly 20 percent of the population aren’t given as much attention by the media as they should be?

That’s what makes reports like this one valuable. Even though they often confirm what we already think we know, as shown by most of the information cited in this post, they might also reveal unconscious biases. Before this report, it would’ve been easy to assume that Tumblr is more popular than it is based solely on the attention paid to it by the media. Now we know that’s not the case.

Pew: confirming stereotypes then shattering a public misconception, sometimes in equal measure, since before many Snapchat users had even been born.