College sophomores Josh Olin and Ian Peterson spend as much as 35 hours a week running MyTimeHero, a new social networking website celebrating people more than twice their age.
"Our focus is on, 'what have you accomplished in your life?'" said Mr. Olin, a 19-year-old software engineering major at Rochester University of Technology. He said he conceived the idea last summer because sites like mySpace.com, which are all the rage with teens, leave boomers without a comfortable alternative.
Eons.com, a social portal created by Monster.com founder Jeff Taylor, is the "only true competitor we are watching," Mr. Olin said. Eons.com targets adults aged 50 and up, and features a range of profiles, content and tools. MyTimeHero, which launched at the end of March, emphasizes profiles, blogs, and user groups with common interests. It also has opportunities for the younger crowd. Anyone can use the site to nominate a hero and say "thanks to the older generation," Mr. Olin said.
Differences aside, Eons.com and MyTimeHero.com are among several online social networking operators hoping to make a splash with an older generation. In general, these sites offer a place to create profiles, talk about life experiences and exchange information about important topics like health care and politics. Other social sites that target boomers include: 55-Alive, DrumTable and Boomj.
It's not surprising that more websites are choosing to emphasize boomers, said Michael Pond, media analyst with Neilson//Net Ratings in San Jose. In general, "these are the people who have money ...which makes them an attractive audience," he said.
There are 77 million baby boomers in the ages 43 to 61. Together, they spend about $1.7 trillion a year.
Still, Linda Natansohn, senior vice president of strategic development at eons in Charleston, Mass., said that getting older users comfortable with online social networking remains a challenge even as they become more Internet savvy.
"Not many people have done (online networking)," she said. "But the opportunity (for Eons) is that there are 44 million adults online over 50 who are using tools and e-mail, and using the Web as a resource."
Eons has created "Suzy" who befriends new users, and walks them through privacy settings and starting groups, among other options. Mr. Taylor also is introducing potential users to the site through a TV ad campaign.
"We're trying to make it easier for people to join," said Ms. Natansohn. She declined to disclose the number of Eons.com users, but noted the site generates traffic from about 1 million visitors a month.
In general, networking sites that target boomers and older individuals are aiming to fill a social void at a transitional stage in life.
"We're replacing a lot of the social interaction (adults) had through going to work and having their children around," said Jeff Lantz, chief executive officer of 55-Alive.com, an online community that has about 1,330 current accounts. Many users visit the site to read content, and talk about volunteering or other types of social networking, Mr. Lantz said. 55-Alive is producing education materials, too, to help members create profiles with details on everything from uploading photos, to being mindful about how much personal information to reveal.
Maggie Sidell, a 47-year-old software analyst in San Francisco, is among gun-shy social networking users. She said she has friends who participate on MySpace.com, but "that doesn't appeal to me."
"I shy away from online networking," Ms. Sidell said. "I don't want to risk revealing too much to people that don't know me."
She said, however, she might try using social networking sites at some point for the purpose of getting information about topics such as health care that "are important to people as they age." In the meantime, Ms. Sidell said her current needs are met by reading content on the SFGate, the San Francisco Chronicle's website, as well as perusing Craigslist, for its information - and entertainment value.
So far, membership hasn't been a challenge for MyTimeHero.com, which "usurped" its initial goals, Mr. Olin said. The site "has been growing much faster than we anticipated."
"The market opportunity is strong," added Mr. Olin, who also has a silent business partner.. He declined to go into more specifics about plans to grow the site, but noted ad revenue might be one way to "make money off this."