Most people who turn to Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter are aged 18-29. Indeed, internet use is dominated by those younger than 30 who were raised on it.
But don't tell that to Jeff Taylor, who helped start Monster Board, which turned into Monster.com, and who then, in 2005, launched Eons (www.eons.com), an online community aimed at Baby Boomers. A serial entrepreneur, Taylor felt that internet use by the 76 million Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1960 was on the rise and had been overlooked in the internet frenzy. On Eons, Boomers join music, book, and sports groups; play card games; exchange photos; date; and, most of all, connect.
Indeed, 16.5 million adults aged 55 years and older use social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and AARP.org, according to a comScore survey dating from March 2009. Eons numbers 830,000 daily users, which, compared to Facebook's 200 million worldwide users, makes it a "niche" site, Taylor said. Taylor told USA TODAY that Facebook is about "me-my page and my profile while Eons is about ‘we,' getting together in groups around mutual passions."
Eons first started as a "social portal, but [it] evolved into becoming a social network," said Taylor, who was born in 1960, on the tail end of the generation. What started out as just some social features where people could discuss hobbies and interests turned into Eons' identity: serving as a meeting place for Baby Boomers, kind of an old-fashioned corner bar located in cyberspace.
The site is organized into four major themes:
- Locale-Baby Boomers in Tampa Bay, Fla., and St. Louis, for example, can discuss local events and then meet in person.
- Passions and Interests-From bookaholics to gourmet food enthusiasts to spiritualists, Baby Boomers can enter into discussions with others who share their interests.
- Dating-Especially since 50% of all Baby Boomers' marriages end in divorce.
- Attitudinal Sites-Baby Boomers can reminisce about the 1960s and 1970s and discuss common sensibilities or even common dislikes (one group is called "What Really Bothers Me").
Eons' top 25 groups change daily. But a recent look showed "The Diner," "50+ Singles," "The Healer's Inn," "Computer Technology and Internet Solutions Center," and "Intellectual Wannabes" as the top five. Showing its range, others in the top 25 included "Becoming a Spiritual Adult," "The Green Thumb Gang," and "Dating Reality for Boomers." These eclectic interests reveal "a fabric and a culture of real diversity and reflect common interests of a generation," mused Taylor.
Baby Boomers are a distinct generation with their own ethos and culture. When Baby Boomers turn 50 or so, their lives move into another stage. Their kids move out of the house; they've become empty nesters for the first time in 20 years; they may face their first health scare, start caring for an ailing parent, or start building up their nest egg and begin planning retirement. All of these concerns are reflected in various groups on Eons.
Even in its dating activities, Eons diverges from traditional meeting sites such as Match.com and eHarmony. Eons' users don't pay for dating; it's free. Dating on Eons is "more informal and more around natural conversation," Taylor noted. Taylor implies that dating on Eons isn't just about how your photo conveys your good looks but how you emanate shared interests. What starts out in friendship through common interests can naturally evolve into dating, just as it does offline and in real life.
Its core user is between 53- and 55-years old. The userbase is 60% female and 40% male, and 60% of users have a minimum college degree. At the beginning, Eons used a filter to ensure that users who are younger couldn't get on the site. But now, anyone can enter, though a few who enter are younger and are usually "self-selected" out of the site. What Gen X-er really cares where Grandma or Grandpa is spending time?
While the 20-somethings are content to photoshare and live online, many Baby Boomers use the site as a catalyst to meet in person. In fact, two phenomena have developed that are unique to Eons. One activity is called "grins"; it involves people meeting together in person who can't stop smiling, an old hippie activity. The other event goes by the acronym "skit" for spending-your-kids-inheritance tours. Taylor says a skit can turn into a cruise to Alaska or an expensive dinner out among friends.
Getting involved in an Eons site is easier than meeting a stranger at a party. Taylor says you enter the site, visit an activity group that strikes your interest or passion, and register to join the group. Registering enables the user to receive weekly news updates about the particular interest group. Many people start as observers, watching the comments online; then, they opt to get involved.
Taylor said that Eons functions differently from Facebook or My Space. On Eons, "your profile picture isn't the primary driver of whether you're viable. It's the conversation or the written word."
Because it's a niche site with less than a million users, Eons has to adapt to survive. Taylor envisions the site becoming more "purpose driven" in the future and is considering adding more distinct offerings in jobs and travel. Eventually, it may have to move from niche to mainstream to survive. Because advertising is down, Taylor is also considering creating premium users who will pay for specialized activities.
And why did he name it Eons? Eons suggests longevity so the hope is the site will last for eons. In astronomical terms, an eon lasts a billion years. And in the vernacular, people use the term "eons" to say, "I haven't seen you in years-eons." Finally, Taylor says he started the site because he was inspired by a line that Morgan Freeman said in the film The Shawshank Redemption: "You either get busy living or get busy dying," and Eons is about living better.
Gary M. Stern is a freelance writer based in New York City.