Wednesday, February 23, 2011

App-Rising: Maslow's Hierarchy of Broadband Needs


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November 22, 2010 9:34 AM

Maslow's Hierarchy of Broadband Needs

In a recent post arguing for a great focus on broadband utilization rather than just broadband availability and adoption, I used the analogy of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Today I want to explore that idea further in order to establish a Maslow's hierarchy of broadband needs.

To start with we must review the five levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, starting at the bottom:

- Physiological
- Safety
- Love/belonging
- Esteem
- Self-actualization

Physiological needs relate directly to the physical needs of broadband. Without your physiological needs of food and water being met, you can't move up the hierarchy. To be able to use broadband, you need to first have it be available to you. Pretty simple.

Safety needs is where it gets a bit more interesting. I see at least two parallels in this analogy. The first is that broadband must be stable and reliable for users to feel secure using it. The second is that users must know enough about how to use the Internet that they feel safe navigating it. This last point in particular can be a major barrier to driving broadband adoption and utilization. If users don't feel comfortable online then that's a major disincentive to continued use.

The need for love and a sense of belonging has some profound ramifications when thought of related to broadband. Other than providing access to the world's information and entertainment, the biggest reason people use the Internet is to connect with others individually and as a community. The Internet has in fact redefined our sense of what "community" even means. This sense of belonging is what drives many people to spend hours online. Yet the flip side to this is that if you don't feel like there's a community online for you, or you don't know how to find or join the ones that do exist, that's going to be another major disincentive to use broadband.

With broadband available, and users feeling secure and part of a community, we now reach the tier of esteem, which is where users should start to get a sense of accomplishment and validation. This can come from others, like well wishes from friends when you first join and start using Facebook. It can also come from inside a user's self, as they accomplish something using broadband that has a direct impact on their lives. This level is so key as it's what gives users the confidence to believe they can do more, which is what will fuel their curiosity to find new ways broadband can benefit their lives.

We've now arrived at the top level of self-actualization, which is where users are able to continue reaching to achieve their full potential. Like in the traditional hierarchy of needs, you can see how this tier is only possible if the four tiers below it are addressed. Users need broadband to first be available, they then need to feel secure using it, they also need to feel a sense of community, and ultimately they need to feel a level of esteem to expand upon their utilization.

What's most important to keep in mind about this is that if users aren't able to reach the top of this hierarchy, then they'll never have the opportunity to benefit from the full scope of what broadband makes possible. It's only in this tier of self actualization that creativity's able to flourish, that users are able to consider changing their behaviors now that the rest of their needs are met, and that the real benefits of broadband are realized.

Now, I'm not sure if the broadband version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs should end here as there's still adjustments that could be made.

For example, for most users, issues of security are more about perception than reality. It's not that we necessarily have to do that much to make users more secure, we just need them to feel reasonably safe.

I also don't know if security, belonging, and esteem should be reordered as if a user has an experience that builds their esteem that can be the catalyst to get them more involved with the online communities that will lead to them feeling a sense of belonging.

There may also need to be additional tiers included so that we're not missing any of the major factors that drive users to want to use broadband more.

But I think this is a good start to helping better define how we should be thinking as we go about trying to get everyone online and benefitting from broadband. What this shows is that just making broadband available isn't enough. That in order to achieve universal broadband adoption and significantly greater broadband utilization we need to be cognizant of the many needs that drive the decision-making of users.

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