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TidBITS 2007 Reader Survey Results: Who Are You?

It’s time to start analyzing the results of our TidBITS 2007 Reader Survey. In this week’s look, I examine the answers to the first few questions, which attempted to ascertain what kinds of people read TidBITS. As of this writing, we’ve received 3,158 responses, and as I’ve said previously, the survey remains open if you haven’t responded yet, but I doubt any of the percentages will move much.

There’s a tendency in this world for each of us to believe that everyone is like us. It makes sense; we have the most experience being us, and we likely spend time with people who are more or less like us, whether we’re talking about age, education level, income, or profession. That’s one utility of surveys such as this – even within the TidBITS audience of Macintosh users, they can show both similarities and differences.

As with any survey in which respondents are self-selected – we didn’t pick a random sample of readers – we know that these results skew to those who have the time and interest to answer. Because we had such a large number of readers respond, however, we can make some conclusions without pretending that this is a statistically valid way to extrapolate these results to the full readership, and certainly not to the Macintosh community at large. (See last week’s “Lessons on Internet Surveys,” 2007-03-05, for more about online surveys and the validity of their responses.)

Age Distribution — Take age, for instance. Tonya and I are 39, and we’ve been publishing TidBITS since we were 22 in 1990. When we started, we were undoubtedly younger than many of our readers, since purchasing a Mac back then required more financial means and interest than many people in their early 20s had. The logical extension, therefore, is that our readers were in their 30s and 40s when they started reading TidBITS and have, somehow, though none of us are quite sure when it happened, aged 17 years since TidBITS was started.

As a result, the largest ten-year age group represented among those responding is the 51-60 age group, with the 41-50 and 61-70 age groups not far behind on either side. (Unfortunately, it was too hard to compare this to the U.S. population at large, because the 2000 census figures report age groups oddly, switching between 5- and 10-year chunks and reporting the 10-year chunks as 25-34, for example, so the sets didn’t match with ours.) You can see the results below; the numbers don’t add up to 100 percent because some people didn’t answer the question.

Age           Percentage (# of votes)
--------      -----------------------
Under 21       0% (4)
21-30          2% (91)
31-40         14% (447)
41-50         22% (698)
51-60         29% (917)
61-70         20% (618)
71-80          7% (228)
81-90          1% (50)
91 and up      0% (3)

I think this age distribution can provide a number of lessons. First, and most importantly, we should continue to eschew Leetspeak and cell phone SMS abbreviations, since only a handful of people in our audience would understand such slang abbreviations.

More seriously, the age distribution also implies that most TidBITS readers are established, probably financially comfortable, and have spare time they can focus on reading about technology. Other conclusions can undoubtedly be drawn, but let’s mix in other results first.

Profession — Age is an easy question to ask and to answer, but I knew that asking about jobs was going to be trickier, especially since I was limited to 10 answers by the survey software, and a number of those questions lumped together jobs in different categories. In fact, over 500 people opted to write in their profession, and about 100 of them entered “Retired,” along with a slew of highly specific jobs. Here are the results from those who were able to choose an option. (Again, not everyone answered this question.)

Profession                                  Percentage (# of votes)
-----------------------------------------   -----------------------
CEO/President/Management                     9% (242)
Network/System Administrator                 3% (105)
Marketing/PR/Sales                           3% (81)
Software Development/QA/Tech Support        11% (306)
Writing/Editing/Journalism                   5% (146)
Graphic Design/Illustration/Layout           6% (170)
Audio/Video Production                       2% (57)
Educator/Doctor/Lawyer/Other Professional   25% (690)
Consultant/IT Support Provider               8% (232)
Student/Retired/Hobbyist/Parent             24% (651)

The only conclusions I’d draw are that we have a lot of readers who are retired (which matches some of the age results), that a large chunk of readers are professionals, and that quite a few people are involved with the computer industry in some way. Perhaps these conclusions are obvious, other than the percentage of retired folks, but they’re still interesting.

Even more interesting were the write-in answers. I don’t have room to list them all here, but I’m truly pleased to learn that among our readers we have numerous artists, including a glass artist, a fine art portrait painter, a sculptor, a fiber artist (who wanted to know why these lists never include “Artist” as a profession: it’s because so few people are able to make a living at it, unfortunately!), and numerous photographers. Musicians were also well represented, and it’s nice to know that TidBITS is being read by an opera singer, a trumpet player in the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, an English hornist from the Pittsburgh Symphony, and the bassist for Robert Cray.

I was surprised at the number of people reporting aviation careers, including several airline pilots, a corporate helicopter pilot, and a jet test pilot, not to mention people in airline management, aircraft repair, and aerospace engineering, one of whom truly is a rocket scientist.

In the category of professions that just sound interesting, readers reported being a lighting designer, a Broadway stagehand, a wine merchant, a nuclear scientist, a dairy worker (ironically, I have an elderly relative who has been both of those last two), a “Virtual Assistant,” a jeweler who should perhaps meet the hard rock miner, a cartographer, a cryptographer, an espresso machine repair technician who should get together with the slot machine repair person, a defense analyst, a human rights activist, a fishery information specialist, and one person who wrote, “I’m actually a professional Girl Scout.” I’m also dying to know how one becomes an “ordained humourist and multimedia performance artist.”

And in the joke come to life, we can count among our readers a pastor, a priest, a minister, a Buddhist monk, and a rabbi. We always knew that the choice of computer platform had something to do with religion, though clearly not any particular one.

I’d love to figure out a way that I can publish stories about those of you with fascinating careers that involve the Mac in some non-obvious way. If you think you fall into that category, drop me a note via email with some details.

Macs and Technology Budgets — It’s clear that TidBITS is read largely by individuals who are responsible for a small number of Macs. 39 percent of respondents cared for only 1 or 2 Macs, with 41 percent responsible for 3 to 5 Macs. A fair number of respondents – 10 percent – handled networks of 6 to 10 Macs, but after that, the percentages drop off precipitously. That’s not really surprising either. Although the Mac is coming back in business use, it’s still relatively uncommon in large installations.

Similarly, most respondents (66 percent) have an annual budget of less than $5,000, though 14 percent spend between $5,000 and $9,999. After that, the numbers tail off, though not as quickly as for the number of Macs, and a non-trivial number of people had budgets in hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.

Computer Activities — For this article, I’ll finish up with a look at the activities you reported. As with professions, being limited to only 10 was a problem, so there were lots of write-in responses. In this case, the percentages are of the total number of people who answered the question, so 99% of respondents use email, the Web, or chat, meaning that only a few people didn’t answer.

Activity                      Percentage (# of votes)
--------------------------    -----------------------
Email/Web Browsing/Chat       99% (3141)
Word Processing               88% (2795)
Spreadsheet                   63% (1990)
Database Management           39% (1253)
Web Design/Management         39% (1234)
Network/Systems Management    28% (910)
Graphic Design/Layout         39% (1250)
Audio/Video Production        24% (786)
Gaming/Educational            29% (917)
Troubleshooting/Support       49% (1555)

The results are self-explanatory, and honestly, I wasn’t particularly surprised by any of them. I wish I had more answer space available in our survey tool, because a very large number of people included digital photography among the write-in answers, with software development also regularly added. Also common were write-in answers that revolved around listening to music, watching TV and movies, and downloading audio or video. Lots of respondents use their Macs for financial tasks: accounting, banking, taxes, financial planning, trading stocks, and so on. Hard-core activities that merited multiple mentions in the write-in section included research in a variety of fields, computer-aided design (CAD), scientific computation, and
statistical analysis. And finally, a number of people reported blogging as a regular activity.

In retrospect, the answers I provided were old-school. Of course digital photography is huge, and I should certainly have included an answer for audio/video consumption. And although I doubt a large percentage of TidBITS readers maintain blogs, I’m sure the raw number that do is still quite large. None of this should have been surprising at all, since we also use our Macs heavily for all of these modern-day activities.

In future articles, I’ll delve into other aspects of the survey results, first concentrating on how and what you read, and then finishing up with how all this relates to our content. Thanks again for participating!

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