Can you crowdsource life after 50?
High-tech entrepreneur Tim Driver is betting on it.
With consumers raving and grumbling online about nearly everything these days, Driver believes navigating the later years — landing jobs, deciding where to retire, finding elder care — remains a largely untapped market for ratings and recommendations.
This week, he’s launching Age Friendly Advisor, an Internet platform for user reviews, research, and a raft of other information for folks grappling with how and where to spend their post-retirement years. The site, agefriendly.com, aspires to be a kind of TripAdvisor for savvy seniors plotting their next moves. Among other things, it plans to serve up “age friendly” scores for every city and town and many neighborhoods in the United States and, eventually, worldwide.
“People are entering a phase of life that’s full of complexities,” said Driver, 52, chief executive of parent company Age Friendly Ventures, who acquired his business chops at Internet pioneer AOL and startup Salary.com. “They’re accumulating all this valuable information about employers, senior living, caregiving organizations. But there’s been no forum for sharing it.”
The new startup will test the notion that, when it comes to swapping such information online, older people will be more comfortable enlisting the wisdom of folks closer to their own age than the wider cross-section of Internet users found on any number of popular websites.
Growing numbers of seniors are already giving and seeking advice online. More than two in three Americans over 65 use the Internet, and one in three gets information and advice from social networks, according to Pew Research Center data published in 2017. Health and travel are two of the most popular topics for people in that older demographic.
But, like everybody else, they’re surfing mainstream social networks or crowdsourcing platforms: devouring restaurant reviews on Yelp, querying Facebook friends of all ages about what to wear to weddings, or asking Warren Buffett wannabes on Quora whether to invest in Bitcoin.
Many gravitate to sites like PatientsLikeMe, based in Cambridge, and Needham-based TripAdvisor — part of a small Boston-area cluster of crowdsourcing sites — that cater to those interests but serve a broader and more age-diverse user base.
Crowdsourcing researcher Lior Zoref, author of the book “Mindsharing — The Art of Crowdsourcing Everything,” doubts that seniors need age-specific sites.
“Young people can also give advice about health and travel and other things,” he said. “The idea of crowdsourcing is to get a big crowd. It’s better to have a diverse crowd of older and younger people who have different perspectives.”
Yet common experience and niche expertise are powerful draws online. TripAdvisor, for example, hosts a senior travel forum featuring more than 1,000 topics ranging from seeking advice on solo travel to arranging curated tours.
Meetup, a New York-based site used to organize online groups that host in-person gatherings, can testify to the effectiveness of narrowcasting and segmenting users.
People over 50 are among the fastest-growing age segment for Meetup, said chief executive David Siegel. Last year, he said, Meetups appealing to that demographic attracted 270,000 people globally, including more than 6,300 in Massachusetts.
Among the most popular Meetups were people who travel together, recent singles who socialize, active folks who get together to hike, cycle, or do yoga, support groups for people with aging parents, and “identity” groups for women, gays and lesbians, and movie buffs.
Siegel said there are also any number of Meetup groups, such as horror show enthusiasts, that attract people ranging in age from their 20s to their 80s. But while “some people get energy being surrounded by people who are different from them,” Siegel said, many more prefer being with people in the same age range.
“The narrower the niche,” he said, “the higher the level of engagement.”
Retired communications executive Carol Clingan, 76, who runs a part-time business researching genealogy, moves between sites ranging from Ancestry.com to Facebook to a Google group made up of her neighbors at the Newbridge on the Charles senior living community in Dedham, depending on what activities she’s engaged in.
While she’s more likely to get references from people she knows for services such as car repairs, Clingan said she can see the merit of sites harnessing the wisdom of older people for senior-related services: “I’m inclined to relate to folks with similar life experience.”
Similarly, retired physician Michael Ross, 72, who lives in the same complex, pores over online reviews on sites like Amazon before buying products, but looks to “word of mouth recommendations” from people in his geographic community for local services. Whether an online community of seniors can help fill those needs remains to be seen.
Age Friendly Advisor has begun populating a test version of its site with topics, reviews, surveys, and blog posts specifically targeting older users. It’s already compiling age-friendly profiles of cities such as Boston and Chicago, and towns such as Dedham and East New Market, Md., through online surveys and personal interviews. Locally, Driver and his team have stood outside venues like the Boston Public Library to interview folks over 50 about how welcoming their communities are for older people.
In a survey featured on the site, one in three retirees nationally said they would choose to live somewhere else in their later years. Where they would go hinges on factors such as family, livability, and weather. The site also lists age-friendly employers, provides caregiving resources, and offers tips on community building.
The new business is the latest launch for Age Friendly Ventures, a Waltham holding company owned by Driver and other investors that already runs two startups: RetirementJobs.com, which helps people over 50 find work, and Mature Caregivers, a full-service elder care agency operating in Massachusetts and in and around New York City. All three businesses are linked on the website, serving as what Driver calls a “review engine” for a range of senior activity that could later be expanded into other areas such as legal affairs.
Age Friendly Advisor plans to make money through advertising and sponsorships from senior living communities, home care services, and health insurers selling supplemental Medicare plans.
Zoref, the crowdsourcing researcher, conceded there could be value in sites focusing on niches like retirement homes, but said the challenge would be making them robust enough to create active user communities. “Most startups in the area of crowdsourcing fail because they don’t get critical mass,” he said.
Retired family therapist Lea Endlich, who lives in Overland Park, Kan., and spends summers on Cape Cod, said she consults online reviews to scout for vacation spots or assess the credentials of doctors. Endlich, 90, said she’d be open to sites geared to the interests of older people if they were trustworthy and well organized, but her bar is high.
“I want specific information,” she said. “You don’t need more sites. You need filtering so you can find what you want.”