The latest Oxford Internet Survey was published a couple of weeks ago. It’s been going every two years since 2003, so starting to build up an interesting picture over time. There’s a splendid summary by somebody called Paul Reynolds writing from New Zealand which is rather more user-friendly than the one in the report itself.
I haven’t had a chance to go through it in detail yet, but my impression is of the internet becoming more invisible as it becomes more universal. It’s gone well past being a toy for geeks, and has become a place where things just get done. More universal does not, of course, mean universal. As both this report and recent Ofcom research make clear, internet access is still patchy, even before we get to the question of which of those who do use it are using it for what. The Ofcom research focuses on home access, and records 75% as either having the internet at home or expecting to within the next six months (the text seems to say six months fairly consistently, though the line description on the chart below says twelve). The remainder split into two main groups: a slightly larger one who feel they don’t want or need internet access (‘self-exclusion’ in the chart below), and a slightly smaller one for whom the barrier is financial.
The OxIS survey is much broader covering patterns of use across a wide range of activities. Lots of it, unsurprisingly, is showing more people doing more things, perhaps reflecting the growing maturity of internet users: 43% of respondents to the survey had been using the internet for more than seven years, with only 13% with less than two years’ experience – compared with 12% and 33% respectively at the time of the 2005 survey.
But there are also some interesting qualitative changes. As the authors note:
The 2009 findings reinforce the growing perception that the social implications of the Internet are beginning to be increasingly significant, such as in the area of media use and social networks. Perhaps it has begun to approach, if not pass, a tipping point at which the social shaping and implications of the Internet are becoming more apparent. The social significance of the Internet is suggested in findings across a number of areas.
The most dramatic of those is the growth in people who use the internet to ‘Update or create a profile in a social networking site’ – 49% in 2009 as compared with 17% in 2007, and with no earlier data presumably because it didn’t occur to anyone to ask the question. Posting pictures and photos is also growing fast, from 18 to 28 to 44% between 2005 and 2009.
Some of the same maturity is coming through in the use of government services. In 2005, 39% had used at least one online government service, but 61% had used none. In 2009, those proportions had almost precisely reversed: 59% have used at least one government service and 41% had used none. That’s useful progress, but falls a long way short of the internet being a primary channel for government services, even among internet users:
The percentage of Internet users interacting with e-government has been increasing since 2003—but remains lower than for e-commerce or general information seeking. Also, the UK remains low in comparison with other European countries with respect to e-Government, such as in interacting with ‘public authorities online’… Information seeking remains the most common egovernment activity, similar to the way as e-commerce developed (although slower). However, the frequency of online transactions such as paying for government services, taxes, fines and licenses, has started to increase.
Both the OxIS and Ofcom reports are well worth reading and reflecting on by anybody interested in public service delivery. They give a measure of the importance of the commitments in Digital Britain to address the issue of digital inclusion.
Final snarky note. Both the OxIS and Ofcom reports are available only as PDF documents which makes them hard to use and difficult to refer to. Digital Britain, meanwhile, has been republished in a way primarily designed to support commenting, but also supporting much more detailed linking, which is a big step forward if still not yet ideal.