Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Thursday, July 31, 2008

World Internet Project

Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked about the World Internet Project – a survey of how New Zealanders use the Internet, set in context by comparing it to other surveys around the world. The WIP was run in New Zealand by AUT University and partly funded by InternetNZ.

There are some intriguing results to the survey. Read on for my speaking notes or listen to the podcast.

The World Internet Project is a way of measuring the impact of Internet in countries around the world. Its been running for seven years or so in the US, and its been spreading to other countries, so now there is a reasonable amount of history and some comparative data.

Q: What sort of things do they measure?

A: They measure how often people use the Internet, how they use it, what they use it for and so forth. And how it changes people’s lives in other respects.

Q: What do you mean by that?

A: Most people report a great increase in the contact they have with friends and family overseas. Well, duh. But many also report a drop in time spent face to face with their immediate family.

Q: Who does use the Internet in New Zealand?

A: A large majority of us. 78% according to the survey. And the patterns of who uses are interesting, not what you might expect. There are equal numbers of men and women, for instance, which explodes the myth of the male computer nerd being the only people on the Internet. And that’s true when you ask people to self-rate their ability to use the Internet – no difference between men and women. And the age profile is relatively flat until you get out to the 70 and 80s.

Q: People 70+ tend to use the Internet less than others?

A: Yes, but there’s no real difference in age groups that are younger than 70. And when you look at ethnicity – the story there is interesting as well. There are about 10% fewer Maori than Pakeha online, which probably won’t surprise people, but Pasifika people are higher, almost as high as Pakeha. And Asian people are way out in front with almost 100% being Internet users.

Q: Presumably this is all correlated to household income.

A: It is to some extent in that people with the lowest incomes have lower usage patterns than average – but still above 60% – and the people on the highest have more usage than average. But that’s still hard to explain Pasifika being higher than Maori.

Another interesting thing is the proportion who are heavy users of the Internet – that’s people who use it more than 20 hours a week at home. This kind of goes the other way from the overall number using it – more Maori are heavy users than Pakeha, although there are more Asians again. The 20 something age group has the biggest proportion of heavy users, and in the income stakes, it’s people whose household income is a bit less than average who are most likely to be heavy users. Above the average income, the proportion of heavy users drops off very sharply, so people with high incomes are all using the Internet they aren’t using it for 20 hours a week at home.

Q: They have other things to do!

A: They must do.

Q: What are people doing with the Internet?

A: A lot are using it for entertainment. About 40% of people said it was important for entertainment.

Q: Is that playing games online?

A: Mostly not – there was a survey question about online game playing and it’s a minority interest – less than 10%, and Pakeha are particularly low on this one. There were questions in the survey about posting visual material online – that means putting your photos on Flickr and you videos on Youtube I guess – and about a third of us do that. There was a question about blogging, and only about 10% of New Zealand Internet users keep a blog, although among Asian New Zealanders that number is 40%.

Q: What about Facebook and the like?

A: Social networking sites, like Facebook, Myspace and Bebo. About a third of those visit those at least weekly. High numbers for younger people as you might expect, and huge numbers for Pasifika peoples in particular.

Q: What else are people doing online? Trademe?

A: very likely, but there wasn’t a survey question about that. There was one about meeting people online. Over half the 20-somethings in the survey make friends with people online. And that one has an interesting ethnic make up – it’s us reserved Pakeha who do that least.

And some people go on to meet people in the flesh after an Internet meeting.

Q: Aren’t we supposed to be careful about that?

A: Absolutely, that’s the advice we give young people and it’s important advice. But its mostly 30s and older who go on to meet people face to face which suggests that the advice to young people is being heeded.

Q: So this is online dating?

A: It could be that, but it’s not necessarily, it could just be professional or social contact online leading to meeting people at events or meetings. I have many friends I have only met physically once or twice, even though I’ve corresponded a lot by email.

And online banking – we are ahead of just about the whole world in people using the Internet for banking.

Q: Why is that, do you think?

A: I can only guess – but one bank here – ASB – launched its online service a long time ago, and launched an Internet-only subsidiary for good measure. At the time, the head of the bank was Ralph Norris, who went on to rescue Air New Zealand – which you will notice is a big online user as well – and now runs Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Ralph came from an IT background.

Q: Down to one person, you think?

A: Partly, but also down to the old Kiwi number 8 wire thing, which works well on the Internet. Just go out and build something and see if your customers like it, that kind of thing. Also, online banking works reasonably well on dial-up, and we still have way too much dial-up in this country.

Q: We are behind in broadband?

A: Yes, for a first world country, we have very very low uptake of broadband. I don’t have the comparative numbers because they haven’t been released yet – I just saw a presentation with some comparative numbers in but the report they have given me is just the New Zealand figures.

Another really interesting slide that was in the presentation but isn’t in the written report, is about people trusting information from different sources. Internet users trust other information sources – TV, radio, newspapers – less than people who don’t use the Internet. It’s almost as though using the Internet makes you more cynical about other forms of media.

Q: So, the take-aways from the survey?

A: New Zealanders are big Internet users despite our low broadband uptake. People who use it come rely on it. Nearly two thirds of those of us who use it think it would be problem if the Internet were to be taken away. Essentially, the Internet is a core part of most New Zealanders’ lives. Not bad for a geek toy!


The World Internet Project in New Zealand, and Richard Wood’s summary of it.

posted by colin at 11:55 am  


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