Senior Science Writer
David provides advice and editorial services to the OII faculty, and writes commissioned content for our publications.
On Monday we launched the 2011 OxIS report: “Next Generation Users: The Internet in Britain” (PDF, 3.1MB) at an event at the House of Commons. The report and top findings were outlined by Professor William Dutton and myself, accompanied by comments by our host Alun Michael MP, and three representatives from sponsoring organisations – Annika Small (Chief Executive, Nominet Trust), Adrian Arthur (Web Programme Manager, British Library) and James Thickett (Director of Research and Market Intelligence, Ofcom). OII Director Professor Helen Margetts concluded the presentations.
The enormous quantity of data on Internet use and attitudes collected by the OxIS surveys provides many entry points for discussion, and our sponsors naturally focused their comments on areas where they have a particular concern. However, there are large areas of common interest; for example, how online behaviour and attitudes to the Internet have changed over time. One sponsor opened by remarking just how much has changed since the first survey they supported in 2005 – when the rise of broadband was an area of particular interest (the question was discontinued in 2011 since broadband has become basically universal in Britain). As a caveat to these large, rapid changes, the speaker also noted that the digital divide hasn’t gone away in that time; it just looks different now. A few points were consistently picked out by Alun Michael and the sponsors.
> The “Next Generation User” (NGU; ie people who make heavy use of mobile and multiple-device access) is a major development in recent years. 44% of Internet users are NGUs. They are distinctive in their disproportionate contribution to content on the Internet and their heavy use of the Internet for entertainment. NGUs are not just youth: 52% of students can be classed as NGU, compared with 51% of employed people. Obviously, in terms of real numbers, employed people in the UK vastly outnumber students.
> The rise of social networking was noted, for example with reference to the recent riots in many UK cities. The rise during the past two years has mostly been in people aged 25-55: i.e. people of prime employment age.
> Low use of government services – for example only 21% of users paying a central government tax or fine or using a central service in 2011. Similarly, not many people look for information on an MP online (15% of users), even in the 2011 election year. However, Helen Margetts pointed out that 9% of British Internet users have used the Internet to post a message in support of a political cause (ie almost a sixth of the 60% of users who take part in social networking). This was the second most popular political activity surveyed, after signing petitions (14% of Internet users sign petitions online).
> Internet non-use: 27% of British people don’t use the Internet. Ex-users are most likely to say that the Internet is too costly (66% of employed ex-users) or that they don’t have a computer (68%). 62% of non-users said they weren’t interested in the Internet, and that it was not useful to them. The low take-up and relative lack of interest in the Internet by the over 65s – who are more likely to say that they are “just not interested” (88% of retired non-users) or it is “not for people my age” (72%) – was also noted.
> While the gender gap in Internet access has disappeared, a confidence gap was noted, with women being more likely to doubt their abilities than men (eg 31% of women vs 16% of men fearing that they “might break new technologies”). However women are more likely to meet people face-to-face who they first got to know online (59% women vs 53% men), a fact that certainly suggests some degree of comfort.
> The rise of content producers was noted and welcomed by all the speakers. These active contributors (contrasting with passive consumers) are particularly important because they use the Internet to increasingly ‘take part’ in society (eg through online tools and services).
> The increasing levels of trust in online information were also noted (next generations users place the Internet very slightly behind television news in terms of institutional trust, and ahead of “major companies”, newspapers, and the Government), as well as the implications for how people use the Internet, particularly how they go about discerning safe sites and trustworthy information.
A point that was repeated several times by all the speakers was the importance of access to reliable, empirical data for research and policy-making. Certainly, the value of this series of surveys has increased over time, as long-term trends become apparent and open to analysis. The five waves of OxIS are probably the best high-quality, longitudinal data on Internet use anywhere in the world.
The 2011 OxIS Report presents a huge amount of data, however every graph and piece of analysis triggers new questions about the relationship between politics, economics, society and the Internet. More information will be made available on this site as we delve into the data.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the 2011 survey sponsors (the Nominet Trust, the British Library, Ofcom, ITV, and O2), our host Alun Michael, and everybody who came to find out about the 2011 data, and who helped to make this launch so successful.