Average users are online for 15 hours a week

Stats time again, and yesterday Ofcom launched their 2012 Adults: media use and attitudes report, which provides an overview of media use, attitudes and understanding amongst UK adults. I’m always glad to have a report to get my teeth into, and found lots of interesting numbers in this one. Most interestingly for us, the report says 79% of adults in the UK now use the internet somewhere – at home, at work, on the bus with a smartphone – up from 56% in 2005 (you might have noticed this is different from the ONS stats we quoted a few weeks ago, and from the OxIS report published last year. I’ll blog again soon about why these differences exist and what they mean.)

There were lots of other interesting data in the report. The average user now says they’re online for 15 hours a week, up from 10 hours since 2005. We’re very high-tech here and work in the cloud, so it can sometimes feel like I can spend 15 hours online in one day! But it’s really interesting that people are finding an extra 5 hours in their week to be online, and am sure this is down to the huge rise in mobile internet usage, with smartphone use up to 55% from 39%; and 79% of adults now going online on any device in any location. Having a smartphone does certainly help fill the dead hours spent on trains and waiting for buses!

And it’s no surprise that social networking is growing – with 59% of adult internet users now having a profile on a social networking site, up from 22% in 2007. That year (2007), we published our network development plan where we rated “online residents” or social networkers as more advanced internet users than bloggers, publishers of photos and content and online transactors – how wrong we were, with social networking now one of the most accessible things you can do on the web.  It’s funny to think the example we gave for the “online resident” was a mySpace user, which just goes to show how much things have changed.

Reports like these are a great way of casting an eye back over the digital skills landscape, and measuring where we are now, but one thing it does make clear is just how hard it is to predict what’s coming next. Who’s to know what’s round the corner, and whether the next Facebook is already out there, slowly gaining a following. Only time will tell!

Can we top the European league?

This week is European Get online week, a continent-wide campaign inspired by our very own UK campaign which happens every October. The European campaign kicks off today and runs all week, and we’re supporting it here in the UK.

Taking part in the campaign got me thinking about statistics, and how the UK stacks up against its European neighbours. With the European Football Championships coming up, it might make sense to think of us in terms of a league – and we’re not doing badly. We’re 11th in the table of online European countries – and we’re ahead of the usual footballing suspects like France, Spain and Germany.

However, we’re not in the finals yet, and it’s the Scandinavian countries like Norway and Sweden who look like they will be lifting the cup. No-one is really quite clear why these countries have raced ahead, but there is certainly a lot we could learn from them. For a start, there is less inequality full-stop in these countries, and this inequality filters down into other areas of life, which means more people get online.

Governments in Scandinavia are also fully committed to getting their citizens online, with Finland even declaring the internet as a human right. This is a pretty strong statement, and although our government is committed to improving broadband penetration as well as digital skills, they’ve yet to make such a strong statement in support of it.

I’m pretty proud that the UK’s done so well, with around 84% of our population online. But I’m never one to rest on my laurels, and so while we’re coming together as a continent to celebrate the joys of being online, what better time to call for even greater collaboration, greater support and a harder push to ensure we can reach our Scandinavian neighbours at the top of the table –  and maybe even lift the cup.

We’re leading a European Treasure Hunt (online Quiz) this week on twitter, with the clues coming from @ukonlinecentres and twitter hashtag #GOW12. I’ve just checked the counter on our homepage and already more than 7,000 Europeans have got online just this morning.

The lowdown on our first research symposium

Yesterday, we held our first research symposium (which you might have noticed I’ve mentioned before!) at the LSE in London. It was a great day, full of interesting findings, challenging questions and lively discussion. I’d firstly like to thank Ellen Helsper and the LSE Media Policy Unit for hosting the event, helping to organise the day and sharing their knowledge.

I’d also like to thank everyone that came along to share what they’re doing in the social digital sphere, what they think we’re not asking and what they think has (and hasn’t) worked so far.

I talked in my last blog about how far we’d come in the last seven years getting people online, but hearing from Grant Blank of Oxis I realised we still have a long way to go. The most shocking of the statistics he shared was that only 31% of people with no qualifications use the internet, compared to 91% of those with a higher education qualification. There were also lots of interesting statistics around ex-users, and the barriers (often cost-related) that they face to being online. This is something I found really interesting, and I’m looking forward to delving into this in more detail. Grant also highlighted the extent of ‘proxy use of the internet’: a staggering 62 per cent of ex-users of the internet get someone else to use the internet on their behalf.

Despite the diverse group, which included stats nerds like me, policy people, researchers and academics, we found a consensus around a lot of things – particularly around the issue of how difficult it is to do any measurement on social impact. We talked about this in detail, and one of the conclusions we reached was that maybe to discover what works, we might first need work out what doesn’t. The question of social impact is one I knew would be challenging, and so it’s almost reassuring to know that, while many funders demand a robust model of social accounting, organisations in all sectors are struggling to find one that really works – we’re not the only ones!

Another point of consensus was into to the link between social inclusion and digital inclusion policy and practice. Agreement in the room was clear – we can’t address digital exclusion without addressing social exclusion, and its only by linking action on both that we’ll be able to help close the divide that still exists. 

While we found common ground in many instances, we couldn’t agree on everything. I’m still not convinced that internet TV is the thing that will get everyone online, although judging by the mood in the room I’m in the minority on this one.  

An event like this was never going to answer the big questions, but what it did do was bring a group of people together that made me feel really proud to be working in this field, alongside some really passionate and inspired people. One agreement we definitely did come to was that this won’t be a one-off, so you can look forward to more blogs from me on a similar subject in the future. In the meantime, why not take a look at the LSE’s Social Digital blog series to read the views of some of the symposium’s other attendees.


A blast from the past – the UK online centres research timeline

I’m really excited about the research symposium we’re holding tomorrow in London – and I was even more excited when I learnt that “symposium” is the Greek for drinking party. Unfortunately, I can’t promise anyone coming to the symposium a glass of wine, but I think I can promise knowledge which is a pretty good substitute, and doesn’t give you a hangover!

Planning for the symposium started me thinking about the great research we’ve done in the past, so I had a scrabble around the office and found a set of UK online centres research reports, dating all the way back to 2005.

One thing that struck me reading them is how much some things have changed, and others haven’t. Our first report, from March 2005, focussed on the delivery of e-government services. Although we now call it “digital by default”, seven years later a different government is as committed to online service delivery as the previous one. In fact, the quote from one of the first digital policy papers, Connecting the UK: The Digital Stategy, applies today: “ICT can either create the new class divide or can reduce barriers. Our policies have to ensure the latter.”

In 2007, we published Understanding digital inclusion, a groundbreaking piece of research that brought together 40 different sources to define what we meant by digital inclusion, and the barriers that people face when getting online. This report was so important to the landscape at the time, and marks a nice parallel with tomorrow’s symposium where again we’ll be bringing together a group of people to share their work and define the landscape.

In 2008, we published a report on the economic benefits of digital inclusion, where we attached a cost to getting the population online, not only to bring savings to the government but to stimulate economic growth. This was one of the most important things we did, and really helped to prove why the internet wasn’t just a nice-to-have, but something vital for the whole country.

Later that same year, we published Digital inclusion, social impact: a research study, which investigated the social impact the web has on communities, something which is again playing a major role in the work we’re doing.

Times might have changed, but our commitment to policy and research, as well as the delivery side of digital skills, hasn’t. We’re not printing the same glossy reports we were a few years ago, but we’re still dedicated to leading the way in digital skills research. In February, we published our Jobs and the internet white paper. It was only available online, because of course we’re digital by default now, but it provided a vital insight into why, with so many people out of work, being online has never been more important. And one thing that definitely has changed is the number of people who are offline. It’s surprising, even to me, to look back on our first research report from 2005 when 51% – the majority of the population were offline. Today, it’s 8.2 million – just 16.3% of the adult population, showing just how far we’ve come. I’m really excited about tomorrow, not because I think we’ll find the silver bullet, but because I think by getting such bright minds in a room together we should all be able to learn something which will make all of our work that little bit easier.

You can take a look through our research on our website here

We’ve got the data – now we need to work together

Next week, we’re holding a research symposium together with LSE Media Policy Project. I’ve written a blog for them here on my thoughts about the digital skills landscape and what I’m hoping we can gain from the symposium. I’ve shared this post below. 

There are a lot of people who’ve got a stake in digital skills, as Ellen’s already mentioned in the blog she posted earlier this week. In a lot of ways, this is great. Every little helps when getting people online and so the more people that can help, the better!

The only downside is that, with lots of different partners all working single-handedly to bridge the digital divide, we can sometimes get a bit caught up in doing our own thing and can forget to pop our heads up and remind everyone else just what, why and how effective what we’re doing is.

Here at UK online centres we’re pretty good at measuring the impact of the work we’re doing. In fact, measuring the social impact of the work we do in communities is something we’ll be really stepping up in the coming months, and this is something we’ll tell you more about at the symposium.

We’re good at measuring our impact, because we know how important it is – to us, to our partners and most importantly to our funders. Most of the partners we work with are pretty good at measuring their impact too. But the issue for me, and what I’m hoping we can address at the symposium, is one of collaboration.  In order to be sure of the real impact we’re having on influencing behaviour, we have to share our knowledge, expertise and findings so we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet.

The list of attendees for the symposium is pretty impressive, and I’m sure all of you attending will be really keen to share what you’ve been doing – and I don’t blame you! I’m sure it will be a fantastic forum to bring together a like-minded group of people so we can all make sure we’re working to a similar goal. I can’t wait to see you there!

And so, the awards season begins!

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be able to take a trip up to the top of the BT Tower for the launch of Abiltynet’s Technology4Good awards – and the rain even cleared long enough so we could all appreciate the fantastic view over London! The venue was the perfect setting to celebrate these awards, the Oscars for those who improve lives through IT, and the fact that the awards are now entering their second year shows just how popular they’ve been, and how important it is to celebrate some of the great work being done in this area.

The launch of the awards took me back to one of the very first blogs I wrote last year, about a really inspiring project in Stockport that won the Community Impact Award. Anne Wallace had run a fish and chip shop in the area for years, and when the local precinct started to suffer the ill effects of the recession she decided to do something about it – in the way all good community leaders do. So, along with her daughter Nicola, she opened up a coffee shop to inject some life into the area, and began running computer classes which brought the older and younger generations together.

I meet Anne quite a lot at various events (I’m even off to visit the fish and chip shop tomorrow), and she never fails to inspire me.  And judging by the all the talk yesterday about the “fish and chip lady” – which I’m sure she won’t mind being referred to as- I’m not the only one to take inspiration from Anne. I’m delighted she won the award, and that the work she and Nicola are doing in their town is being talked about in such high places (excuse the pun!)

We’re sponsoring the Community Impact Award again year, and I’m hoping we’ll see lots more projects like Starting Point that demonstrate the real impact small projects can have on communities. Luckily, talking to Anne and Nicola has reassured me that the awards don’t just look nice on the mantelpiece (although they do look pretty cool!), but that winning the award for them has really opened doors with partners, both in their community and nationally.

We might be sponsoring the Community Impact Award, but there are lots of other categories which I’d really encourage you to apply for, whatever you’re doing to use technology to improve lives. I’m helping to judge the awards again, so please do make my job as hard as possible – I can’t wait to read again about all the great initiatives out there. May be the best one win!