Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The State of the Internet

John Horrigan serves as associate director of research for the Pew Internet & American Life Project. What follows is a rough transcript of his remarks. Corrections welcome.

When David asked us to talk here, the topic was the State of the Internet, which seems heavy with gravitas. Because I research the users of the Internet, I think I'll focus on the users. We do a lot of random phone dialing interviews, and I thought I'd share some of the insights we've learned about Internet usage patterns.

There's a large variety of Internet users. Our data shows that the distribution is very interesting. For lots of American adults, the Internet is just peripheral to their lives. Given that not everyone is an ardent user of ICT, even with broadband deployment and getting infrastructure right, we're still not going to hit adoption nirvana. I want to talk about those frictions.

Let me share some of the things we've learned about the people online over the last few years. We've focused on the many-to-many Internet. More than 20 million Americans were active in online communities even with dial up. They were willing to clear the substantial slowness of dial up.

2004 was the first time we picked up on more people having broadband at home than dial-up users. As broadband began to gain a foothold, we saw not just many-to-many communication but many-to-many participation. E-healthcare is a great example of that. People share a lot of information online to participate in their healthcare with their doctors.

We see 54% of Americans with broadband at home. The always-on information appliance is now in line with the always-present information appliance. 42% of people with wireless devices use their handheld device to do something other than make a phone call. We're seeing people really get engaged. It's not unlike the dial-up hurdle in 2000. People are often dealing with slow connection speeds.

In 2006 we did a typology of different Internet users, looking at their assets and attitudes. Some are just peripheral users. Some people have a hard time trouble shooting their devices. They might have trouble getting broadband to function correctly in their home. These people tell us they just don't find the Internet that useful to their lives. They don't see a lot of content that's relevant to them. Usability and content are two important barriers.

In terms of Carlota Perez's book about technological transformation, we're currently in the installation phase. As we start to see institutions adapt to the information revolution, we need to keep in mind the users. Their rate of adaptation might be different than that of institutions. Think about the user experience and the frictions that people encounter while using technology.

There's a derath of information available about broadband technology and its quality. I'm going to turn the podium over to Drew so he can tell us just where this technology is.

Drew Clark is founder and executive director of Broadband Census and an active blogger to boot. Usual disclaimers apply.

We invite people to share information about their broadband. We've partnered with the Pew Internet project to bolster the research they're doing on broadband adoption. The site invites people to enter in their ZIP code. The government won't release information about who provides broadband service in a given area. In my ZIP code, the FCC says there are 15 providers in McLean, Virginia. Our census covers three. You can rate the service, and you can take our speed test.

There are other provider who are doing some piece of this. There are plenty of speed tests. That's really positive. There's not enough information abou the availability and quality of broadband. As soon as we can compare our broadband to our neighbor's broadband, we can make better decisions. Think of it like the real estate market. You can learn a lot about a neighborhood, but in broadband, there's not a lot of power on the consumer side.

We use the NDT network diagnostic tester used by Internet2 to do the speed test. More broadly, though, what we're trying to do is build a pool of data that's useful to a lot of constitutencies. Our speed test tends to underestimate, so there's always something to refine. We always welcome feedback, input, and your engagement.

The last thing I would want to say is to encourage you to get involved. There are three things I encourage you to do. Take the speed test yourself. Grab a button for your blog. And we're working to get these committees together.

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