future thinkers update

Digital Ageing and the Internet

by Paul Hudson
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Competitiveness depends on how a population learns to exploit the internet, not how many are online  
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Digital Ageing research sets customer communication challenge

Internet penetration is commonly used to benchmark a nation’s competitiveness but the true measure of a country’s standing depends on how quickly and how well its citizens have adapted to using the internet rather than how many are online.

The UK, which has internet penetration of 72%, is regarded as a leading digital nation, ranked third after Finland and the USA in a study of internet penetration of 10 western nations.

The UK, along with Germany and France, belongs to an ‘advanced cluster’  of nations with high internet penetration rates and internet diffusion within the population. However, penetration rates only scratch the surface when it comes to understanding how well a nation has adapted to the Digital Age.

Paul Hudson, chief executive of international consumer research specialist Intersperience, argues that a rigorous analysis of behavioural patterns and deeper understanding of attitudes is necessary to accurately assess the UK’s standing and forecast future trends.

Hudson said: “Our research clearly shows that in the UK we are not as ‘adapted’ as we think we are when it come to using the internet. There are wide variations in skill and confidence levels. There is a sizeable gap between the most advanced internet users and the least advanced and this is unlikely to narrow significantly in the next decade.”

Intersperience’s authoritative Digital Ageing report identifies four categories of UK internet users: Late Starters; Emerging Clusters; Compartmentalised Classes; and Optimistic Rangers.  It delivers unique insights into the behaviour of each group and analyses how their online experiences define their perspective on the world.

The key behavioural traits determining to which group a person belongs include confidence and skill levels; whether they regard the internet as a tool or an integral part of their lives; the range of sites and services they access online; motivation to improve their skills; and whether they multi-task (blending internet use with other tasks and media).

The behaviour of the least advanced internet users is very linear and rule-based while more competent users perform more tasks online but remain relatively unadventurous in exploring new experiences.

By contrast, the more advanced user groups are highly web literate but can be divided into two distinct groups, one of which is mainly task-oriented, while the other is adept at multi-tasking and keen on using the internet for leisure activities as well as work.

Hudson says: “The pace of change in internet usage in the UK has been far slower than is widely believed. Many organisations have strategic plans predicated on the existence of a homogenous group of internet users. Our research demonstrates clearly that this is not the case and it has major significance for the way organisations structure current and future strategic communication with their customers.”

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