Internet in Australia report released

The Australian Research Centre for Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation has just released the results of the CCi Digital Futures Report, “The Internet in Australia”. Here is an abridged summary of the findings:

Most Australians are internet users…

The overwhelming majority of Australians are internet users…. almost three quarters of Australians had used the internet in the past three months. Just under four in five home connections are broadband.

… but there is still a digital divide.

A fifth of the population have never used the internet, while just fewer than one in ten Australians are ex-users. Ex-users and non-users have different reasons for not using the internet. Ex-users are more likely to cite being too busy or not having a computer or internet connection while non-users are more likely to say they are confused by the technology or have no interest in the internet.

The internet in Australia is maturing and broadband is still growing

The internet is a fairly mature technology in Australia. A majority of internet users are ‘experienced users’, having used for between six and ten years. Just under one in five are ‘old hands’ (10 years or more). A very small proportion of users had taken up use in the last year. Broadband access however, is still in a rapid take-up phase.

The internet is an important way for people to keep in touch

Overall internet use has increased the time people spend communicating with friends and family. On the other hand, for a significant proportion of people their internet use has resulted in less time spent face-to-face with household members. Email is the most popular means for communicating online. Over three quarters … check their email at least once a day. Instant messaging is also a popular communications tool with one in five users messaging daily. Most people do not make phone calls over the internet but those that do use it very regularly.

The internet changes media use

For users the internet is now their most important source of information. Just under seven in ten users described the internet as ‘important’ or ‘very important’ compared to a third for television and less than a half for newspapers or radio.

Internet users spend less time watching television, listening to radio and reading newspapers than nonusers.

Television watching is the media-related activity most affected by internet use. Four in ten users say they watch less television since access while less than a quarter feel they read newspapers or books less.

Overall, internet users rate the internet as reliable an information source as newspapers and more reliable than television.

The internet is a major source of entertainment

The internet is an increasingly important source of entertainment, however it is yet to really challenge television or even radio for most users. The proportion of users who describe the internet as a very important source of entertainment is just slightly less than the proportion for television. Downloading or listening to music online, surfing or browsing the web, finding out information about food such as recipes, looking for information about restaurants and visiting sites dedicated to particular artists are the most popular entertainment-related internet activities.

The internet enables people’s creativity

Users are positive about the impact of internet use on creativity and productivity. A half felt internet access had improved their work performance and less than one in twenty thought it had deteriorated. Few internet users have a personal website or blog. Around a quarter post their photographs online while one in twenty post video footage.

The internet changes politics

Just under a half of users agreed that the internet has become important for the political campaign process. Close to a third of non-users said they did not know if this was the case while just over a third agreed. Overall non-users were more sceptical about the internets’ capacity to empower citizens than users. Perhaps more importantly, a sizeable proportion of non-users simply didn’t know what impact the internet was having on politics.

People shop online but they have reservations

Just under a half … purchased at least one product a month. Those who used the internet to purchase spent on average $200 per month online (the median amount spent was $100). More than eight in ten users research products online. Making travel bookings, paying bills, banking and purchasing event tickets were all popular online activities.

A majority of users are ‘very’ or ‘extremely concerned’ about credit card security online. In relation to privacy issues involved with e-commerce the figure is just under a half.

Yeah, I’ll get back to you on that one…

To the surprise of practically no one, a new Australian study has found that the most common response to enquiries sent via a company’s ‘Contact Us’ page on their website is… thundering silence.

The company conducting the study, contact centre company Strike Force Sales, sent email enquiries to 460 companies, and 59% of them never replied. Those that did reply took an average of nearly two days to reply. As Strike Force Sales MD Chris Moriarty said, “No wonder I reach for the phone! Who wants to wait that long?”

Only 15% responded by phone, and they took nearly 3 days to do so. No industry sector fared very well; e.g., only 38% of retailers replied to enquiries.

Moriarty writes, “I still remember the three-ring rule… a business has to answer the phone within three rings in case the person phoning in decides to hang up and try another supplier. That was back in the 1970s when business moved at a much slower pace than today. If a prospective client is trying to get in touch with your business, what are the chances they are prepared to wait 1 day, 17 hours and 59 minutes for you to respond? What are the chances they are going to persist if you don’t respond at all… not ever?”

Amen to that, brother! Why bother providing your email address if you’re not prepared to provide the service that goes with it? What I’d really like to know is why on earth companies keep doing this? Those that are quick to respond are certainly reaping the rewards. It beggars belief what makes companies do this (or rather, not do this)…

Social networking is ‘the new black’

At the Supernova technology conference in San Francisco last month, there were plenty of practical examples of how social networking is being used in day-to-day life. A report on the conference on the Knowledge@Wharton site included comments from Google’s director of product management, Joe Kraus, who said, “People have been endlessly fascinated by one another for a very long time. Social networking is not new; we just have new ways to do it.”

He cited as an example “his own recent behavior in choosing an anniversary gift for his wife. He searched and found that candy is traditional for a sixth anniversary, then set up a message on his G-mail account, saying he needed ideas for a candy-based gift.

“A friend emailed to tell him of an extraordinary baker who constructs specialty cakes and, thanks to her suggestion, his sixth anniversary gift became an elaborate cake in the shape of a colorful purse. So, said Kraus, he went from solitary information discovery to social information discovery – and a much better result than he could have achieved on his own.”

 “…Most important, Kraus sees the web eventually becoming entirely social. ‘Today, social computing is something you do at a specific site,” said Kraus. “But we’re realizing that being social is not a site. It’s a concept.’

“We won’t get to that entirely social web, he added, until we find ways to allow users to do three things: establish a single identity to log on to many sites; share private resources such as photos or contact lists without handing out private credentials (such as an email account password); and distribute information across multiple social applications.”

Long Tail, or tall tale?

A story in the Wall Street Journal this week reviews an article by a Harvard marketing professor in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review which takes issue with the ‘Long Tail’ concept, which says the success of Internet e-commerce models hinges on the idea of selling a few of a lot of things, rather than a lot of a few things (think Amazon and the ability to obtain obscure titles you would never see in a best-seller driven bricks-and-mortar bookstore).

The Wall Street Journal article reports that the professor who wrote the articleand her research team “looked at data for online video rentals and song purchases, and discovered that the patterns by which people shop online are essentially the same as the ones from offline. Not only do hits and blockbusters remain every bit as important online, but the evidence suggests that the Web is actually causing their role to grow, not shrink.”

Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired Magazine, who has made a new career out of coining the term and developing the Long Tail concept, has already responded to the article, saying much of the difference between his analysis and hers involved how hits and non-hits, or “head” and “tail” in the book’s lingo, are measured. Aside from that, he was generous in praising the article, and said he welcomed the sort of rigorous scrutiny the theory was getting.