On a train, not long ago: "Look, Herbert, again, there’s only an Internet address shown" It is an elderly woman who is leafing through a magazine. Herbert, who is also of a certain age, responds: "Mm hmm, then just send them an e-mail."
Are these two typical users? Probably not. Many people over the age of 60 have yet to take a shine to the Internet. This is no surprise, of course, considering that they did not grow up with the technology. Furthermore, taking the first step is often a difficult undertaking. The large number of technical terms alone presents an obstacle that is not necessarily easily overcome by some: what are tags, shouts, sharepoints…?
But don’t a significant number of older people also use the Internet? Yes, without a doubt, otherwise there wouldn’t be a special nickname for them: silver surfers. According to recent findings by the Study Group Online Research (AGOF) in Germany, approximately 64 percent of people aged 50 to 59 use the Internet, whereas only 26 percent of the over 60 crowd do. Incidentally, silver surfers are an extremely interesting target group for Internet marketing. This is because their age group is considered to have greater buying power and experience has shown that an above average percentage of them engage in online shopping – payment via COD, of course. ;-)
In general, the interests of many silver surfers revolve increasingly around topics such as health, lifestyle and travel. Older users, however, are not always pleased with the content they find on the web. Whereas three-quarters of 18 to 24 year olds in the USA considered web content to be appropriate for their age group, only one-fifth of the 55 plus crowd was satisfied. There is also a lot of catching up to do with regard to usability aspects such as navigation and design, although this is changing a great deal. We shall see how long the Internet will continue to prescribe to the theme that is ever-present in advertisements: that young is beautiful.
The Internet is of course in a state of continued development, namely by its own users. Web 2.0 is hot at the moment – anyone can be a web author. Static content is out and dynamism is in. For this reason, social networks are very trendy these days – yesterday MySpace was on top, today it’s Facebook and tomorrow it will be Flickr or Digg. In any event, blogs, forums and chat rooms have been popular with users for quite some time.
Unsurprisingly, these methods of communication are not always carried out in a courteous manner, as is often the case in the "real world" as well. Perhaps the situation is further aggravated by the element of anonymity that tempts users to utilise words that they would otherwise not employ, were their interlocutor sitting across from them. As a result, certain guidelines for proper decorum have been established: netiquette and chatiquette. The specifications for each vary from one forum or chat room to the next but the underlying principle is always the same: one should never forget that a human being is sitting on the other end as well…
Contrary to how it is made out to be by die-hard outsiders, in this respect, life "on the net" is not so different from the one in the "real world". Incidentally, therein lies a common disaccord between those who grew up with the Internet (digital natives) and those who began using it later on in life (digital immigrants): For the former, the net is an integral part of life, whereas for the latter, it represents a world that is yet to be conquered. Although this may sometimes lead to communication difficulties, this is nevertheless a manageable issue.
What else are Internet users interested in – and what differences, if any, are there between male and female users? Let’s have another look at that German study: As is the case in many other countries, the majority of Internet users in Germany – approximately 54 percent – are male. It is comparable to the average age of the population, where the difference is getting smaller.
What topics are users of each gender interested in? The answer to that question is almost stereotypical: men are generally more interested in topics relating to sports and product test results, whereas women are usually more fascinated by stars and celebrities than their male counterparts.
Is it safe to assume then that every man who has a PC with an Internet connection will navigate directly to a sports website so that he can check the daily scores? And that every woman will only browse pages filled with rumours and gossip? Heavens no! Neither of these topics is among the primary focuses of most Internet users. So what are their priorities then? The answer is private e-mails, then search engine and web catalogue enquiries, world news reports and online shopping. Incidentally, surfing takes place primarily at home.
Not only visionaries abuse the term "worldwide". we also employ the word in a somewhat careless manner from time to time. Although we may not realise it on a day-to-day basis, in actuality, we are still a considerable ways away from a network that is truly global.
You have your doubts? Well, here is something to consider: For the following countries, try to estimate the percentage of the population who are Internet users: Albania, Austria, Greenland, Paraguay, Chile, Ghana, Tanzania, Egypt, Iran, Georgia, India, China, New Zealand?
It’s not as easy as it seems, is it?
Here are the current figures according to Internet World Stats: Albania 16%, Austria 68.3%, Greenland 90.3%, Paraguay 7.8%, Chile 50.9%, Ghana 3.8%, Tanzania 1%, Egypt 12.9%, Iran 34.9%, Georgia 7.8%, India 7.1%, China 22.4%, New Zealand 80.5%.
Even when taking into consideration just this small selection of countries, the differences are substantial. As far as a comparison between continents is concerned, the greatest extremes were North America with 74.4 percent and Africa with 5.6 percent. Locations with relatively few Internet users naturally demonstrate the greatest growth rates. For example, the number of users in Africa multiplied by twelve between 2000 and 2008. At the same time, the upsurge in the Middle East has been even more rapid.
Unsurprisingly, Asia has the most Internet users in a matter of absolute figures. Incidentally, user behaviour there is a bit different than it is here in Europe. On average, an Asian user with an Internet connection will spend considerably more time on the net than a European user generally would.
What about the Internet situation in developing countries? Naturally it is less widespread there, if for no other reason than financial grounds. However, aside from the fact that computers and hardware are often too costly for many people, the necessary infrastructure is also lacking. Whereas electric power and fibre glass cabling is common in first and second world countries, it simply does not exist in many other places. Solutions are however being explored. For example, the project "O3b Networks" (Other Three Billion), which is financed primarily by Google Inc., Liberty Global Inc. and HSBC Principal Investments, will make it possible for approximately three billion people from third world countries to acquire inexpensive Internet access via satellite. Information can be transmitted wirelessly up to 60 kilometres away via WiMAX and 3G mobile telecommunications devices.
In short, the worldwide web is becoming ever more global over time.