Global Internet project offers snapshot of Aussie Internet use

Survey finds strong reliance on Internet for study purposes, but only half believe information is reliable.

The World Internet Project has released the results of its first ever global survey of Internet use.

Bringing together researchers from across the globe, the World Internet Project has painted a clearer picture of our online behaviour, according to Jeffrey I. Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication.

“We believe this annual survey will build a new level of understanding about the worldwide use of the Internet,” he said.

In 2008 participating countries included Australia, Canada, China, Columbia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel, Macao, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States.

According to the Australian researchers, Professor Julian Thomas and Scott Ewing of Melbourne-based Swinburne University, one of the most striking differences between Australia and some other developed countries is the way adults use the Internet for educational purposes.

“In Australia, 89 percent of students aged over 18 used the Internet for school related work at least once a week. The figure for US students is similar, at 84 percent,” said Thomas. “However, in New Zealand for example, this figure is closer to 50 per cent.”

This result surprised the Australian researchers who attribute the students’ dependency on the Internet for their research to the high number of Australian university students who complete their degrees while still living in the family home.

Compared to other countries, cost was a relatively minor issue for Australian non-users, with only two percent reporting that they did not use the Internet because it was too expensive, highlighting the role still being played by cheaper dial-up Internet in Australia.

In the survey, the respondents who took part from Australia, about 1,000, were asked how important the Internet was to them, compared with newspapers, television, radio and magazines.

For regular Internet users, Internet use came out as more important than all forms of media, said Ewing. In addition, some two thirds of these regular Internet users, would go to the Internet first if there was a significant international story breaking.

“Once you get used to the Internet as a place to look for things, it makes other information sources like newspapers look slow. With the Mumbai disaster, that 24 hour gap between newspapers seems like a long time to wait for news for the people capable of flicking a switch and firing up the Web browser,” said Ewing.

“That ability to roam news sources on the Internet is incredibly powerful. People aren’t constrained by a particular newspaper or a particular television network. Internet news also doesn’t take a huge amount of bandwidth.”

According to the survey, 94 percent of Australians under 24 use the Internet, compared with only 29 percent of Australians aged 65 or over.

However, almost 60 per cent of global Internet-users felt that at least half of the information found on the Internet was unreliable.

“This survey is going to be really interesting to track over time,” said Thomas. “As the years go by, I have no doubt the results will change dramatically.”

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Kathryn Edwards

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