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Internet use in the UK – implications from Ofcom’s research for publishers

Apart from photo sharing and social networking, most internet users have little interest in UGC

I’ve just been scanning through the internet section of Ofcom’s latest report on The Communications Market 2010. As always, it’s an essential read and this year the body have done a beautiful job in publishing it online with unique URLs for each passage of the document, and downloadable CSV and PDF files for each piece of data.

Here are what I think are the key points for those specifically interested in online journalism and publishing:

1: Mobile is genuinely significant: 23% of UK users now access the web on mobile phones (but 27% still have no access to the web on any device).

Implication: We should be thinking about mobile as another medium, with different generic qualities to print, broadcast or web, and different consumption and distribution patterns.

2: 23% of time spent online is on social networks – and there has been a 10% rise in the numbers with a social media profile across all demographics. Mobile emerges as an important platform for social media access, particularly among 16-24-year-olds. Twitter is has 1m more unique visitors than MySpace, but Facebook has 20m more than Twitter.

Implication: We should have social network strategies not only around distributing content but also commercial possibilities such as embedded advertising, diverting marketing budget, etc.

3: Display advertising grew slightly, but search advertising continues to gain market share.

Implication: Not good news for publishers – the question to ask might be: why? Is it because of the mass market search engines enjoy? Or the measurability of being able to advertise against search terms? Is that something news websites can offer too – or something similar?

4: 48% of 24-34 year olds use the internet to keep up with news – more than any other age group – older people are least interested in news online.

Implication: confirms not only that our online audiences are different demographically, but young people are interested in news. What’s missing is an elaboration of what they consider ‘keeping up with news’ – that doesn’t necessarily mean checking a news website, but might include letting news come to them via social networks, email, or finding ‘news’ about their friends.

5: Google literacy - only 20% think search results are unbiased & accurate; 54% are critical.

Implication: surprising, and challenges some assumptions.

6: Google Image Search becomes a significant search engine on its own, above all other general search engines (Bing, Yahoo, MSN) apart from Google’s main search portal. Curiously, YouTube is not listed, although it is widely known that it accounts for more searches than Yahoo! I am guessing it was not classified separately as a search engine (it is, however, the second most popular search term, after ‘Facebook’).

Implication: emphasises the importance of SEO for images, but also the growing popularity of vertical search engines. A news organisation that created an effective search facility either for its own site (most news website search facilities are not very good) or in its field could reap some benefits longer term.

7: UGC is changing – there is an overall decline in uploading and adding content. “The only age group in which this figure did not fall since 2009 was 45-64 year olds, while the number
of 15-24 year olds claiming to upload content fell by 10 percentage points.”

That said, in the detail there are increases in the numbers of users who have created UGC in certain categories – there was an 8% increase in those who have commented on blogs, for example, and a 6% increase in those who have uploaded images to a website. It may be that UGC activity is being concentrated in social networks (the numbers who have created a social network profile doubled from 22% to 44%)

Implication: There seems to be a limit to the people who will contribute content online (even where there were increases, this appears to be drawn from the proportion of people who previously wanted to contribute content online – see image at top of post). And these appear to be gravitating towards particular communities, i.e. Facebook. There may be a limited window of opportunity for attracting these users to contribute to your site – or it may be that publishers have to work harder to attract them with functionality, etc.

8: News and information is the 4th most popular content category – although ‘search and communities’ are lumped together in first place. Time spent on news and information is significantly lower than other categories, however. Likewise, the BBC and Associated Newspapers both feature in the top 20 sites (along with more general portals AOL, Sky and Yahoo!) but have lower time per person.

Implication: the news industry has an ongoing ‘stickiness’ problem. People are clearly interested in news, but don’t stick around. Traditional cross-publishing and shovelware approaches don’t appear to be working. We need to learn from the areas where people spend most time – such as social networks. Research is needed into media types that appear to have a strong record here, such as audio slideshows, wikis and databases.

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