On the puzzle of figuring how many Internet users

Posted on November 7, 2014  /  1 Comments

The Economist is a plum. In all honesty, I was thrilled we were mentioned. I wish they had gone to people with real data on Africa like RIA, rather than those who simply speculate, but still, a thoughtful piece. While the claim re radio may hold true for Africa, it definitely is incorrect for the Indo-Gangetic plain.

Once restricted to the tech-literate, these are now common and easy to use. Chinese citizens who want to vault the Great Firewall to use Facebook (banned in China) can do so with a couple of clicks. Foreign fans of the BBC can use the same trick to watch its programmes via iPlayer, supposedly barred outside Britain. Since VPNs and proxy servers are clustered in countries with favourable rules, such as Sweden and the Netherlands, any count of visits to such sites will be skewed.

GWI’s picture, it should be said, is far from complete. It misses out Africa entirely, except for South Africa. Self-reported data also have their pitfalls: LIRNEasia, an Asia-Pacific IT think-tank, recently found that many Indonesians who reported using Facebook said they were not internet users—perhaps because they were not sure that one implies the other. And much of the world is going mobile-only, particularly in developing markets; preliminary GWI data suggest that a quarter of web visitors in Indonesia and Vietnam use only a mobile (from which VPN access is, these days, just as easy). Yet both surveys and click-counting software were conceived and optimised for desktop users. Uptake of mobiles is faster than the effort to capture demographic data from them.

This story is not over.

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