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

UPDATE: The Office for National Statistics has also released some data on internet access which paints a more positive picture. Their data puts the numbers who haven’t been online at 18%. And 45% had accessed the web on the move .

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.

3 thoughts on “Internet use in the UK – implications from Ofcom's research for publishers

  1. Peter Demain

    I never realized until today that Ofcom also functioned in a research and data harvesting capacity. I thought it was just some organization to complain to about programmes, with the ASA a counterpart for ads. Let me address each of your numbery points:

    1. 27% isn’t bad when you consider the older portions of our population.’s write-up shows that over 65s make up a decent chunk of the populace. I have elderly relatives who don’t use the Internet at all, but others who use it sparingly for watching classic film clips, bit of shopping etc.

    2. I’ve heard a few people, some ‘social media’ experts, some PR, some journos conjecturing on how Facebook/Twitter and so on function as the town square or church hall did back before modern times. I disagree because you can get as many facebook comments and likes as you want…the truth remains that the net number of topics/words spoken in a half hour of animated face-to-face dialogue would equal over 1,000 tweets – once you extract RTs and links that’s a fairly good amount of any Twitterers record.

    Then there’s facial expressions, body language, whatever. All absent in social media unless you have a two-way webchat thing which is rare: In Twitter you’ve a thumbnail and messages compulsorily brief to derive a ‘face’ from. I’ve encountered some presumptious people on Twitter who think a couple of tweets warrant a bit of verbal telling me ‘who I am’. Bullshit.

    3. I’ve noticed this on my website. As I upload more images and write more different words surprise surprise more hits from google image search. I’d heard some vague talk about ‘keywords’ or whatever so this doesn’t surprise me. Frankly Paul the more ground individuals gain over publishers the better.

    Blogs are like how milk was before production was mechanized: A tablespoon of cream would float atop each bottle, with the ordinary pedestrian udder product below less noticable. Content is king, although there’s much ‘power-behind-the-throne’ – and a poor king is a lot less effectual than a well-off one.

    4. I’d wager most of Dirty Garnet‘s audience are older than me (I’m 22). I’ll be getting some marketing done next month geared at mostly British males aged 25-65 with a lesser emphasis on women same age/nationality. 25 tends to be when the world-weary, moany and disgruntled sets in with the average countryman – the happy-go-lucky youth is gradually shed in a midst of career drudge and aging. Generally that is.

    5. Don’t know what you mean by “54% critical” so I can’t ramble about this.

    6. Again if you title your images sensibly they’ll end up appearing on Google images. The upgrade the other week which displays over a hundred on a page is great; if an image is unusual or eyecatching logically more traffic results.

    7. This part is stat heavy which makes me wary. You had a lot of 13-25 year olds uploading on Newgroundsin past years; with Youtube I suspect that’s declined somewhat what with bar raised for Flash and the difficulty of hashing together a Youtube vid much lesser. But even so most of the content is utter crap:

    Quality rules over quantity; nobody online can consume even 1% of all content uploaded by any bracket you mention. Since subjectivity obscures this I’ll frankly only be bothered if there’s a significant drop of what I see as quality be it informative, funny or otherwise.

    8. Heh. ‘Search and communities’ – nebulous tripe. There must be some overlap going on which undermines this portion of the study. Consider’s format; commonly we’ve sub-300 word summaries with small pictures that people can read quite quick. All are titled so one can read what interests and avoid the rest.

    Anyone with a modicum of critical thinking could say ‘Of course people will be on the FT longer reading at-length analysis than time on BBC or Yahoo reading snappy little sum-ups.” – Then again the amount of morons paid good cash to point this out is quite high. Dressing it up in technical language to blur and disguise trite, unnecessary or obvious content is probably a module in ‘Statistics 101’.


    TDLR version: Google more, write quality, use Facebook and Twitter, be yourself, try to fend off insomnia, fail, but have a more fulfilling time doing online media stuff than you would in equivalent time watching footy/videogaming/chasing skirt/TV viewing/anything traditionally social.

    Pete, editor at

  2. Paul Bradshaw

    “54% critical” means 54% of respondents were critical of Google’s neutrality, i.e. didn’t believe Google was a neutral conduit in any way. You sum up the rest pretty well.


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