Monday 9 June 2008

Irish Broadband Penetration Reaches 83% of Internet Users

I just did some trending on Broadband a bug bear of mine. Why? Well, people keep telling me there’s a broadband penetration problem in Ireland, and on the radio at least, they keep interviewing someone living well out of reach of roads, never mind a broadband connection. Everyone I know has access to broadband, so, it just didn’t feel right. It didn’t stack up. And, it turns out, it doesn’t stack up. It’s simply wrong.

The reason is the research is concentrating on home broadband connections and not home and work and school/university and cafĂ©’s and the like, people were being given a false and damaging impression of Internet use and penetration in Ireland. The reason for this is the research is done by the traditional door to door method, from traditional research companies. It’s all they can count with the method. For the background to the discussion see my old post, Broadband by Any Other Name Would Work as Fast. My point is simply that in a time of increasingly mobile Internet use, the use of ‘any broadband connection’ is broadband use, and ‘at-home’ broadband, isn’t the point.

As I said, I did some trending, including the latest Net Behaviour Report data, Wave I 2008 and the findings are fantastic, and make a whole lot of sense. Pay special attention to the last column.

In 2007, 83% of Irish Internet users reported that they had access to broadband, and they used it. In 2008, this is 86%, and if we trend this out to 2011, it’s 95%. At home broadband is also growing, according to broadband users. So, 83% of 2 million, means that 1.66 Million Irish Internet users, access the web at broadband speed, from various locations. Good news.

But why, when I ask 1600 Internet users what their Internet connection speeds are like do many more of them tell me they have broadband connection than are reported in the mainstream media? Why, when I trend this on a 3000 sample, with sampling points over 2 years, is the news so good in the long term?

Well, I could bore you with 20 reasons, and get passionate about the whole thing. But, the statistician and researcher in me tells me not to be too defensive. To take the data as it is presented by the sample, interrogate its validity, and once it passes the tests, acknowledge its statistical truth. This is what they said. These findings are significant. It’s not only true for my sample, its true for the population. Job done.

Common sense told me there’s loads of broadband access out there for those that want it, and that everyone who needs it, can get it, and they do. The stats back this up. There is no broadband problem in Ireland. There’s a measurement and perception one however.

There’s also a need to push the debate along. Most broadband in Ireland is painfully slow. Many ‘free’ broadband packages give not much more than 1mbs. This works, but you couldn’t, for example, watch a video on YouTube. Here, at work we’re using 16mbs, which is as fast as it gets in Ireland, more or less, and we can do what we need to do. At home I use 3G 3.6mbs, which, again, does the job, but its so much slower. 1mbs means that big pages will make the browser time out. Big mails will also time out, especially if you’re using webmail. Many people use the Internet to send or upload pictures, and 1mps precludes this use for anything over a 3mg attachment.

So yes, we have broadband, but for most, no, it’s not quick enough. So, let’s move on the debate, and concentrate on what’s really at issue. Not just any broadband at home, but good broadband wherever you can get it.

Widget 101*

What are widgets?
– Widgets (or gadgets and sometimes apps) are tiny web-enabled applications that distribute content to users across the internet (David Smith 2008)

OK. That’s a broad definition. What’s a tiny web enabled application mean? Well, a little program that allows people to connect with content, and lots of other people. I suppose you could say RSS allows connections with content, widgets allow connections with people using content. Some widgets are embedded into social networks, like Facebook, while others are downloadable applications that sit on your desktop, or do the same thing. The problem with the latter is most virus checkers, and firewalls, don’t let you install them. Those on social networks can be huge.

But, things are more complicated than that. I need to differentiate widgets from two new concepts that are important, because they describe something very different from a programming and operations point of view. Alongside widgets are found 'applications', and 'gadgets'. Loosely, all of these are referred to as widgets, and there's debate as to where the line should be drawn, but all are sure, there is a line. Somewhere. I'll have a go. Briefly.

Gadget: a mini-program that's downloaded to your desktop, that talks to a database, maybe like an international clock, currency convertor, or news ticker.

Widget: a mini-program that's downloaded to a blog, or website, and doesn't speak to the site database (the pacman or google thingy on this site are widgets).

Application: a program that exists on a website, typically a social network site, that interacts with the websites databases through the website API. There are many facebook applications, like that Vampire one, and some new ones for geo-location of mobile phones that are simply too big, and embedded in the site structure through the site API, to be called widgets.

Clear as mud. Yeah... I know. But work with it and it starts to sink in. For the rest of this article I'll talk loosely, but keep these definition parameters in mind. I'll turn it round to where you'll find them, and see if it helps. Desktop program - gadget (limited / no database integration with site or PC); Blog game - widget (some added website interaction, no serious integration), Social Website API and database - application (full website integrated program functionality). An application is the biggest and most important of these three, and also the most expensive to design. Beware of super-enthusiastic clients who say they quickly want one of those widget things, and then briefly describe a full website application. They won't see the difference, and if the don't have a million squids in their back pocket... keep your eye on them, and slowly leave the room in reverse. Shut the door, and RUN.

What type of content can be carried with a widget?
All web content can be carried widget-wise. Video, games, music, social networking links, ratings, polls n votes… Whatever you want really.

How do you go about developing a widget?
There are stages in widget development though. First, you have to create the program that does the ‘cool thing’ people will want to use. Then you have to get content for it. Then you find a distribution channel and only at that stage does the widget actually reach the pc, laptop or mobile to use it. It’s not a simple process, and, from an advertising clients point of view, fraught with confusions and misinterpretations. Generally widgets are developed by developers, for developers… who’ll invest considerable sweat equity in the hope that it flies. It’s not like viral advertising. When it works? It’s cool though.
A marketer that does not wish to develop their own widget should consider piggy backing on someone else’s widget. Distribution networks are the next hurdle. The usual ones are HI5, Bebo, Myspace and the other social networks with (often) open api’s

Who’s making them and what do they provide?
Lots of companies, like ClearSpring and WidgetBox for example. Widgets tempt the user into… well, downloading and using them. Users interact with the widget interface. At this point page impressions, unique users, click throughs, view throughs (post view impressions) and all the usual palaver for advertising can be served. These can often be cut by time, number of feeds, or geo-targetted.
Ding… A worked example
Ding permits registered users to see live updates of website content, and get offers in real time. It makes €60m per year from registrations alone… and a whole lot more from advertising on Ding.

Widget Reach
Widgets are reported to have been 60% and 70% cumulative reach of the Internet audience around the world at a given time. Don’t believe it? Neither did I… but then I thought about it. Most people don’t even know they are interacting with a widget at a given time. I was ‘bitten’ on Facebook recently (by a vampire… don’t ask), and without meaning to, I bit an old friend (oh the embarrassment). It was a widget. I joined Hi5, and was asked to join a quiz. I filled out a short interview on Linkedin… and these are the ones I’ve done. I’ve ignored many others. I’ve also inserted a few mini-widgets onto this blog. Did I know they were widgets? Well, I knew they were small working programs on my page, but I hadn’t put that name on them. So yes. I believe the stats on reach for all widgets. Widget use is nearly as popular as web use itself.
Some mobile widgets I’ve seen recently may well become bigger!

How many? How big is this?
Facebook has 8,000 widgets with 31M active daily users. 80% of widget interactions are carried by 1% of the widgets available. The ‘Slide’ widget is the ninth largest Internet company with 17% of global Internet users. For the initiated, Slide designed ‘Poke’, ‘Superpoke’ and the ‘Funwall’. Slide is in 200 countries. They’re on many sites. There are 87million widget installations on facebook alone. 63% of users have a ‘Slide’ widget. Slide is gynormous.

How do we measure their use
We can’t. Not effectively anyway. Comscore are trying, globally, but there’s no real demographics, and nothing for the Irish market. There are also problems with widgets counting video on YouTube for content shown on other sites. Some developers can track their own widgets, but nothing beyond impressions, unques etc. No demographics. I’m working on something that will measure their rate of growth, but it’s not ready yet.

So, that should give you a good intro to the world of widgets.
If you want more advice on what do to about Widgets, and what they can do for you. Or, if you have one, and aren’t sure of next steps, talk to Emmet at

*Note: This post borrows wholesale from an inspiring presentation given by David Smith of MediaSmith, in Barcelona in 2008 (with his permission of course). He’s the widget king. Thanks David!