Talk:Researching internet usage at internet cafes

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See the original thread of this E-Discussion on D-Groups

Mario Marais, 2009/02/20


We have contact with a NGO who has recently started an Internet Cafe in a rural community. The question that they (and we) are interested in is: How can we (without invading privacy) research the types of Internet usage and how it evolves with time. I was thinking about types of use such as:

  • email (web email)
  • banking
  • general news
  • looking for music
  • using information portals (wikipedia, yahoo, ...)
  • searching
  • ....

I was wondering if anyone has done research in this area and can provide insights and experiences?

Meraka Institute, African Advanced Institute for Information & Communication Technology.

Suguna Sri, 2009/02/21

Dear Marais,

I guess that Internet has proliferated for all wrong reasons (atleast in our context), but is slowly being put to more useful purposes. It is increasingly becoming indispensible for school children and mothers for doing school homework and projects.

General public use internet mostly for e-mails, forwarding messages, and photos. The younger generation uses social networking sites like orkut. With digital cameras becoming handy, people are sharing photo streams and videos.

Downloading music, videos and pictures is quite high. Software downloads are also substantial.

Downloading and playing on-line games is alarmingly on the rise.

With computers and internet becoming a part-and-parcel of today’s homes, even house wives are using internet for chatting, blogging, reading movie reviews and for checking outrecipes. A few of them, like me, are working from home because of connectivity.There are interesting and accentuated reports are about the [ usage of internet] by rural women. But the vast majority of rural population is still glued to the cable Television with remotes and mobiles in their hands.

Allison Hewlitt, 2009/02/21

Hi Mario

I don't have an answer for you but am wondering if you have tried to connect with one of the many communities. I am fairly sure that there are members with experience in this area.

On the community facilitators, there is a list of regional people that you (or your NGO colleagues) could contact for support including the following 2 in Africa.

Africa — Sandra Nassali, UgaBYTES Africa — Francis Mwathi, UgaBYTES

Patrick Breard, 2009/02/23

Hi Mario,

As for email there's a pretty extensive study and example.

Claire Buré, 2009/02/24

Dear Mario,

In case it's useful, UNCTAD's 2007-2008 [ Information Economy Report] includes a chapter called "Promoting livelihoods through telecentres",

Although not focused on internet cafes, the study looked at the uses oftelecentres in 22 telecentre networks across the world, in which the uses of telecentres and their services was investigated. Perhaps the questionnaire they used (appendicized) will be useful.

Project Coordinator, The Zoltner Consulting Group Santiago, Chile.

Matt Moore, 2009/02/24

One question you might consider asking (which is a little sneaky) is "What kind of sites do you hear other people are using?"

Because obviously I only use the internet to read engineering instruction manuals and listen to the occasional piece of classical music but I hear that my next-door neighbor uses it for gambling & porn.

Which also brings up the idea of using something like Most Significant Change - but that's really a broader-scale assessment method rather than a simple usage survey...

Jacqueline Nnam , 2009/02/25

There is another interesting dimension to Matt's suggested question. Some people who visit gambling and porn sites may not directly admit it, but would happily mention them among sites they "hear other people are visiting".

Mario Marais, 2009/02/25

Hi Matt

I've done a search and have picked up a few packages such as WebSpy and Nagios which I will investigate further. It seems that some work has also been done on web page classifiers, and while it might be way too complex for now, the whole uClassify idea sounds very interesting. Do you by any chance know of good open source tools?

Mario Marais, 2009/02/25


Thanks to Eva, Jacqueline and Matt for these interesting angles on Internet usage and how to ask questions about it. I'm seeing the NGO tomorrow and this is good timing!

I've read about Most Significant Change and will have a look to see if we can use the approach.

Eva Schiffer, 2009/02/25


Talking about uses that we might not necessarily think of: In Ghana I found that (from personal observation) one of the very important uses of internet cafes was to initiate romantic relationships with people in developed countries in the hope of leaving the current difficult circumstances.

This falls somewhere between using the internet for business and for social networking. I would guess (but not know) that this is even more prevalent and successful where the technology is advanced enough to allow for skype and the use of web-cams. I'm not sure how to best elicit these but just wanted to mention them because they are so different from what your typical user in the developed world would do, so it's easy to not ask for them... In a context like in Ghana, where it is culturally acceptable to talk about the economic interest that goes along with entering in a relationship (a man must be able to "provide"), it might actually be easier to ask about this directly than you might first assume.

Amina Singh, 2009/02/23

Hi Mario,

I was involved in a study which required us to also look at internet Usage in Nepal as part of the context analysis of the study. We did the survey - developed a questionnaire, recruited a group of enumerators - did the orientation and sent them out to internet cafes in different parts of Nepal. In the case of Nepal, a majority of the users were students - the ones with the ability to use internet cafes - so we had a different questionnaire just focusing on students. The limitation ofcourse as already stated before...was being dependent on the respondents ability to answer the questions. So if you have some idea of the demographics of the can put them into different groups and use different methods with different groups ( I am not sure if that is technically correct - but that is what we did at the moment) - Like for instance, in rural Nepal, there is a group of old men and women who do not know how to use computers, but they use local internet cafes ( if we can call them that) to talk to their loved ones working abroad ( usually in east Asia or the Arab countries) - ofcourse facilitated by the cafe owner or someone else. So first of all, would you classify them as internet users? if so then using questionnaires would not work with them - unless skilled enumerators actually had one to one interviews with them.

hope that was helpful at all...

Matt Moore , 2009/02/22


So there are some things that you can measure without invading privacy: who comes to the cafe and how long they spend on the internet.

Measurement of where people are going can be done one of two ways:

  • Automated monitoring. There is software that can do this and report back on where people are going in aggregate (rather than for individuals). However it comes at a cost and there may be issues with privacy.
  • Manual surveys. These are dependent on users being willing & able to answer the questions accurately.

Partha Sarker, 2009/02/22

Bytesforall Initiative has started to do some research on the Internet usage pattern in Dhaka city and would extend it to other cities in South Asia to make a comperative analysis. But this research is looking at users not only from Internet cafes but also at home, office or the ones who use cell phone based connection from anywhere. The co-relation analysis is being made on the basis of four (4) variables: age, gender, occupation and income. Hope this helps.