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Jul 2006

To what extent do we know our internet users?

We often have an abstract and generic image of the “intermediate internet user”. In fact, many of us have a certain tendency to believe that everybody possesses a computer system similar to ours. It is a characteristic of the human being: we easily over-generalize based on our personal experience and environment instead of on credible quantitative data.

Unfortunately, neither companies, nor software developers nor designers, who ought to be devoted to their users, are exceptions to this reality. For many of them, the user is always capable of adapting – whatever his motives are – and adapting can only mean acquiring new technology.

Technology, however, is evolving too quickly for most of us to follow its pace. For example, fully 35.2% of residents in Québec do not have access to the Internet from home. Hence, if the Web industry is expecting to target 80% of internet users in Québec in their homes, it will only ever really reach half of them.

“Knowing thy users” can therefore not be restricted to acknowledging their linguistic, intellectual and educational competence. It must in fact primarily include the knowledge and recognition of the diversity of technical environments in which they evolve.
What sort of computers, platforms, browsers and configurations do they use? What sort of connections do they have? And so on… The answers to these questions are vital if the user is indeed to be an integral cog in the wheel.

In this blog, we highlight some statistics that should be taken into consideration when developing Web interfaces for the general public. These statistics are essentially excerpts from studies by CEFRIO and Ipsos, as well as from the w3schools.com server, which is visited by thousands of people everyday.

1. Type of computers used

A study by CEFRIO shows the different types of digital devices found in Québec homes. It is interesting to note that 64.7% of residents in Québec have a desktop computer, whereas 15% have a laptop. Even though this is already a significant proportion, we expect it to increase tremendously in the coming years, as Canada is already in second place in global Wi-fi use, right after Japan.

2. Internet Connection

Among the 64.8% of Québeckers who have Internet in their homes, 49.3% are connected to high-speed internet (25.4% through cable, 23.9% through DSL) and 15.5% are still using their regular low-speed internet connection.

3. Platforms / Operating Systems

According to sources from w3schools.com, the operating system most widely used in 2006 is Windows XP (73.5%). Mac and Linux are used by 3.6% and 3.5% of the w3schools internet users, respectively.

4. Browsers

Internet Explorer 6 was the most used browser (58.7%) up to June 2006. Firefox was in second place (25.1%) and the remaining ratio was shared by Internet Explorer 7, Mozilla, Netscape and Opera.

5. Resolution

More than half of the users visiting w3schools.com use a resolution of 1024 x 768 (57%). However, a significant proportion of users were at a resolution of 800 x 600 (20%) and 6% used still lower resolutions. Another interesting fact to consider: 17% use resolutions higher than 1024 x 768.

6. Colours

Nowadays, 81% of internet users have 24 or 32 bit monitors. However, 16% still use 16-bit monitors and 3% are still attached to their 8-bit monitors.

This statistical overview can be of much help to every company developing online applications destined to the public. It is necessary to remember that these statistics exist and must not be neglected when developing websites or software for the general public.
However, when developing for specific users, these quantitative results must be handled carefully, knowing that the personal context and situation of the target users must be considered appropriately and will always prevail.

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