Use of Web 2.0 Tools
26 December 2008
At the Oz-IA 2008 Conference in Sydney, I gave a talk about the different ways information on the web can be identified and found. The talk included the findings of a recent survey into the use of Web 2.0 tools, which suggest that a far smaller percentage of the general community use web 2.0 tools than we sometimes expect, and those who do use them, do so much less often. The presentation also considered how Pace-Layering theory might be applied to the process of developing websites. The presentation slides are now available on SlideShare.
During August and September 2008, I did a quick survey to gain some insights into how people use some of the newer features of the web such as blogs, tags and social networking sites. I was also interested in comparing the extent to which these tools are used by people who work making sites with those who just use web. The survey was part of research for a paper I was presenting at Oz-IA 08.
The survey considered these issues:
- How many people provide comments on the web pages of others?
- How many people have their own blogs and comment on the blogs of others?
- How often is content tagged and how often do people use tags and tag clouds when retrieving information from sites?
- How much do people use video and photo sharing sites like Flickr and Youtube?
- How much do they use social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace?
- And finally, how much do they use RSS?
I surveyed 90 people, with two broad categories of participants:
- People employed in the preparation of websites (30 people)
- People who just use the web either socially or for work (60 people)
The first group (web professionals) contained two sub-groups: web evangelists, 10 people who were surveyed at a Web Standards Group meeting; and, web workers, 20 people whose everyday work involves the preparation of websites and who were surveyed in the workplace.
For the general web users, I surveyed 10 people from 6 different categories of users. 50 participants came from 5 targeted groups; volunteers for a not-for-profit organisation, museum scientists and project officers, media workers, school teachers and tertiary students. 10 participants were untargeted members of the general community.
All the participants were randomly selected and I had no knowledge of how any of the participants used the web prior to the survey.
The survey contained a total of 21 questions that relate to the use of: blogs, content tagging and tag clouds, video and photo sharing sites, social networking sites and RSS.
The aim of the questions was to determine how often each participant used a particular web tool or feature, and how they used it. For example, one question asked participants to indicate if they had blog. And for those who answered yes, there was a follow-up question asking how often they made a new posting. The next question asked if the participant had ever commented on the blog of someone else. Once again, there was a follow-up question asking those who had made comments to indicate how often they did so.
Basically the survey considered passive use of the tools such as looking at the photos or video of someone else. And active use like putting photos or videos on a sharing site, having your own blog or Myspace page or providing tags for some web content.
After completing all the surveys, I collated the responses to each question by participants in each survey category and averaged the results. This gave an averaged usage score by survey category for each question, expressed as a percentage.
I haven’t got time to go through all of the results, so I will give a quick overview and confine myself to commenting on those which I think are most interesting.
The averaged results for the 11 main questions in the survey for both categories of users provide a useful overview of how much the tools are used.
Web professionals: The tools were used on average by 62% of participants
- Web evangelists – 84%
- Web workers – 51%
Web Users: The tools were used on average by 38% of participants
- Not-for-profit volunteers – 41%
- Museum staff – 35%
- Media workers – 43%
- Teachers – 25%
- Tertiary students – 63%
- General community – 23%
When it comes to web professionals, as might be expected, a greater percentage of the evangelists used all of the tools, and they used them more often, than those who were surveyed at their place of web work.
As can be seen however, there was a much larger variation in the responses from the different categories of web users, with the tools used on average by 63% of the students, while at the other end of the scale, the general community participants had an average usage of 23% and for teachers it was only slightly greater at 25%.
NB: The high level of average usage by students was boosted by the fact that they had all visited a photo or video sharing site and all had social networking pages and had visited the social networking pages of others.
Apart from the great difference between scores of 84% and 23%, I think the overall results provide two other points of particular interest:
- The significant difference between the evangelist and web workers, particularly when it came to tagging
- The relatively low usage scores for teachers, media workers and to a lesser extent Australian Museum staff, since I would have thought that nature of their work would have exposed them more to these tools and their potential benefits.
5. PASSIVE AND ACTIVE USE
When we look in more detail at how these tools are used, there is quite a difference between what I call Passive use, which is visiting or looking at the contributions of others, and Active use such as making comments, putting up material or providing tags.
As might be expected, in both areas of use, the web evangelists surveyed at a WSG meeting reported much high usage. With Passive use for example, all of the evangelists said they had visited a social networking page or viewed a photo or blog of someone else, compared to about 80% for the other participants. There was a greater difference in the use of tags (or tag clouds) to locate information with 90% of evangelists saying they used them compared to just 27% of general web users (and I suspect this score is a little inflated).
When it came to Active use, the differences were more striking:
|Web Evangelists||Web workers||Web Users
|Made comment on web page or blog||85||55||34|
|Commented on photo/video (eg Flickr)||60||50||32|
|Own social network page (eg Myspace)||100||60||55|
|Tagged web content||90||20||18|
As we can see here, the evangelists significantly out score the other two categories when it came to actually putting content, comments or tags onto the web. While this fact alone doesn’t surprise me, there are a few interesting things to consider:
- The difference between the number of web evangelists and web workers who use these features to make comments, upload content etc. I would imagine all the web workers are aware of all these facilities so I can only assume that their lower level of participation is due to a conscious decision and not because of a lack of knowledge.
- The percentage of people who made comments on web pages or blogs; with 85% of evangelists saying they had done so, compared to one third of the non-web professionals surveyed.
- The huge difference in the reported tagging of web content; ranging from 90% for the evangelists down to 20 and 18 percent for web workers and people who just use the web. (I suspect the 90% figure is inflated by people including the provision of tags for their own photos and video material which was not the intention of this question).
6. AGE DIFFERENCE
I think it is worth making a quick mention of difference levels of use by participants of different ages. Although the survey had six age categories, for the purposes of this article I have collated the results into two age brackets; those 30 and under (32 participants) and those 31 and over (58 participants).
|30 yrs or less
|31 yrs or more
|Made comment on web page or blog||56||40|
|Commented on photo/video (eg Flickr)||62||29|
|Own social network page (eg Myspace)||97||40|
|Tagged web content||44||17|
|Subscribe to RSS||37||34|
As might be expected, the younger group are more likely to have their own Facebook, Myspace or beebo type page or to be actively involved in posting photos or videos and commenting on those of others. However, these differences are not much as I was expecting.
I think the relative lack of difference when it comes to commenting on web pages or blogs or subscribing to RSS is interesting. In the case of commenting, one possible reason might be that it more closely resembles the feedback mechanisms of traditional media such as letters to the editor and even talk back radio, which the older participants are likely to be very familiar with. When it comes to RSS, established media outlets like the ABC and the sites of daily newspapers (e.g. Sydney Morning Herald) have clearly demonstrated how useful these can be to the average web user over the last few years.
I would like to start by making it clear that this survey does not set out to state that a certain tool is likely to be used by x% or the population with a y% margin of error. Rather, my aim is to provide some insights into the level of usage of these tools by different groups of people.
These are my overall conclusions which I hope you find interesting and useful:
- Most notably, the striking disparity between how much these tools are used by web evangelists when compared to people who see the web as just another everyday thing to be used in an everyday way.
- This difference in usage also extends to web workers who are not evangelists. They also just see the web as something that they work with and not some all encompassing passion. To quite a large extent the behaviour of the standard web workers more closely matches that of everyday web users rather than the evangelists.
- With reference to the “tagging” of web content, if we exclude the web evangelists only about 20% of participants said they had tagged content.
- While many more young people are likely to have a Myspace page, age alone is not a particularly strong indicator of the likelihood of someone using these new tools. There were participants under 20 with no interest in commenting, tagging or RSS; just as there were people over 60 who did all these things regularly.
- Web evangelists are not a good guide to web behaviour or how likely the general community are to adopt new ideas.
In summary, when it comes to use of the web 2.0 style features that I considered, a smaller percentage of the general community than we sometimes expect use them, and those who do use them, do so much less often.