Digital inclusion is ideal for an incidental approach

In the middle of three new launches of our Internet Buttons project into Ireland, Poland and Holland, we’ve been struck, again, by the need for useful tools like this all across Europe.

Our UK Internet Buttons, launched last year and do1.wawwd.infoeloped in partnership with the Nominet Trust, has been used in all sorts of environments to help and equip those offline or “digitally uncomfortable” to get onto and into the Internet. In the UK around 11% of adults never use the Internet and Martha Lane Fox’s Race Online 2012 has done an extraordinary job in bringing the impact of this exclusion to life. For us, the most powerful part of this impact was the link between social isolation and digital exclusion: over 3 million older people in the UK don’t see family or friends even once a week and digital access and literacy can play a major role in this.

Across the rest of Europe, where we are working closely with our partners at Liberty Global, the extent and consequences of digital exclusion are even more profound.

In Poland, 33% of adults have never used the Internet and in Ireland, where we launched this week, its 21%. These are substantial proportions with substantial social effects.

So what’s the best approach?

Public awareness campaigns have a role to play and there are plenty about, all over the EU, but we feel that digital inclusion flows most clearly from the incidental effects of useful, desirable and relevant products and tools.

Internet Buttons, we hope, can play as strong a role across Europe as it has in the UK because it is purely practical, converting interest into sustainable use, often via a trusted intermediary. This goes hand in hand with a series of other practical solutions in the form of cheap, simple broadband and cheap, simple hardware. There aren’t enough of either yet, but progress is being made.

Finally, and equally incidental, the market of online offerings needs to keep on evolving. Firstly, to reduce confusing, messy, over complicated user experiences and interfaces and, secondly, to provide more relevant destinations and communities for more diverse online audiences. To that end, we’re excited to experiment with how a practical tool like Internet Buttons can overlap with Historypin, a project that has proved a unique incentive for older “refuseniks” to come online for the first time.

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