Digital divide

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Types of digital divides

There are several forms of digital divides. We divide among three types:

(1) Those who have computers and Internet access vs. those who don't

(2) Those who are able to use digital contents vs. those who don't

(3) those who are able to produce digital contents vs. those who don't.

Types of media users

According to several studies (e.g. Nilsen. 2006), large communities follow a 90-9-1 rule (see also knowledge management), i.e.

  • 1% contributes a lot
  • 9% occasionally contribute
  • 90% are so-called lurkers, i.e. just consume

Brandtzaeg & Heim, however found out the in small communities, a 50-30-20 rules can be identified:

  • 20% contribute
  • 30% occasionally contribute
  • 50% don't contribute

According to our anecdotal experience with students, this rule may hold if group size is over 15 or if you happen be be lucky ...

The most challenging divide for education is neither (1) nor (2) but (3). Learners and teachers able to create tangible knowledge, can do so under any conditions. We suspect that some politically motivated initiatives to bridge the technical divide rather may enforce divide of type 3, i.e. we formulate the working hypothesis that access to Internet in some cultures rather will reinforce passive consumption that active production as far as education is concerned and this is a serious threat to the usefulness of OER.

Brandtzaeg (2010) meta-analysis of 22 studies introduced a unified Media-User Typology (MUT) that combines two dimensions: frequency of media use and variety of media use. According to the author “MUT will allow a more nuanced approach when investigating the association between media usage and social implications such as the digital divide.” Below we summarize two tables presented in the study (table 6 and table 3)

User types Frequency of use Variety of use Typical activity Typical platform Studies Other labels
(1) Non-users No use No use No All Largest of all user types Non-Internet users, Off the net, Inactives, Non-users, Non-users, Anxiety,
(2) Sporadics Low use Low variety No particular activity, low interest, newcomers All Found in 20 studies Followers, Sporadics, Laggards, Confused and Adverse, Followers, Indifferents, Indifferent, Media Lite, Average users, Inexperienced experimenters, Risk-averse doubters, Spectators, Connected but hassled, Basic users, Occasional users, Limited users, Approval, e-Laggards, Traditional shoppers, Newcomers, Low media users
(3) Debaters Medium use Medium variety Discussion and information acquisition and exchange. Purposeful action Blogs and Social Networking sites (SNS) Only found in 2-3 studies Debaters, Contributors, (Creators).
(4) Entertainment users Medium use Medium variety Gaming or passively watching videos, but also advanced use, such as UGC, programming, and shopping New media in general Found in 10 studies. Attention seekers, Entertainment usage, Gameboy usage, VidKids, Entertainment users, Entertainment, Social recreation, Moderate users, Experimenters, Screen Entertainment Fans
(5) Socializers Medium use Medium variety Socializing, keeping in touch with friends and family, and connecting with new acquaintances. Active social life, but less organised and purposeful, more spontaneous and flexible. SNS Identified in nine studies Alpha socialisers, Faithfuls Socializers, Socializers, Sociability, The Connectors, Joiners, Communication usage, Minglers
(6) Lurkers Medium use Low variety Lurking, time-killing SNSs, user-generated sites, shopping, and new media in general Only identified in five studies Interactors, On–off shoppers, Lurkers, Lurkers, Tourists
(7) Instrumental users Medium use Medium variety Choose media content for information and civic purposes, utility oriented, often work related, searching for e-Government or public information. Low on entertainment use. When shopping, comparing brands and promotional offers New media in general, including Internet , and online shopping Identified in 16 studies. Functionals, Utility, Productivity Enhancers, Spectators, Utility usage, Devotees, Utility users, Narrow frequent users , Specialized users, Internet transactions, (Restricted), Reserved information seekers, Financial management, Comparison shopper, Broad users, Dual shopper, Information exchange, Utilitarians
(8) Advanced users High use High variety All (gaming, homepage design, shopping, programming, video, e-Government and UGC, etc.) All Identified in 20 studies Actives, Omnivorse, Lacklusters Veterans, Collectors, Reciprocity, Advanced usage, Insiders, Advanced users, Broad frequent users, Intense users, Enthusiasts, Open-minded online shoppers, Confidence, Complex Design, Unconcerned Internet users, Preferences, Information surfer (shopping), Netizens, Specialists, All-round users, Active contributors

On side note: We formulate the following extra working hypothesis:

  • succesful academics (in terms of career advancement) are instrumental (but not "advanced") users.
  • The younger so-called "digital natives" are prominent in types 4 and 5


  • Brandtzæg, P.B., & Heim, J. (2009). Social Network Sites – A Typology of Users. International Journal of Web Based Communities (IJWBC),
  • Brandtzæg, P.B. (2010). Towards a unified Media-User Typology (MUT): A meta-analysis and review of the research literature on media-user typologies, Computers in Human Behavior, 26 (5), 940-956. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2010.02.008