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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 August 2006, 13:38 GMT 14:38 UK
Britain's digital tribes revealed
By Jonathan Fildes
Science and technology reporter, BBC News

Households in Britain can be classified into 23 "e-types" depending on their access to technology, say researchers.

E-types include mobile explorers, the e-committed and rational utilitarians.

The researchers, from University College London (UCL), say the profiles could be used to inform future policies on access to digital technology.

Every postcode in Britain has been assigned a classification which people can check online to see if they agree with the researcher's analysis.

"What really emerges is that almost all of the types have some interaction with technology," said Professor Paul Longley, who led the study at UCL. "In a sense we are all digital now"

Digital divide

The research, part of the Spatial Literacy initiative between UCL, Leicester and Nottingham Universities, aimed to build a comprehensive picture of access to digital technology in Britain.

The team used information from the electoral roll, the most recent census and data firm Experian to produce maps of Britain showing different levels of access and use of technology.

We're not implying that there is a ladder with some people on the bottom and some people at the top
Professor Longley

Each of the 1.7 million unit postcodes in Britain, which on average consists of 17 households, were worked out separately.

Overall they identified eight groups which ranged from the "e-unengaged" to "e-experts".

Previously many researchers referred to a single "digital divide" between "haves" and "have nots".

"A decade ago people talked about just two groups but life is no longer that simple," said Professor Longley.

The eight groups were further subdivided into 23 e-types to describe particular ways people used technology. For example in the e-unengaged group there are six e-types including "mobiles the limit", "cable suffices" and "technology as fantasy".

"We're not implying that there is a ladder with some people on the bottom and some people at the top and everyone is trying to climb the ladder," said Professor Longley.

"What comes out of this is that different people get different things out of technologies like the internet."

Direct feedback

Some geographic patterns come out of the survey. For example the maps show that there are hotspots of the e-unengaged in areas that used to be supported by the coal industry.

Mine in Wales
Half of Wales has no net access, says a report

South Wales has high numbers of e-unengaged. Earlier this year, a report by the Welsh Consumer Council showed that more than half of the Welsh population has no access to the internet.

Conversely there is a cluster of e-experts on the west coast of Scotland.

"If you're looking to locate a back office of a high-tech firm the northern parts of the Isle of Skye might be a pretty good place based on these results," said Professor Longley.

The team are now encouraging people to check their postcode and send the researchers feedback on their analysis.

People who disagree with their assigned e-type can send Professor Longley and his team their own classification from the list of eight groups and 23 types.

"We're trying to generalise right down to the level of every postcode. It's inevitable that we will have got some wrong."

The research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

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