I’ve come across some recent research by Nielsen/Netratings about who’s active online.
Contrary to lazy stereotypes about nerdy teenage boys, they find that now the most prevalent group online in the UK are women aged 18-34 (a group I sadly find myself no longer a member of). And in fact 25% of online Britons are 50 or over (there are 1.7 times as many 50+ as under 18s online) – my Dad is one of these silver surfers and he spends more time online than I do, so that rings true for me. They also find that overall there is a pretty even split (51.5% vs 48.5%) between men and women.
I think this gives the lie to the idea that e-services only connect with young males. And I do wonder if the explosion in social networking sites, etc, has contributed to (or is a symptom of?) this feminization of the internet. In a way these stats are not surprising at all – the internet is now obviously so much bigger than l33t-speak and usenet. However, this research doesn’t say anything about socio-economic groups, levels of education or speakers of other languages.
As I say, e-services are no longer confined to the groups people might lazily think, but it doesn’t mean they are available to all. Remember kids, e-democracy can contribute to across-the-board civic engagement only as part of a balanced democratic diet.