A new report by Roger E Bohn and James E Short of the University of California at San Diego entitled “How much information? 2009 Report on American consumers” is fascinating in many ways.

First piece of information is that a zettabyte is 10 to the power 21 bytes! Second piece that Americans consumed 3.6 zettabytes and 10,845 trillion words. This apparently corresponds to 100,500 words and 34 gigabytes (seven DVD disks) for an average person on an average day! This is being consumed by TV (35%), computer games (55%), the Internet, email and the occasional book!

More importantly the rate of growth of information consumption is 5.4%, not a lot in Moore’s Law terms, with the rate of growth of processors and disks but a lot for the human brain. It’s a good job it’s got a lot of expansion capacity (apparently), although we’ll soon find out.

The question this begs of me is where is government information in all this? We don’t tend to present via the medium of TV or that of computer games. So I was interested to find on page 20 –

“In 2008 email remained the most widely used application, accounting for nearly 35 percent of all hours on the Internet. Studies show that the average user can process 30 to 60 emails an hour, involving a sequence of read, respond, assign, delay or delete actions for each message.However, because email is largely text-based, it accounted for relatively few bytes.

By comparison, Americans spent fewer hours on web browsing (30% of our time on the Internet). Studies show that people cycle quickly through Web sites and doing searches to find content, and they estimate that most users spend only 8-9 seconds looking at most Web pages. Users tend to continue this behavior until they find the page of interest, change their minds, get bored or shift to another task.”

This may be part of the answer to the point raised by Vicky regarding the Socitm CAIS report, using the Internet is vastly different from ringing up and asking someone knowledgeable to do the work for you, when you only have 9 seconds of attention span. I suspect we need to do a lot more in terms of usability studies before trying to push e-government down everyone’s throats.


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