OUR society is held back by many digital divides. Those who
have computers and those who don't.
Those who have internet access and those who don't. Those
who create mobile apps in their spare time and those who are over 21.
Seriously, though, the digital divide is real, it's a drag
on the economy, and it exacerbates the gap between the haves and have-nots.
The one digital divide that has been crossed, however, is
the gap between those who can afford a communications device called a phone,
and those who can't.
Today, 80% of South Africans have a phone. That's the good
The better news is that, as the average phone becomes more
advanced, it becomes a tool to help users cross several other digital divides.
The findings of the South African Social Media Landscape
2012 study, released this week by World Wide Worx and Fuseware, show startling
secrets of social South Africa.
The key research findings were that at the end of August,
5.33 million South Africans were using Facebook on the web, 4.6 million were on
WhatsApp, 2.43 million on Twitter and 1.9 million on LinkedIn. A huge 9.35
million were active on Mxit.
Because Facebook does not measure mobile-only usage among
those who have registered via their cellphones, however, the full extent of its
penetration is significantly understated: primary research by World Wide Worx
shows that 6.8 million people were accessing Facebook on their phones in
That was not the biggest surprise, however.
Among numerous statistics about the use of these services,
the study analysed the breakdown between urban and rural users of social
networks on phones. Those living in cities are classified as urban, and those
in towns as rural.
The first surprise was the high penetration of social media
in rural areas. While penetration is obviously highest in urban areas, it would
be expected to be almost non-existent among rural populations.
Instead, the typical penetration of most social networks in
rural areas is close to half, and sometimes more than half, that of the overall
So where Facebook has 38% penetration among all adults (aged
16 and over) living in cities and towns, urban penetration is a huge 45% while
it reaches 24% of rural phone users.
WhatsApp, with 26% of the overall market, reaches 32% of
urban users and only 13% of rural users. Twitter's 12% of the market translates
into 15% for urban users and 7% for rural. The new instant messaging service
2Go, which has 5% market penetration, reaches 6% of urban users and 4% of rural
Two networks at opposite ends of the scale buck this trend.
For Mxit, penetration is almost the same in both markets: compared with 23%
overall among adults, it has 25% urban penetration and 20% rural.
By contrast, the most high end social network (since it's
dependent on owning a smartphone), BlackBerry Messenger, has 17% overall
penetration, but rising to 23% urban and falling to only 5% rural.
Clearly, Mxit, Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter have crossed
the urban/rural divide. But the mere numbers do not tell the full story of the
The most fascinating finding is this: for most social
networks, the level of rural penetration today is almost exactly at the level
where overall penetration was 18 months ago.
At the beginning of 2011, Facebook penetration of the
overall market was 22% - almost the same as the 24% level where the rural
market finds itself in mid-2012.
Twitter's rural penetration reached 7% in mid-2012, which is
almost exactly where total penetration was 18 months earlier: 6%. Even BBM,
with its strong urban skew, reflects this trend: its overall market share was
3% at the beginning of 2011, compared with the 5% rural penetration 18 months
This means that the rural market lags the urban market by 18
months in uptake of social networking on phones. And that, in turn, means the
digital divide is as much about time as it is about technology.
* Arthur Goldstuck is managing director of World Wide Worx
and editor-in-chief of Gadget. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee
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