You are here

Helen Labun Jordan Commentary ~ Is the Internet relevant?

Printer-friendly versionPDF version
2012-10-04

Is the Internet relevant?

The quick answer to that question is yes, very relevant, to all of us.

For many Vermonters the answer is that the Internet isn’t just relevant, it’s vital. But not everyone shares that perspective. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) both find that lack of perceived relevance is the top reason why Americans don’t subscribe to available broadband services. Just last month, Google found itself going door to door to convince potential fiber customers in Kansas City that the Internet was relevant to them.

The reality is that relevance won’t be a question for much longer.

Essential services, critical information, and daily activities are all going online. The switchover from online being a convenience to online being the preferred (or, increasingly, only) option is happening in everything from job searches to government services to payroll to news.

This change means that a new wave of Internet beginners is arriving at our virtual doorstep – and that’s fundamentally a good thing. For people already using online tools to support their organizations, businesses, community connections and more, bringing in new users makes these tools more effective. For people just starting to explore the online world, this push can be the impetus to start taking full advantage of the Internet’s potential.

Here’s the bad news: we’re behind on rolling out the welcome mat to Internet beginners. And I do, in fact, mean the welcome mat – those websites that are beginners’ first entry point into the online world.

Standards exist for basic usability in websites, and meeting those standards is an important first step. However, if we stop to look at websites through a beginner’s eyes, it quickly becomes apparent that other considerations apply. For example, beginners won’t have practice with a mouse, so clicking on small buttons or hovering through menus is out. Beginners often access the Internet from a public location like a library, so compatibility with the equipment found there and the ability to save work from longer online tasks, like filling out an application, are both key.

With more beginners getting online every day, there’s a lot more innovation needed to create an Internet that’s truly beginner friendly. As one way to jumpstart that innovation, the e-Vermont Community Broadband Project has launched the Beginner Friendly Website Design contest. Add your creativity to the mix, and find some starting tips for beginner friendly website design, at e4vt.org/contest

Helen Labun Jordan is project director of the e-Vermont Community Broadband Project, which works on a range of issues related to sustainable broadband adoption.