The objective of the Canadian Internet Project (CIP) is to provide a comprehensive study and assessment of internet and online web use and non-use by Canadians (e.g.; internet, PDA’s, wireless devices). The guiding mandate of this research project is to investigate not only existing content on the web and usage patterns, but more importantly, the relationship between online technologies and cultural content and the attitudes, behaviour, and receptivity of the public to new services and forms of content.

 

The investigation considers the overall impact of the internet on individual behaviour as well as cultural and social changes produced by innovative content and emerging online technologies. We intend to especially investigate facets of the various divides associated with emerging new media including: economic, linguistic, cultural and social. The study looks at the evolving patterns – migration from viewing more traditional media (e.g. television) to using more contemporary onlinemedia for news, entertainment, etc. Given these changes, what is the relationship between these various media, and between the user and media? The key objective will be to understand how our lives are being transformed by the emergence of new digital content and distribution channels.

 

CIP is the Canadian franchise of the World Internet Project (WIP www.worldinternetproject.com/), founded and coordinated by the USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future in the United States (www.digitalcenter.org). Some sixteen countries are now participating in this major comparative research undertaking. A subset of 30 questions is being posed by all WIP participants, for international comparison. Although there are a number of other Canadian internet use studies, some of which have comparative elements, none is as far-reaching as WIP. It was imperative that Canada join this group, in order to take advantage of innovations that are emerging from a coordinated international research effort that provides for systematic comparison, both in terms of national and cross-sectional analysis, and participation in an international dialogue and the cultural and economic opportunities that have been identified.

 

It is anticipated that the results of this ongoing study will have lasting implications for government and industry policy and practice and contribute greatly towards innovation in online digital content creation. We believe the results of the proposed work will help content producers to identify priorities to guide their work and push forward the threshold of design and technological innovation. We believe content aggregators and distributors will best be served in the future by the resulting data obtained and analysis provided.

 

To this end, a research network or cluster of relevant stakeholders and research associates from both the public and private sectors (academic, private industry, government) will be formed to engage with and receive benefit from the data collected and analysis provided. The network or cluster will be dynamic and continue to grow and develop as participants make use of the data, findings and analysis, and enter into exchanges with other constituents.

 

In 2004, CIP accomplished a base-line study that will permit comparisons with the other WIP studies and provide the basis for longer term comparisons. To this end, a national survey was conducted (with a randomly selected sample of approximately 2000 English-speaking and 1000 French-speaking Canadians). It is hoped that as a result of this benchmark study a smaller survey would be conducted every second year, using a panel model, with interviewers returning to a sub-sample of the original respondents.

 

A comprehensive survey instrument was drafted in consultation with representatives from the principal partners, including constituents from universities, industry and government. The study will become a long-term investigation with a major survey conducted every second year, providing a legacy of data and relevant information about our digital environment and use of our online content for both the public and private sectors. The survey consists of approximately 75 questions, including the subset of 30 questions that WIP members are posing internationally. Each partner and principal stakeholder representing academic, industry, and government, has contributed their own set of unique questions for use in the survey. This will provide a positive and enriching interface between producers, aggregators, and receivers of online digital cultural content, promoting audience development and innovative forms of content and connectivity. The longer term goal is to track the changing patterns of usage of and activity on computers and online technologies as emerging new forms of digital communication technologies and content develop and become sustainable.

 

The study intends to compare recent and experienced internet users with non-users across a number of variables and indices and from various points of reference. Most notably, the project will provide a profile and analysis of reported behaviour and attitudes of those using online digital devices, emerging technologies and interacting with innovative content, and those not, in an effort to better understand how the “new media” influence social, political, cultural, and economic practices in society.

 

It is hoped that by conducting this national benchmark survey, we will encourage the participants in the research network to develop specific projects related to services in french and services targeted at specific audiences (such as women youth and francophones). It is envisioned that in the future, panel surveys will further explore other variables such as third language communities and younger age groups (under 18 years).

 

CIP is intended to provide meaningful, substantive research into many of the issues related to internet consumption including utilization behaviour by the public and resultant effects. Indeed, an important goal of the research will be to study cross-over behaviour of Canadians as predominant usage patterns evolve from passively viewing traditional media (such as television) to actively engaging and using the internet. To this end, broadcaster and television production representatives will be encouraged to participate as associates in a research network.

 

CIP will look at the different relationships that are beginning to emerge among various media (e.g.; interactive television). In addition, the project will investigate the changing attitudes, values and perceptions of Canadians using and not using the internet and the economic and cultural challenges and opportunities indicated by these patterns.

 

This project will provide relevant information for a multitude of constituencies. In turn, it is anticipated that the results will influence government policy-making, corporate development, academic study and innovation of online content. We hope to provide an opportunity for dynamic interchange between producer and end user of online digital cultural content. To our knowledge, no such network, combining a broad range of interests, including public and private sectors, currently exists, nor has such a comprehensive study been undertaken in Canada . Current work on Internet use in Canada and tend to be proprietary or narrowly focused, or to lack the networking potential that we propose. Although there are commercial internet use surveys, none to our knowledge combines a panel design, targeted sub-samples, as comprehensive a research network inclusive of content producers, and a commitment to sophisticated statistical analysis.

 

In conjunction with the renowned international long-term survey project — the World Internet Project (WIP; founder and organizer: Dr. Jeffrey I. Cole) — CIP provides a rich and informative database for multivariate analysis and comparison on an international dimension. The Canadian project will publish an annual report analyzing the data distilled from its survey and comparing this data to a control set of survey questions (30) that are being asked in some sixteen other countries participating in the World Internet Project. In addition, the creation of a research network or hub among participating stakeholders in Canada would provide even more use of the data and analysis through exchange, discussion, and symposia. This kind of interchange, based on reliable data, is anticipated to have great influence on the continuing development and innovation of cultural content found online, related government and corporate policy, and academic research.

 

Key partners and principal stakeholders have exclusive access to the resulting data and statistical analysis up to release of the report. After this period, the Canadian database be made extremely accessible and shared by others in the partnership and used for exchange and development of new knowledge within the research network. In particular, it is hoped that the database would become a resource for the academic community so that additional multivariate statistical and critical analysis would be conducted in a number of areas and disciplines, providing both a comprehensive and fascinating picture of influences and trends caused by emerging digital media content and technologies. In addition, digital content producers participating in this network would receive benefit from increasing their understanding of the relationship between content development and innovation and user values, attitudes, and perceptions.

 

As Dr. Cole observes in his first report published in 2001 reporting the findings from the first survey: Surveying the Digital Future), the significance of research tracing the evolution of the internet is obvious:

 

Had this type of research been conducted on the evolution of television as it emerged in the late 1940’s, the information would have provided policy makers, the media, and ultimately historians with invaluable insights about how broadcasting has changed the world. Our objective is to ensure that the Internet Project and its yearly report capitalize on the opportunity that was missed as television evolved. This way we can better understand the effects of the Internet as it grows, and not as a postscript after it has already matured.”