1Digital illiteracy, digital divide and information society became the buzzwords of the regional development dealing with the state of the information society technologies (IST) in the beginning of the new century. Two main topics are in focus if one does research on this field: infrastructure and the population who use it. Proper infrastructure gives the opportunity for society to step into the so called information society phase. But the infrastructure in itself is not enough for this jump the attitude of the society toward the new prospects had to be changed. Developing the infrastructure is a matter of financial and political and strategic efforts, but the attitude change is a more complex problem.
2From the user side, this issue has another face. Looking through a spatial perspective the process to create and develop the accepting attitude of new technologies differs in Hungary. This article tries to present the user’s view on the topic of IT use taking the diffusion of a very popular online service as an example. During the research the spatial expansion of the service in rural areas and it’s key factors were examined to complete the knowledge on IT embedness in Hungary.
3The development of the IT sector is about 20 years old in Hungary but radical changes in this field can only be recognized in the beginning of the new millennium (Z Karvalics, 1998). In the field of infrastructure and tools Hungary’s place is average in comparison to other European countries, but the changes in using tools and the differences of social classes are small.
4Examination of social effects of information technology and the status of information society is a rather new perspective in Hungary. First examinations took place in 2001 about the country’s preparation, and of the inhabitant’s relation to ICT. The newly (in May 2002) established Ministry of Informatics and Telecommunications (IHM) had made its programs and strategies based on these researches. Neither of these researches dealt with analysis on regional comparison. Mostly the questions examined hardware and software supply, Internet penetration and its usage in a technocratic way without looking deeper into the issue. These differences shown the groups attitude towards the topic, and on the other hand it pointed out the difficulties of accessibility. In addition to the continuously developed academic network of spine (HBONE), the Hungarian Government involved in developing the ICT infrastructure of institutions in public education. A program called Sulinet was launched in 1996 as a unique phenomenon in Europe. Firstly all institutions of compulsory education were equipped with IT equipments, then connected to the Internet. The other part of the initiative had gave financial support through tax refund in case of new IT equipments bought by families with children in compulsory education. Nowadays this initiative is a part of Közháló Programme (Public Network), and every public educational institution had been involved in it, by the strategy of IHM in 2003. Connecting many public institutions and local governments was also an initiative of Közháló project.
5The “Telehouse” campaign first started as a bottom up initiative, but it’s development of governmental tools made local communities accessible by eMagyarország (eHungary) points. (If a DSL connection was not possible, the problem was solved with a satellite connection.) In addition to this many projects started without governmental support, as wireless technologies became cheaper. Hungary has to face a new challenge on the field of ICT. As a member state of the EU Hungary had to reconstruct it’s own national strategies in order to fit into the EU’s Lisbon 2010 strategy and it’s side projects like eEurope dealing not only with the infrastructure but the improvement of the human factor in knowledge based societies. The side result of this process was the improvement of national statistical data collection methods related to IT and the usage of IT since the methods of Eurostat were accepted by the Hungarian Statistical Office (HSO).
6The for-profit sector also put an effort on to enhance the complexity and accessibility of the IT infrastructure for example the three major mobile telephone company have covered the whole country with their service offering mobile Internet connections since 2007. These services give opportunity for those who live in settlements where building the custom wire-based infrastructure a access is not profitable for the companies. With all these projects and efforts the Hungarian IT infrastructure – mostly the public sphere‘s infrastructure – became fully developed until 2005. This led to the reorganization of governmental structure in 2006, when the IHM was incorporated into the Ministry of Economics and Transport (GKM).
7Although the so called East-West and the urban-rural slope was slowly vanishing as the infrastructure became more developed, the ratio of IT users haven’t increased significantly since 2001. And unfortunately as the World Internet Project 2006 quoted the Hungarian government hasn’t got a clear strategy on creating or encouraging the development of the information society (ITTK–INFONIA Alapítvány, 2006).
8Development on the human capital side of the IT related change is a bottom up phenomena where members of the society give information and knowledge to each other. The diffusion of IT knowledge and acquiring new members is more like a peer to peer process the governmental efforts have no real effect (Letenyei et al 2003).
9Research activity on the use of ICT got stronger during Hungary’s preparation process to become a member of the EU. The first EU compatible researches on this field were carried out in 2001 focusing on the business sector. The first researches of Hungarian households were carried out in 2003. The first Internet penetration and diffusion-related research was a side-research of an EU funded international benchmark survey (SIBIS, 2003) in one micro-region in Hungary (Letenyei et al, 2003). The results showed that the so called Granovetterian weak tie connections (Granovetter, 1973) from out of the inhabitant’s settlement form the attitude toward IT and new information of the new and innovative technologies and know-how arrives to a certain community. As the benchmark research pointed out the most serious issue and disadvantage were the extremely expensive services related to IT. Five years passed since that time and the above mentioned changes and efforts had their effect. Some barrier still acts some barriers have altered. Attitudes became a major setback of development (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Division of digital literacy groups between age groups in Hungary, 2005
Source: IHM, 2005
10Almost 60% of the Hungarian population belongs to the group of digitally illiterate. Two main factors determine this group: age and the level of education. The spatial element is not as vigorous as it was in the early 2000’s while the infrastructural investments had effect on it (ITTK–INFONIA Alapítvány, 2006).
11In our research we deal with another form of technology diffusion. We considered the infrastructure available for everyone (either at home or in a common access point – telecottage, school, at workplace). We examined the use of the infrastructure through a use of an online service. Our hypothesis were:
• The embedness of the service in a community is a result of the settlement infrastructural development.
• The aforementioned governmental related infrastructural developments had an effect on the recently experienced attitudes toward ICT.
12Besides the widely used data available through the Hungarian Statistical Office different data was needed that’s why we turned to the most popular social webservice’s site in Hungary.
13We’ve used the webpage and the database of the first Hungarian social network site called International Who is Who (commonly used as: IWIW) which has more than 2 million users in our research.
14In order to underline the relevance of this online phenomena with our research topic a short description of IWIW is needed. The Facebook-like site opened to the public at the end of 2005. Nowadays, the site exists as a joint venture of the biggest Hungarian Internet provider’s media firm with more than 2.540.223 users mostly from Hungary. It means that almost the total population of Hungarian internet users are the part of this digital community. (The total population of Hungary is circa 10 Million and the inhabitant’s internet usage is about 25% according to the latest World Internet Project research (ITTK- Infonia, 2006).
15Since the site aim is to find friends, and to be present in order to get hits by our friends the use of avatars and alter egos are very rare. The public data from a user (the date of registration, the date of last visit on the site, place of residents, gender and sometimes age and the school the user had attended) is available for everyone who has a registration.
- 1 The system has several users who live in an still unregistered settlement. These users choose anoth (...)
16During the registration the system doesn’t offer all the settlements of Hungary only those which have been already registered by their inhabitants before. In order to register a new settlement it needs 100 votes are needed from registered users in the system. This newly voted settlement gets a unique id in the IWIW database. The number of id’s represent a time series where the smaller the number the older is the registration. (This process is valid for the individuals registered in the system, furthermore the exact registration date is also available for other users.)1
17During the first phase of the research we’ve focused on one statistical region in Hungary. The data of the settlements of the Nyugat-Dunántúl region were completed with spatial statistics using the Hungarian Statistical Office’s database T-STAR and we collected data on the number of common internet access points (eMagyarország Point and telecottages) in each settlement from the Prime Minister’s Office’s website. Another database was provided by the National Communications Authority (Nemzeti Hírközlési Hatóság) with the number of DSL contracts for each Hungarian settlement. The spatial data used in analysis were mostly demographical or dealing with the rate of unemployment or the available IT equipment in households.
18The group we have focused on is a special population in many ways. First we must say that these people are definitely not part of the group of digitally illiterates. In order to use the service one must have a PC, internet connection (own or common access), and a working email address. It also requires a higher trust in the new technology because one has to upload his/her personal information. According to Roy and Ghose (2006) these items are the signs of a more conscious use of IT. In this case we must say it was a matter of fashion and buzz about a new phenomenon.
19Just to underline the aforementioned processes in Hungary some regional spatial data about the IT sector have to be shown before examining the databases of IWIW. We took the datas of the National Communications Authority (NHH) from 2007 to show the IT state of each region in Hungary. Budapest as the capital and also the Közép-Magyarország region are far more well developed regions according to the data shown in Figure 2. The economically well-developed Northern Western Hungarian regions follow these regions. Our research area, the Nyugat-Dunántúl region is a well-developed area where 87,94% of the settlement were connected somehow in 2007.
Figure 2: Regions of Hungary and their main IT figures in 2007
*Budapest is part of the Central Hungary region but has rather different figures
Source: NHH database, edited by the author
20When we first collected the data from the site (August 2007) the service had 2.540.223 registered users in 1.010 registered Hungarian settlements (we ignored the foreign addresses and the users signed there). Five months later, in January the number of registered users in Hungarian settlements were 3.103.599 and the number of registered settlements was 2208. It means the whole network is improving very rapidly. That means approximately one third of all Hungarian population registered (this percent is definitely lower because of the numerous non-human registrants like businesses who use the website as a channel for advertisement and fake personalities.). Budapest on it’s own has the highest share of users (48,82%). Nyugat-Dunántúl region has 420 registered settlements in IWIW which means the share (11%) is around the Hungarian average (11,7%) and the smallest share between the seven regions with Dél-Dunántúl (8,69%), although the region is economically well developed.
21The answer to this question lies in the settlement structure of the territory. Density of settlements is the highest in this region and a vast number of little settlements can be found here as well especially in Southern part of the region in Zala county (Table 1).
22As we mentioned before, the infrastructure is given almost everywhere in Hungary. ‘Almost’ means that there are uncovered regions, characterized by mostly with low density of population and an ageing group of inhabitants.
Table 1: Divison of counties and settlements registered in IWIW between the number of inhabitants in Nyugat-Dunántúl region
Source: IWIW database, edited by the author
23These are the settlements with small populations. Almásháza from Zala county was the settlement registered to IWIW at the time of our research with the lowest population of 58. It’s obvious that only a little portion of the smallest settlements are part of the IWIW community and all the towns are part of it. In order to find the background of how settlements become part of the digital era we decided to use only the small settlements with population under 1500 because bigger settlement were not as numerous in the sample and the biggest cities would have distorted the results. The group of small settlements is the one were differences between membership in IWIW community can be also used.
The variables that were taken into consideration during the research of correlations:
Variables related to demographic data:
• Share of age group older than 60 years in total population (oregek)
• Density of population (nepsuruseg)
Variables related to previous common infrastructure development:
• Number of common access points (sum_kozosnet)
Variables related to infrastructure and equipments of inhabitant households
• Number of telephone lines per 1000 inhabitant (DTAAR015_1000)
• Number of ISDN lines per 1000 inhabitant (DTAAR012_1000)
• Number of cable TV subscribers per 1000 inhabitant (DTAAR008_1000)
• Number of DSL subscribers per 1000 inhabitant (adsl_1000lakos)
Variables related to inclusion
• Number of unemployed per 100 inhabitant (DTAAS002_1000)
24Linear regression was chosen with a forward method to analyze the two dependent variables: the IWIW code of the settlements (iwiw_kod) and the share of number of IWIW users in total population (userhanyad). One is measuring the effects of the aforementioned variables on how quickly a group of people will build a common online identity related to their spatial identity the other shows how the proportion of the offline group diverted into an online group is dependent from offline infrastructural and inclusion variables.
25None of the variables have any connection to the settlement’s inclusion variable but each of them had significant and strong connection to equipments in the households (Table 2 Table 3). The variable of DSL subscriptions was dropped out from the model in both cases because it’s distribution is connected strongly to the other infrastructure based variables therefore it’s explanatory force is not as strong.
Table 2: Results of linear regression with share of users in total population as dependent variable (R Square=0,149)
Source: edited by the author
26It is very remarkable that the variable explaining the social background of the settlements (DTAAS002_1000) was the first to be out from the models.
27The primal element in both models was the number of common access points what is related somehow to the size of he settlement and its relation to IT projects. All the common access points established either by the local government or an NGO in the village is a result of a successfully written and won fund mostly from the government or application that is have to be operated sustainably. Governmental funds and initiatives therefore are inevitable in the case of IT diffusion. But this is only the first step on the process. If we look at the other variables in the model the two infrastructure related variable in each case (DTAAR015_1000 and DTAAR008_1000) represent somehow the inhabitants relation to technology. These services (telephone and cable TV) are based on a rather old technology but where there is need to have these services the level of new technology acceptance is higher. A community where more electronic devices are used is more open to make a try on ICT. Demographic variables have a minor effect in the model. Neither the density of population nor the share of elderly influence the values connected to IWIW as the infrastructural variables mentioned before.
Table 4: Results of linear regression with IWIW code of the settlement as dependent variable (R Square=0,218)
Source: edited by the author
28The research on the database was successful. All the hypotheses proved to be right. The same elements that determined the attitude toward the IT equipments in the early IT researches in Hungary in 2003 also determine the way one uses services accessible through those devices nowadays. Density of population and the share of certain age groups influence attitudes the most. The existing infrastructural environment is also a key factor in a community’s sensitiveness. Common access points either a result of a top to bottom approach as eMagyarország points or a bottom to top initiative like the telecottages let the community to act together and reach the tipping point (in our case register their own settlement in the service) but the state of supply of ICT in households let individuals to get know the new technologies. Of course the infrastructural background is not enough to set off the diffusion process.
29Just like in the case of purchasing PC and the expansion of using PCs found in the aforementioned 2003 research, in our case, we can talk about real diffusion. If we take the generally used S curve of Rogers (1995) implemented into IT diffusion (Hüsing-Selhofer, 2004) we must say that this particular diffusion of registering into IWIW is in it’s early, evolving phase. The pattern of diffusion is more or less the same in places with higher density of population and in less inhabited parts of the Nyugat-Dunántúl region the whole process only started later and ends with fewer registrants. If we extrapolate the registrations in the future saturation will continue the only boundaries are the low increase rate of new IT users.
30Further researches need to be undertaken where the relationship between the online and offline part of everyday life can be described for example the relations between two settlements physical availability and their online connections. More elements can be added to the aforementioned system with a more intensive research on the existing database concentrating on the connections of individuals bringing new viewpoints in diffusion examination.