Downloading Firefox 3 and the digital divide
The new version of the Firefox web browser was released yesterday with much fanfare in circles that get excited about web browsers. The Mozilla folk were attempting to crack a Guinness Book record for the most downloads in one day, and they appear to have been successful with reportedly more than 8 million copies of the program downloaded in the first 24 hours (as I write the figure is in excess of 10 million).
Okay, but what does this have to do with anthropology?
What prompted me to write this post is the interactive map of global downloads Mozilla posted on their website here. Although this is not Mozilla’s intention, this provides a graphic example of the discrepancies between access to IT globally. Most striking are the grey areas with low downloads which cover most of Africa. Note that the figures are raw numbers of downloads rather than per capita figures, so this skews the impression somewhat. For example, China seems to be right up there with best of them but the figure of 160 odd thousand downloads about the same as Australia, with only about 2% of the population.
The most intriguing detail for me though is the large number of downloads in Iran, the USA’s current enemy number 1; more than downloads in Australia, China, Russia, Canada, Italy or Brazil. (The map is always evolving, so these facts are only true at the moment of writing.) What is going on there? What is the source of this enormous Iranian interest in the premier open source web browser? Is there widespread hatred of Internet Explorer and Microsoft? Or does Firefox simply provide excellent Farsi support? Are similar factors regarding the take-up of technology at work to the ones Greg pointed out in a recent post, and would targetted ethnographic work help to shed some light on this ‘anomaly’?