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Downloading Firefox 3 and the digital divide

20 June, 2008

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’?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. 20 June, 2008 3:29 pm

    an alternative theory might be government censorship. Microsoft as a major company is more likely to be working with government and possibly allowing the government to track web browsing through internet explorer or Firefox is better at handling proxy servers that let Iranians get around Government blockades, or finally, (and the same is true for Brazil) it might simply be the number of Linux boxes in Iran is rather high, googling around reveals that Windows has historically had problems with Farsi while Linux doesn’t just come natively in it, but there are numerous Iranian made Linux installs. Interestingly,

    Apparently Opera is also popular in Iran.

  2. 20 June, 2008 5:41 pm

    Thanks for the theories Andrew, and that is interesting about Opera. Also, I think that Firefox comes pre-installed in some Linux-based systems like Ubuntu, which might support the Linux box theory.

  3. Mohammad permalink
    23 June, 2008 6:50 am

    I think it’s mostly a matter of population: Iran has a population of 70m, and according to it is currently only 39th in terms of Firefox downloads-per-capita. The list is at most parts similar to GDP per capita (see Iran is at 60~71 at GDP per capita which is not very far from 39th.

    Also as an Iranian I have to say that Iranians are generally techno-enthusiasts, and web-related news are covered in most public news media. I don’t think government censorship has much effect on the FF download rate, but I do think that the popularity of Internet is partly because of the exceptional openness it provides to Iranians, among other media which are generally heavily regulated.

    Linux is not very popular, but it is almost certainly more popular than other middle-east nations, which is again because of the techno-enthusiasm in my opinion. I suggest you take a look at web statistics for Iran (e.g. Iran is 7th in terms of Google users number: which is a good indicator of the relatively large number of active internet users in Iran.


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