Last week, Sir Tim Berners-Lee released through the World Wide Web Foundation the inaugural Web Index, in an attempt to show how the internet has been adopted around the world. Australia ranked eighth, just behind New Zealand. It's not a bad score, although, given Australia's GDP per capita, we'd expect it to be at least one spot up the league table.
Australia's infrastructure held us back a little, lagging behind leading European and North American economies for broadband penetration and speeds. That meant, in terms of readiness, that we scored an index of 88, compared to 100 for Iceland, 97 for Sweden, 96 for Finland, 95 for the US, and 94 for the UK.
Infrastructure wasn't our major weakness, though; it was the impact the web has on business and the economy. On this measure, we scored just 69.6 (Ireland led the way, but you can't help thinking that Google's presence might have had more than a little influence on its score).
Economic factors have been determined by eight variables. Australia lost marks on many of them, including organisation; the extent to which information and communication technologies created new organisational models (such as virtual teams, remote working, and telecommuting). Australia scored 4.9 — about the same as China. Bear in mind, though, that the top score went to Sweden with just 5.8 points. Clearly, new ways of working are slow to take off everywhere.
Australia also lost ground on business development — the extent to which the country has developed successful businesses based on the use of the web. We scored 8, whereas most of the top 10 scored 9 or 10. Only New Zealand came lower, on 7.
Business use (such as buying and selling goods, and interacting with customers and suppliers over the internet) also held Australia back. We scored 6 out of 10; most others in the top 10 did better.
It's the same story for products and services; Sweden scored 6.2 for the creation of new business models, services and products, while Australia scored just 5.2.
We also took a hit on our trust of the web as a means of buying and selling goods. Whilst Sweden, the UK, Switzerland, and Norway scored a perfect 10, we shared an 8 with the US, Canada, and New Zealand.
Put all of these minor disadvantages together, and the differential widens between Australia and the leaders in the pack. That's why we came eighth overall.
The index is another sign that Australia could be falling behind when it comes to innovation. The Australian Bureau of Statistics' (ABS) Summary of IT Use and Innovation report sounded another warning bell. In our far-flung corner of the world, we have more to gain from the net than anyone, but have we really grasped the opportunity?
The National Broadband Network (NBN) might help improve our infrastructure ranking, but it will do little to change our position in Berners-Lee's league table. We need to change the way we do business.