Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Firefox Download Day

If you run Firefox as your web-browser, you should know they have a new version (firefox 3.0) available. If you download before 1pm EDT today, you will help them in their bid to set the World Record for a software download.

If you don't run Firefox as your web-browser, you should. It is available free of charge and under a fairly reasonable open-source license (the MPL - I prefer the GPL, but I am a purest). Lots of fun add-ons and gadgets are available. Security tends to be a bit better than IE.

My ad campaign for Firefox aside, I think the map they provide on their page documenting their ongoing world record attempt, the map which shows the number of downloads from locations worldwide, shows some interesting data points. It is possible these numbers have inaccuracies that keep them from being really meaningful, clearly they were not collected with a rigorous scientific methodology, but it doesn't seem entirely foolish to accept them as somewhat accurate (say, within the right order of magnitude) estimates. As such, they paint an interesting picture of how connected to the global network various places are in the current moment. Some things about this picture are not very surprising - they are the same features Castells noticed 15 years ago - but important to note as evidence of persistent inequality. A few features are surprising, however.

Nations of the developed world tend to have fairly large numbers of downloads. The US is first by far, with over 2 million downloads - though this must be at least in part a result of native pride (Firefox project is organized by the US based Mozilla foundation) and the fact that download day was set from 1pm EDT yesterday to 1pm EDT today, a time span convenient for users in most U.S. time zones. Western European Countries tend to have 100,000 downloads or more - sometimes much more, Germany has over 400,000 - Australia, Canada, Japan, China, and Brazil (Brazil actually beats out its fellow BRIC developing economies here, with more downloads than Russia, India, or China. This may be browser preference in part, but clearly shows the strength of Brazil's economy as well) round out the "over 100,000 club" with one more, somewhat surprising addition I will get to later.

Compare this wealth of downloads to the dirth of downloads on the content of Africa. Only South Africa has over 10,000 downloads. Only Nigeria, Morocco, Algeria, Kenya and Egypt have over 1,000. The Democratic Republic of Congo, a nation of 62 million people, claims only 45 downloads. That's 33 fewer than Greenland. Somalia claims only 10. There is one, lone Firefox downloader in Chad.

The Caribbean also is a low download zone, though it seems signifigantly better connected than Africa. The Dominican Republic, with about the same population as Chad, has almost 4,000 downloads. Of course, they also have about the same population as Belgium, which has 46,000 downloads. Cuba lags, but is not the total blackout zone it would have been a few years ago. They have 860 downloads as I write this and may pass 1,000 before the end of the day. Haiti is by far the least downloadingest Caribbean country, with only 86 downloads (for 8 million people)!

The middle east is also a relatively low download zone. Saudi Arabia, with about 7,000 downloads, is at about the same per-capita download rate as the Dominican Republic. Iraq has fewer than 200 downloads (does the US army run Internet explorer, then?). Israel and Turkey have healthy, if not astounding, download rates (25,000 and 50,000 respectively). The real shocker is the surprise I alluded to earlier. Iran. Iran has 185,000 downloads - more than Pakistan, India, Russia, China, Australia or Brazil. I suppose this might be some sort of fluke or bad number or IP geolocation flaw or something, but if it isn't... well, it says something about what sort of "closed society" Iran is running these days, I think.

Oh and speaking of closed societies, the only country I could find on the map with 0 downloads was.... North Korea. I guess they win at being isolated.

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