There were two news items last week that struck me as an interesting study in contrasts.

Fact #1: According to the Chinese government, the number of Internet users climbed 53% in 2007 to 210 million. This ranks China as the world’s second-largest Internet population behind the U.S. (215 million).

Fact #2: About 25% of people in the U.S. – the world’s most affluent country – have no Internet access.

When you spend a lot of time online, it’s easy to forget that many people spend little or no time online. Some just use the Web a few hours a week to check e-mail and some surfing, while many people have no use for the Web – no surfing, no e-mail, no Facebook, no Twitter or blogging. Fascinating.

Not surprisingly, the Pew Internet & American Life Project said people with limited or no Internet access tend to be older, less affluent and less well educated.

In total, there are more than one billion people online. That’s obviously impressive but what’s perhaps more intriguing is what the next one billion users are going to look like. Michael Geist has an interesting take on what we can expect. Not only will the next billion come from places such as China, India and Brazil but Geist says most new Internet users will not speak English as their first language.

“Moreover, many new internet users will have different cultural and societal views on hot-button issues such as online free speech, privacy, and copyright. As they demand a voice in global policy making, those users will help shift the policy debate.”

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