Novice Internet Users (NIUs)

Novice Internet Users (NIUs) are individuals who experience low digital confidence usually due to low digital literacy. There are 2.5 billion NIUs in the world today, comprising the majority of 4.7 billion internet users globally. As a result, NIUs have the power to shape the future of the internet and learning from their experiences will be critical to creating a better internet for everyone, everywhere.

Novice Internet Users are more likely to be found in unsaturated, high-growth markets for smartphones and the internet. We call these Next Billion Users (NBU) countries, which include Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Below are some actual stories from NIUs who we have met over the years:

“My palms are sweaty”

Miguel laughed nervously as he put down his smartphone after being shown how to send a text message. The 40-year-old food packer in Mexico had just bought his first smartphone and was learning how to use it. His teacher was his 13-year-old daughter, Alicia. “There are so many new things to understand. It’s overwhelming,” Miguel said. While Alicia was walking him through the phone set-up - including connecting it to WiFi - Miguel was reluctant to tap anywhere on the phone's touchscreen.

In India, Diya, a 36-year-old seamstress, has a smartphone she uses to stay in touch with family and friends, and to watch cooking videos on YouTube. “Although I’ve had my phone for 2 years, I don’t explore what most other apps and buttons do. I often avoid them.”

She hesitated and then added, “At first, I wasn’t even sure if the smartphone was for someone like me. But so many people I know use one. Now that I have a smartphone, I’m proud to fit in. Maybe what I know is enough for me.”

'Novice Internet Users' can be found all over the world

It doesn’t matter if it is Brussels or Bombay, whether in rural or urban areas, Novice Internet Users can be found all over the world including countries like the US and Canada. Demographics do not determine how familiarized they are with the internet and its benefits. That is more dependent on one’s past expertise and skills and how those influence their experience with new technologies.

'Novice Internet Users’ are not defined by their online tenure

The amount of time a person has been acquainted with the internet is not an accurate predictor of their digital expertise. There are many people globally whose proficiency in using the internet is currently at novice level: some of them started using the internet 5 days ago, others have explored it for 5 months or even years.

Through our interactions with NIUs, we have observed these key traits:

Low in digital literacy

NIUs are unfamiliar with and may be confused by internet interfaces and experiences.

Low in digital confidence

NIUs are less keen to explore outside of what they know or use the internet on their own.

Reliant on informal teachers

NIUs learn how to use the internet or smartphone by instruction from friends or family.

Unaware of the value in using the internet

NIUs don’t (yet) see the internet as a useful way to advance their needs and aspirations.

Mobile-only or mobile-first

NIUs use the internet primarily through their mobile phones.

Image and video consumers:

NIUs prefer images and videos to text formats.


NIUs find using voice easier than typing or tapping.

Our goal

Our goal is to help Novice Internet Users (NIUs) maximize the tangible benefits of being online, which include accessing income-earning opportunities, being part of communities where they can be empowered to contribute, acquiring information and education, and even enjoying entertainment.

With collaboration from the wider tech ecosystem, we can more swiftly act on the needs of NIUs and build a better, more inclusive and equitable internet for them, and for the rest of the world.