Digital ‘Visitors’ and ‘Residents’

The idea of classifying web users as ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’ is a fairly new one, first identified in a paper from White, Manton and Le Cornu (2009). Their final 2011 write-up had the aim of replacing the pre-existing idea of digital ‘natives’ and ‘immigrants’ coined by Marc Prensky in an article back in 2001, but now found to barely scratch the surface.

The system positions all web users on a continuum between being a total ‘visitor’ (one who uses the digital world for specific purposes, and leaves when those purposes are completed, leaving no trace) and a total ‘resident’ (someone who ‘lives’ on the web, with constantly updating social media presences). This video by Dave White, the creator of the paradigm, is very useful in explaining the terms more fully. As with most continuums such as this, the thought is that the majority of users are likely to exist somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.

I do have a couple of concerns about the dynamic here, however. Firstly, after researching for a fair amount of time on this topic, I can’t find a well-constructed study offering any data about how numbers of visitors and residents break-down by age or social class (A rather flawed study by Wright, White, Hirst and Cann appears to offer the only data on the issue, and as a study of students forced to use Google+ for the purposes of their course, there are many ways it can be criticised).

While I accept the theory is useful in any respect, it feels strange that White makes claims that suggest age is not a large factor in this spectrum without having any numbers to back himself up. From my own personal use of the web, I would suggest that the lower-skilled users overall would tend to split in terms of age largely, with older low-skill users likely to be almost entirely visitors, and younger low-skill users likely to be resident but with little to say for themselves.

The lack of empiricism is my main concern, but I am also worried that White thinks he has replaced the natives/immigrants paradigm, which looks largely at skill, with a visitor/resident paradigm that doesn’t include skill on any level. Personally, I’d suggest that both systems could well be coexisting in the way people use the web, while Prensky’s thoughts could benefit from the continuum White employs.


All references are displayed as links in the text.

Prensky, M., 2001. MCB University Press Volume 9 (5). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.

White, D. S., 2013. YouTube video on ‘Dave White’s channel named ‘Visitors and Residents’.

White, D. S., and Le Cornu, A., 2011. First Monday, Volume 16 (9). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement.

White, D. S., Manton, M., and Le Cornu, A., 2009. Isthmus: Headline Findings Report.

Wright, F., White, D. S., Hirst, T., and Cann, A., 2013. Learning, Media and Technology, Volume 39 (1). Visitors and Residents: mapping student attitudes to academic use of social networks.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *