Foreign and local companies set to launch an online service or product in Canada should consider Ontario as their testing ground, an Internet marketing expert says.

That’s because Ontario outpaces all other Canadian provinces in terms of Internet penetration and usage, says Brent Lowe-Bernie, president of comScore Media Metrix Canada, a media research firm in Toronto.

“Ontarians spend more time online than other Canadians,” Lowe-Bernie noted. “The Web has become a very important part of their life,” he said during his presentation at last week’s Toronto Tech Week convention.

“If companies are looking for Internet opportunities or planning to launch an online product,” Lowe-Bernie said, “they should test it out here first.”

As part of a panel of speakers discussing Web 2.0 trends and the Canadian IT job market, the online media expert shared some numbers gathered by comScore.

Canadian Internet users aged 17 and older, he said, are approaching the 24 million mark with about 72 per cent of the population having Internet access.

The top five Canadian regions – in terms of percentage of the population engaged in online activity – are: Ontario- 37.5 per cent; Quebec – 25.7 per cent; Prairies – 16.7 per cent British Columbia -13.6 per cent and Atlantic Canada – 7.0 per cent.

When it comes to time spent each month online, Ontarians also lead the pack with each user spending around 37 hours a month online. The numbers for other jurisdictions are: B.C. – 33 hours per user, per month; Quebec – 32.5 hours; Atlantic Canada – 32 hours; and the Prairies – 31 hours.

“When you look at time spent and amount of content consumed online, it’s evident [Ontario] consumers – whether pursuing information or entertainment – are using this channel (the Internet) very heavily,” Lowe-Bernie said.

He said the numbers suggest that “if you have an existing business, you should have a digital extension of that business.”

At least one technology insider agrees.

“Many businesses, if they are not online, could be losing an opportunity,” said Richard McDonald, technical executive and IT architect at IBM Canada. “More importantly they could be handing their competitors an opportunity.”

He said many decision makers are still puzzled by social networking and Web 2.0 trends.

McDonald also delivered a talk at the opening day of Tech Week.
His presentation, titled: Web 2.0 in The Enterprise discussed some ways organizations could implement various online social networking tools to enhance business operations and customer contact.

The Web 2.0 trend is entering a phase that research firm Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. calls the “trough of disillusionment,” said McDonald.

This is a time when certain technologies fail to meet the public’s expectations and teeter on the brink of becoming unfashionable. Shortly afterwards, more practical applications are developed and the technology is taken up again.

McDonald said online social networking has the potential of having a huge impact on society and various industries within the next two years.

“Canadian companies are poised to reap its benefits because they appear to have a greater appreciation of the influence of Web 2.0 than their counterparts elsewhere.”

What are “ideal” sectors for setting up an online or social net-based business?

While McDonald notes the trend has touched pretty much every industry, a comScore survey indicates some Web sites are doing better than others.

Sites catering to family, women and home improvement, according to Lowe-Bernie, are doing very well at the moment.

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