From today, UK online centres across England will start to offer myguide to their customers. For those who think computers and the internet are too complicated, too expensive, just for the young or just not for them, it could be a gateway to a whole new world.
The myguide website - www.myguide.gov.uk - offers free, easy-to-use email and web-search tools from a simple, banner-free, ad-free website. myguide allows people to personalise and save their settings, change colours, font size and even choose to use a built-in 'hear it' function which reads the text on screen.
Because myguide is for absolute beginners, it's designed to be supported by staff so they can ensure people's first steps onto the internet are so positive they'll want to keep on using it.
myguide began life at the DfES (Department for Education and Skills), and is now being developed by the UK online centres team at Ufi. Approval for the national roll-out of the service came from Skills Minister Phil Hope.
He said: "We want the internet to be available and accessible to people who have never used it before. There are an estimated 14m people across England who aren't using computers and the internet - excluded for a variety of reasons - for instance by age, culture, disability, income, or lack of education.
"Computers and the skills to use them effectively are fast becoming a necessity of life - for work, general information, social interaction, and for everyday tasks like grocery shopping, banking, even buying a tax disc, booking a holiday or filling in a benefits form. It's vital the benefits of technology are extended to as many people as possible, so they get to make the choices and take the opportunities it offers. I believe myguide can help make that happen, and help us achieve digital equity for all."
The national launch of myguide follows a long period of development, piloting and testing. Helen Milner, Managing Director of UK online centres explains:
"Popular search engines or email providers may often look simple, but for our target audience they can still be very intimidating. From the proof of concept to the marketing, design and delivery, each stage of myguide's development has referred back to people who can't, won't or don't use computers. That process certainly won't end here, and we'll carry on involving them as we make additions to what myguide can do over the coming weeks and months.
"The pilot of myguide last year shows that it's the centre support as much as the website itself that helps first-time users become increasingly confident and self-sufficient 'surfers'. Customers felt centre staff were a key part of the myguide offering - 97% enjoyed using the service. What's more, it appeared that for some customers, myguide was a stepping-stone onto new things. 57% of those taking part in the pilot said they wanted to go on to do an education or training course, and 64% said it made them think about looking for more satisfying or varied work. As the Minister points out, using computers and the internet can have a wider impact on people's lives."
Helen continued: "UK online centres will start using myguide with customers over the next few months, gaining training and experience in supporting the service as it builds to full capacity in the Autumn. The mission of UK online centres is to empower people to become skilled and confident citizens, at ease with ICT, and I believe myguide will be key in helping us achieve it. The gap between the ICT 'haves' and 'have nots' has not closed naturally, and it's important those left on the wrong side of the digital divide get an equal chance to make the most of technology."
One ICT-novice turned internet aficionado is 59 year old Frank Foley, from Birmingham. He added: "With computers and the internet, I used to feel like I was in a foreign country with no map. With myguide I feel like suddenly I've been given a map! Just a few weeks ago I didn't even know www meant 'world wide web' let alone what a website or an email actually was! If someone like me can understand it, anyone can."