On Friday, 7 October 2016 during a press conference at the international press centre Nieuwspoort, Statistics Netherlands (CBS) will present details of its cooperation with Google and the Dutch company Dataprovider in a highly innovative project to map the internet economy. The resulting new method is to shed further light on the size of the internet economy in the Netherlands.
Impact of digital economy
Jon Steinberg, Public Policy Manager for Europe at Google, comments on the excellent cooperation with CBS: ‘Google likes to work with parties conducting research on the digital economy. CBS is known for being an organisation with an open attitude towards innovation and working with big data. We find this interesting.’ It is a challenge for both government policymakers and the private sector to keep up with developments in the internet economy. ‘The economy is changing and traditional research methods and statistics don’t always provide sufficient insight into these changes. We, too, realise the importance of understanding the impact the internet economy is having.’
Google has previously sponsored an analogical project in the UK in which big data were used to produce statistics on the internet economy. Steinberg: ‘As we thought it might be interesting to CBS, we shared the research report with them. CBS has meanwhile carried out a similar project in the Netherlands, using big data sourced by Dataprovider.’ The Dutch project has a triple objective for Google: to provide an unambiguous definition of the term internet economy, to determine the size of the internet economy ánd to develop new methods for production of statistics. ‘The results can then be shared with other countries, so data can be compared all across Europe.’
Meticulously structured data
Gijs Barends is co-founder of Dataprovider, a company which gathers all possible types of data from businesses through the internet. Data are then structured so it becomes easier to perform searches. ‘The difference with Google is that Google mainly displays the best search results. We have noticed however that businesses like to obtain all available results, and we can deliver them.’ Dataprovider delivers these meticulously structured data to large customers, of whom 90 percent are located outside the Netherlands. ‘Dataprovider collects data in around 40 countries worldwide. Our systems recognise all information and download millions of websites. And our internet bots provide monthly updates on all gathered data.’
Barends is greatly enthusiastic about collaborating with CBS: ‘It was indeed a puzzle to sort out the proper definition of the term internet economy. After that, we had to unearth all the related data. For example, we were able to identify all online shops based on certain technologies they use, such as payment or delivery methods. Results then provided a basis for the different categories we assigned to the companies. These are linked with the central register of companies (Algemeen Bedrijven Register). That can provide interesting information on the turnover and the employment of such companies.’
Core of the internet economy
At CBS, Lotte Oostrom of the Centre for Policy-related Statistics has led the research project. Also closely involved is Bastiaan Rooijakkers, manager of the Centre. The project presented a challenge to both of them since the internet economy is a new theme that had not been mapped out by CBS in this particular way. It was new not only in the way of collecting the data - namely using big data (ed.) – but also in respect of the working method. Rooijakkers: ‘First, we asked ourselves what is really meant by the internet economy. The internet is so completely intermeshed with our society that it has become very hard to draw a clear distinction. So we looked at how money is being made via the internet.‘
Rooijakkers and his team then found there are several layers: ‘One category is not present on the internet; one is present but does not generate revenue directly from the internet, and there is the core of the internet economy, in which money is being made from or through the internet. This includes webshops, internet services such as online market places, entertainment and price comparison sites, and internet-related ICT companies such as internet service providers and webdesigners.’ To assign companies to the appropriate category, the first step was to link their websites to the business register at CBS. ‘We then looked at the website content in order to assess the type of activity for each business. As a result we have not only gained new insights into the internet economy, but also into the many new activities which are not yet being captured by our current statistics, think of app builders and vloggers.’
The development of a new and innovative method required both internal and external coordination, explains project leader Oostrom. ‘We therefore continued sparring throughout the whole process with our direct colleagues but also with an external advisory group of experts from the Ministry of Economic Affairs, ICT-Nederland and the academic world, among others. We consulted them frequently and presented the initial results to them as well.’ The project is now in the development phase and the results will appear shortly on the innovation portal of the CBS website, where external parties will be asked for feedback. According to Oostrom there are plans to take this research to the European level so as to allow for international comparison. Discussions on this topic with the European Commission are currently underway.