Explain the concept of digital “visitors” and “residents” drawing upon your reading and your own online experiences to date in support of the points you make.

Developed from Marc Prensky’s “Digital Natives” and “Digital immigrants” model; the digital “visitors and “residents” take a flaw from Prensky’s model stating that: “Just because people are proficient users of technology for social purposes, it does not necessarily follow that they are effective at using it for learning or to build their professional online profiles.”


A “visitor” sees the web as a collection of tools, which can be used to get things done. Once the task is complete, the visitor will return the tool and leave;  leaving no social trace of them online. An example in my life of this is when researching for an assignment, I use Google scholar to find an article, once read I leave the webpage.

A “resident” sees the web as a series of spaces or places: living out a portion of their life online. They interact with the web, leaving traces that remain. Examples of this in my life include having a Facebook and twitter profile which I actively use to post on other peoples photos, re-tweet and tweet. These resident modes build up your personality online, generating you “online profile”.

In David Whites video (embedded below) he takes this one step further, suggesting that we cannot just have a continuum between residents and visitors. Below is a diagram which shows this concept.


The idea is that someone can be proficient at using the web in their “personal” life, but not in their “institutional” life. Before starting this module, though I was a resident of the web, I mostly used the web for personal use. However, this module has begun to make me look into developing my professional profile, and begin to use the web in a much more interactive and academic way. I have done this by joining the digital humanities mailing list, which I interact with, giving feedback to others; starting this blog, creating an about.me page and a linked in.

It is important to that this concept is a spectrum. Each individual will use the web in different ways, socially or academically. Someone who is a resident in their social use of the web, does not necessarily become a proficient user of the web in an institutional way. This is something that needs to be learnt and developed.

Visitors and Residents: David White, Oxford University. 


White, D. S., & Cornu, A. L. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9).
Pensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horrizon, 9(5).
White, D. (2014). Visitors and ResidentsVideo Presentation. 
Connaway, Lynn Silipigni, David White, and Donna Lanclos. 2011. Visitors and residents: What motivates engagement with the digital environment? Presented at the ASIS&T Annual Meeting Bridging the Gulf: Communication and Information in Society, Technology, and Work Conference, October 10, 2011, New Orleans, LA.
White, D. (2008) Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’ Tall Blog, University of Oxford. 
Harris, Lisa, Warren, Lorraine, Leah, Jean and Ashleigh, Melanie (2010) Small steps across the chasm: ideas for embedding a culture of open education in the university sector. In Education http://ineducation.ca Technology & Social Media (Special Issue, Part 2), , 16 , (1

8 thoughts on “Topic 1: Digital Visitors and Residents

  1. Anna 🙂

    It’s encouraging to see that we both share the view that Prensky’s ‘Digital Native’ and ‘Immigrant’ terms are insufficient in explaining an individuals online behaviour.

    In explaining the newly acknowledged terms of ‘Digital Residents and Visitors’, I like that you’ve integrated own experiences in your definitions. This makes your blog more personal,and enables readers to engage, and identify their own position on this spectrum.

    What I found most interesting was your inclusion of White’s (2014) video in which you identified the differences in personal and institutional web activity within the ‘resident’ and ‘visitor’ context. This was particularly thought-provoking, and has led me to ponder and ask the question; How can we ensure that ‘residents’ of the web are able to effectively co-partmentalise their social and institutional lives, so they don’t become a blur?

    Catherine x


  2. Hello Catherine

    I wanted to share with you my opinions in answering your question: “How can we ensure that ‘residents’ of the web are able to effectively co-partmentalise their social and institutional lives, so they don’t become a blur?”. I think it is important to refer to the diagram in my blog above (Chris Follows Digital Residents and Visitors map). This diagram starts to break down how different applications on the web are used to work towards a social or institutional presence on the web.

    However, this diagram also brings up problems. As you pointed out a blur is so easy to come by. The web is seen by everyone, and thus everyone should be constantly aware of the work their “leave behind them”. One step I have taken to separate my personal from my institutional life on the web, is by privatizing my Facebook page. Only my friends can view what I share on this page. And therefore, i have removed the chance of a blur between the two on Facebook.

    I also feel that people forget that the web is accessible by everyone, this includes: future employers, co-workers, friends and family. Forgetting that there is no clear line between their personal and institutional presence on the web. Though there are steps we can take towards dividing our personal and institutional presence, we cannot completely separate them.


  3. Hi Anna,

    Your concise definitions of “visitor” and “resident” are absolutely excellent, perhaps the clearest I have seen. However, I find it slightly odd that you display the biaxial graphic relating the Visitor/Resident continuum to the Personal/Institutional continuum and then proceed to talk about proficiency.

    Whilst I agree that there is a proficiency in maintaining proper awareness of how personal or professional the use of a website is, this is not the proficiency, I believe, you are talking about. This proficiency, in my opinion, actually has little to do with the axes that White outlines; rather, how effectively one uses the separate websites within context to achieve their aims.

    The fact that you mention proficiency at all highlights it as an important aspect in an individual’s digital habits, and thus suggests that the Visitor/Resident concept as it currently stands is useful but incomplete. That any analysis of one’s own effectiveness in using the internet must include this is seemingly obvious but conspicuously absent from White’s current concept. What are your thoughts on this?



  4. Hi Calum,

    Thanks for your comment! Your questioning on my use of ‘proficiency’ has really got me thinking. I believe though that there is a small link between proficiency and the axes, though as i will come on to explain i believe overall with your opinion.

    I believe that you can be a “proficient” user of the web for institutional or for social uses of the web. I believe this is the average way you use the specific sites displayed within an area. However, i completely agree that the main proficiency is reflected in how effectively users use the separate websites within context to achieve their aims.

    I also completely agree with your final point, that Whites model of digital visitors and residents appears incomplete. I feel the theory needs to be expanded to incorporate proficiency on both scales: an overarching branch and of individual websites.



  5. Hi Anna,

    Thanks for your useful, and applicable response to my question 🙂

    Having read your response it has made me think a little deeper and I thought I would share my thoughts with you and the rest of our module class.

    It is interesting to see that even as residents of the web, who are perceived as skilled users, also need to ensure that we remain careful and considerate on the web through our interactions so that we don’t blur our social and professional lives, which can be so easily done.

    Your example of privatizing your Facebook account is a good step forward as this will ensure you are able to keep track of friends, who has access to your account, and also enables you to judge to what extent is this a ‘social’ or ‘professional’ account. However while the argument stands that we shouldn’t really have professional friends on Facebook. . .perhaps could it be seen more acceptable and less of a blur if we created a separate Facebook accounts, so that these interactions between future employers and employees can still happen within the digital world, but in a controlled and ‘professional’ manner.

    The original question I posed to you, has also made me think about setting up another Twitter account, as I engage regularly in both social and academic interactions, and the blur between the two contexts is quite obvious.

    Nevertheless, while you suggest that the web is accessible to everyone, and there is no clear line between the two, social media is so present in our everyday lives, could a professional presence be kept separate by simply having two different accounts? I think that a lot of the issues and concerns regarding the potential blur between social and professional web presence is to do with the individuals incapabilities of being careful and not behaving correctly in the assumed context of social or professional when engaging with the technology, social media or web behaviour.



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