Kulturwissenschaften und Europa
Cultural Collaboratory
Agata Skowron-Nalborczyk: 
The Internet in Poland

1. A short history

The Internet itself is about 27 years old. The fact that the Internet in Poland is only seven years old reflects the attitudes of the previous Communist government. Information was regarded as the totalitarian regime's most dangerous enemy. The government itself was to be the only source of information for the people. Even a free exchange of letters between individuals was frowned on, while correspondence with people abroad, especially with those in the "free world", was even more fiercely opposed.
Polish citizens were able to communicate freely only after the downfall of the Communist regime in 1989. Poland's initial contacts via computer with the rest of the world were over the EARN/Bitnet network. It was possible to use e-mail, FTP, Gopher and text only versions of the WWW. EARN/Bitnet was a scientific network,and so was available only at universities or scientific institutions, but it was enormously appreciated. 1
There were gradual improvements until Poland was connected to the Internet, initially to WWW hosts, while websites proliferated and access improved. Today Poland is in 14th2 place in Europe as regards connections to the Internet, ie. hosts within the domain ".pl" (Poland).

2. Some numbers

Poland now (written: June 1998) has 107,8333 hosts in the domain ".pl". When you compare this with Germany (".de") at 1,256,491, or Great Britain (".uk") at 1,215,738, or Austria (".at") at 133,436, or even Finland (".fi") at 432,724 and the Netherlands (".nl") at 487,169 it may appear that Poland has few hosts in relation to its size. But one need only compare Russia (".ru") with just 135,216 hosts, or Hungary (".hu") with 67,848 hosts. Among post-Communist countries, Poland's 107,833 hosts put it in second place, although Poland is not the largest country in this group4. Poland also has more hosts than, for instance, Portugal  (".pt") at 44,875, Ireland ("ie") at 45,024 or Greece (".gr") at 35,286.

Perhaps the more significant measure of Polish interest in the Internet is the monthly increase in host sites. Here Poland was in 7th place in Europe in June 19985 with a monthly increase of 10,024. In comparison, the monthly increase in host numbers of countries on the list ahead of Poland are:
+ 63,652
(total:    487,169)
+ 37,605
(total: 1,215,738)
+ 32,612
(total: 1,256,419)
+ 20,848
(total:    240,678)
+ 18,268
(total:    432,724)
while other domains bigger than ".pl" show slower increase in host numbers, eg.:
- 153
(total: 428,613)
+ 8,617
(total: 377,799)
- 2,727
(total: 305,735)
+ 6,743
(total: 195,961)
 + 1,254
(total: 179,992)
- 455 
(total: 135,216)
+ 2,666
(total: 133,436)
and domains smaller than ".pl" also show lower host count progression:
- 14,654
(total: 67,848)
+ 3,471
(total: 66,682)
- 51
(total: 45,024)
+ 1,363
(total: 44,875)
 + 2,032
(total: 35,286)
As one can see, Poland is one of the most dynamic countries in Europe
in the development of its Internet structure,  and is the most dynamic among post-Communist countries.

3. Internet users in Poland

The profile of Poland's Internet users is also of interest.

3.1 Age, sex and education6

Internet users in Poland are  generally young. The number of Internet users below the age of 24 is growing, particularly as a result of  the "Internet for Schools" programme sponsored by the Batory Foundation. The programme provides computers and modems, as well as space for WWW pages on the Foundation's websites.

A breakdown of the age groups of Internet users is as follows:
10 %
30 %
26 %
20 %
32 %
29 %
24 %
16 %
50 + 
 8 %
 5 %
Males predominate amongst Internet users:

22 %
18 %
78 %
82 %
Furthermore, men are predominant amongst system administrators, holding 83% of positions.

Because use of the Internet began at universities and scientific institutions, Polish Internet users are likely to be found among the better educated sector of the population. However the significant increase noted among younger users may lessen the educated sector's proportional dominance.
 2 %
9 %
11 %
14 %
24 %
77 %
63 %
University  graduates using the Internet are more likely to be found in the fields of pure science, such as mathematics, physics (the very first Polish Internet server was set up at the Warsaw University Physics Faculty) chemistry and computer science, rather than amongst specialists in the humanities or social sciences. Among university employees using Internet, 18% are assistants, 16% assistant professors, 17% technical workers and 4% professors.

The average Internet user in Poland in 1996 was about 30 years old, male, a graduate in the pure sciences, working at a university institute and living in a city with a population over 500,000 inhabitants.7

3.2 Services, programmes and platforms in use

The Internet services most commonly used in Poland are e-mail,WWW,  and discussion and news groups. Internet users commonly access Internet via a modem, using as platform a PC with MS Windows and Netscape Navigator (72%) or MS Internet Explorer (19%)8. An inexpensive PC and modem is easily obtainable in Poland. Macintoshs are very expensive in comparison and thus less popular.  Anyone attempting to buy more expensive models such as a SUN computer must be prepared to wait some time, as they must be imported from the the United States.9

These are 1996 figures. The situation is almost certain to have changed since because almost all computers sold in 1998 were equipped with MS Windows 1995 using MS Internet explorer. However Netscape Navigator still has its fans even among MS Windows 95 and 98 users.

3.3 Accessibility and costs

Most Polish Internet users have their e-mail accounts at  universities, scientific institutes, schools or places of employment.  It is also possible to get an e-mail account and a 1MB space for a WWW page free of charge  via providers such as friko.onet.pl. Free Internet access is provided by Polish Telecom under a special number, 0,202122 and everyone can surf the Internet for only the cost of local calls.
However the Internet services' market in Poland is rather a producer's than a consumer's market.10

4. Some special characteristics of the Polish Internet

The Polish alphabet represents a special problem for  Internet users communicating in Polish. Internet was created by English language speakers, and English uses no diacritical marks. West European countries undergoing computerisation were connected to this network using their own diacritical marks. There is no place for other diacritical signs in the most commonly used code page, ISO Latin 1.

The main problem is that there are a number of coding systems for Polish diacritical marks but only one is accepted as a standard: the Polish norm (PN-93 T-4211811) ISO Latin 2. However, there are other codes for  MS Windows (CP 1250) and for Macintosh.

According to Polish Internet "netiquette", the Polish  alphabet should not be used when writing to news or discussion groups or an unknown correspondent. To read the Polish alphabet, the e-mail recipient must have a font with Central European signs and use an e-mail programme such as Netscape Mail, Pegasus Mail, Pine or Microsoft  Exchange12. The possibiltity that a recipient will not be able to read the Polish  alphabet properly must always be taken into account.

However there are sometimes difficulties in understanding a text written without Polish diacritical marks, and so it is necessary to use them in WWW texts.  The question facing a Webmaster is which code to use to ensure  maximum readability.  There are a number from which to choose. He can create physical or "virtual" copies of WWW pages; -  one without Polish diacritical marks, one in ISO Latin 2 and one in MS Windows code. This method requires either a lot of space on the host disc or special programmes able to create such "virtual" copies. These options create some difficulties for system adminstrators or  slow down access to the page.

While this method of supplying a variety of forms was used initially, one is now able to advise a browser which code is being used via an HTLM command <META>, or more precisely the option "http-equiv" in the HEAD  of the HTML document, (between <HEAD> and </HEAD>):13
<META http-equiv="content type" content="text/html;charset=iso-8859-2">.
When the page is encoded in  ISO Latin 2 and equipped with the <META> command mentioned above, all users are able to read it properly with all Polish letters.

The problem now is that Microsoft offers with its Windows 95 programme some tools which enable  inexperienced users to create WWW pages.  These tools also create HTML documents to a larger size than is necessary, which are all encoded in Microsoft's coding for the Polish alphabet, CP 1250, which cannot be properly read by Macintosh and Unix users.

The Internet in Poland is in a state of dynamic development. The number of hosts  within the ".pl" domain is on the rise. Indexes of themes available on the Polish Internet are multiplying. More and more institutions, firms, newspapers and magazines publish on WWW pages. Information and services are increasingly offered on the Internet, from train schedules to theatre and cinema programmes.

Polish Internet users have their own organisation, the Polish Internet Society (http://www.psi.org.pl), bringing together Polish internauts all over the world, representing their interests and monitoring the development of the Internet in Poland.

There remain problems in the area of educating Internet users, encoding the Polish alphabet  and the fact that the Internet in Poland is perceived as a form of entertainment rather than as a serious information source.14 Some newspapers have contributed to this image by focussing on crime or pornography, games or other entertainment, in reporting on  the Internet.
However the growing number of younger users allows one to hope this will soon change for the better.

Agata Skowron-Nalborczyk (Warsaw)

Special thanks to Henryk Gajewski, a great Polish artist
and Internet expert, for his comments and advice.


1 I started to use e-mail via EARN/Bitnet in 1992, when I was a student of Warsaw University. It became so normal for me to communicate with people this way, that when I went to Saarbrücken in Germany to study there, I wanted to use e-mail there, too and, I must say, that people in the Institute of Oriental Studies at the University of Saarland didn't know, where and how I would be able to do this. It was also a new thing for them.

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2 RIPE Network Coordination Centre, counted 3rd June 1998; http://www.ripe.net/statistics/hostcount/index.html, 5th June 1998, 13:20.

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3 All numbers in this part come from RIPE NCC, counted 3rd June 1998; http://www.ripe.net/statistics/hostcount/index.html, 5th June 1998, 13:20.

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4 Russia comes on the first place with its 135216 hosts, but try to compare its size with that of Poland ... ;o)

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5 Between 3rd May and 3rd June 1998, RIPE NCC; http://www.ripe.net/statistics/hostcount/index.html, 5th June 1998, 13:20.

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6 All data in 3.1. from: Jaroslaw Zielinski, Uzytkownicy polskiego Internetu wedlug NASK (The users of Polish Internet according to NASK - Research and Academic Network in Poland); http://winter.it.com.pl/2aa2.htm, 28th May 1998, 10:45. Now: Jaroslaw Zielinski, Badania uzytkownikow Internetu (The Internet users' research), http://www.winter.pl/uzytkownikow.html; "Wiadomosci Internetowe" ("Internet News").

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7 Jaroslaw Zielinski, NASK o uzytkownikach w roku 1996 (NASK about the users in 1996); http://winter.it.com.pl/2caa.htm, 28th May 1998, 10:50. Now: Jaroslaw Zielinski, Badania uzytkownikow Internetu (The Internet users' research), http://www.winter.pl/uzytkownikow.html; "Wiadomosci Internetowe" ("Internet News").

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8 Jaroslaw Zielinski, Uzytkownicy Internetu wedlug PolishWorld (The Internet users according to PolishWorld); http://winter.it.com.pl/2b9a.htm, 28th May 1998, 10:55. Now: Jaroslaw Zielinski, Badania uzytkownikow Internetu (The Internet users' research), http://www.winter.pl/uzytkownikow.html; "Wiadomosci Internetowe" ("Internet News").

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9, 10 Maciej Uhlig, Ogolne omowienie roznic w zaawansowaniu zastosowan Internetu w Polsce i na swiecie (The general discussion of the differences between Internet usage in Poland and in the world); http://www.cto.us.edu.pl/iift.html, 2nd June 1998, 21:30.

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11 Jaroslaw Zielinski, Polskie litery w World Wide Web (Polish letters in World Wide Web); http://winter.it.com.pl/27fe.htm, 28th May 1998, 10:10. Now: Jaroslaw Zielinski, Problemy polskiego Internetu roku 1997 (The problems of Polish Internet'1997), http://www.winter.pl/problemy1997.html; "Wiadomosci Internetowe" ("Internet News").

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12 This is the problem of 7 bit and 8 bit transmission, of course and some of these programs need to be "polonaise". There is a WWW page that offers "polonisation" kits for them - it is so called "Polish tail page" (some Polish letters have tails) http://www.agh.edu.pl/ogonki.

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13 Jaroslaw Zielinski, Polskie litery w World Wide Web (Polish letters in the World Wide Web); http://winter.it.com.pl/27fe.htm, 28th May 1998, 10:10. Now: Jaroslaw Zielinski, Problemy polskiego Internetu roku 1997 (The problems of Polish Internet 1997), http://www.winter.pl/problemy1997.html; "Wiadomosci Internetowe"  ("Internet News").

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14 As an experience I have decided to collect materials for this paper only in the Internet and I think I've been successful.

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© INST: Institut zur Erforschung und Förderung österreichischer und internationaler Literaturprozesse, 1999