Story: Te Ara – a history

Page 12. Users, responses and influence

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Number of visitors

The number of people using Te Ara has increased steadily, and in 2017 the site was being accessed about 500,000 times per month. Comparing the number of users year by year, it appears that school students make up a large proportion of readers, since usage rates are highest during school terms. However, the site is also accessed from almost every country in the world – about 40% of users are from outside New Zealand.

Print publications

Although it was planned and developed as an online (‘born digital’) publication, Te Ara’s content also attracted interest from more traditional publishers. A series of extensively illustrated books was produced through the publisher David Bateman. These include:

  • Māori peoples of New Zealand: ngā iwi o Aotearoa (2006)
  • Settler and migrant peoples of New Zealand (2006)
  • Life on the edge: New Zealand’s natural hazards and disasters (2007)
  • Māori tribes of New Zealand (2008)
  • New Zealanders and the sea (2009)
  • Te taiao: Māori and the natural world (2010).

Roadside Stories

The 2011 Rugby World Cup attracted many overseas visitors to New Zealand. To guide and enrich their travel within the country, Te Ara staff and Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage colleagues developed Roadside Stories. These 140 specially produced audio commentaries about New Zealand places and the people and events associated with them are each four to five minutes long and illustrated with photos and other images. Roadside Stories is available as a downloadable app for smartphones or via the Ministry’s YouTube channel.

The Te Ara hit parade

In the year to June 2014, Te Ara’s most visited entries included ‘Matariki – Māori New Year’, ’Geothermal energy’, ‘Historic earthquakes’, ‘Treaty of Waitangi’, ‘Spiders and other arachnids’ and ‘Sandflies and mosquitoes’. The site’s most popular image continued to be a photo of a blobfish (Psychrolutes species), an unprepossessing deep-sea creature with jelly-like flesh and no muscles.

Influence on other digital projects

As the world’s first (and, by 2014, still the only) national encyclopedia designed for the internet, Te Ara has been asked to advise on many other similar projects worldwide. Two Australian digital projects, the Dictionary of Sydney and Australian Dictionary of Biography, formed a planning and advisory body together with Te Ara and some other institutions, called the Australia and New Zealand Digital Encyclopedias Group (ANZDEG).

In the early 2000s all US states took part in a scoping study to investigate the feasibility of creating digital state encyclopedias. Te Ara general editor Jock Phillips played a key part in this study. By 2014 five states and the incorporated territory of Guam had launched digital encyclopedias.

In 2002 Phillips, representing users of digital content, helped to found the National Digital Forum (NDF) with national librarian Chris Blake, to discuss major and innovative digital projects. The NDF has since held an annual conference at which leading international speakers explore directions in digital information design.

Influence on other media

By 2014 Te Ara was frequently cited in national and international newspapers, magazines and other media as an authoritative source on New Zealand. Occasionally a Te Ara story has made the front page, as with a topic box on the predominance of left-foot jandals in the entry on beachcombing.

The 2007 Gibson Group TV series Here to stay, in which New Zealand personalities examined settler groups in New Zealand, was based on Te Ara’s entries on immigration.

Several Te Ara writers were asked to contribute to Radio New Zealand National’s 2011–12 Kiwi summer series, and Jock Phillips was a regular commentator on historical subjects on the programme Nights with Bryan Crump.

Other users

Comments on Te Ara’s blog from teachers and lecturers indicate that the site is widely used for school projects, NCEA exam papers, university theses and lectures. Te Ara images and text have been used by several museum exhibitions, such as Te Papa’s Whales – Tohorā exhibition, which has travelled to the US and Canada. Te Ara material also appeared on New Zealand’s stand at the 2012 Frankfurt Book Fair.

In her 2009 valedictory speech, former prime minister Helen Clark looked back on ‘years of significant [heritage] projects’ including ‘the new, “born digital”, official encyclopaedia – Te Ara’.1


Te Ara has won a number of national and international awards, including:

  • a Best graphic design award (2004)
  • two Bearing Point awards, for innovation in services to Māori, and in the public service (2005)
  • a Webby award, International Academy for the Digital Arts and Sciences (2006)
  • a Govis Buzzie award (2006)
  • a Writemark award for best plain English in the public sector (2008)
  • Ngā Kupu Ora Māori Book Awards – non-fiction winner for Te taiao: Māori and the natural world (2011).
  1. ‘Valedictory speech by Rt. Hon. Helen Clark.’ New Zealand Herald, 8 April 2009, (last accessed 25 June 2014). Back
How to cite this page:

the Te Ara team, 'Te Ara – a history - Users, responses and influence', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 May 2022)