Characteristics of Internet Users

Anyone who wants to do online surveys or market research online should be curious about who actually uses the Internet. Although usage patterns are constantly changing, it is still possible to create a fairly clear profile of Internet users.

Who Uses the Internet?
In 2008, Asia accounted for the largest number of Internet users, followed by Europe and then North America. ( As a percentage of the population, North America leads the world, with almost 75% of the population having access to the Internet and the basic skills needed to use it.

In the U.S., women account for slightly more than half of Internet users (51%). In terms of ethnic background, the numbers are generally in line with the population as a whole. Approximately 74% of users are white, 11% are Hispanic, 9% are African-American, and the remaining 6% belong to other racial or ethnic groups.

The percentage of the population that uses the Internet on a regular basis stays fairly constant until about age 55. Then it begins to decline steadily, from about 67% for the 50-54 age group to about 16% for people over 75. (

More than half of Internet users (54%) live in suburbs, 30% live in cities, and 16% live in rural areas.

What People Are Doing Online?
So what are all these people doing on the Internet? The most frequent activity is still email, although it is being challenged for the top spot by online searches. ( Other frequent uses include searching for a map or driving directions, looking for information on a hobby or interest, checking the weather, and getting news. Online commerce (shopping, banking, paying bills) continues to grow in popularity, but it is not one of the most frequent activities.

How people use the Internet depends to some extent on who they are. Men are more likely than women to get news, buy travel services, check sports scores, and participate in online auctions. Women are more likely than men to get health information, use support-group Web sites, and get information about spiritual and religious topics. Young Internet users (ages 18-29) are more likely than others to do research for school, use instant messaging, listen to music, use dating sites, and share files. (

New Trends in Access and Content
One of the most significant trends in Internet use involves how people are accessing the Internet. In December 2007, about six months after release of Apple’s iPhone, almost 40% of Internet users said that they were accessing the Internet with mobile devices at least some of the time. ( This trend is likely to continue as mobile devices become more affordable.

Online video is also having a powerful impact on how people (especially younger people) use the Internet. The explosive growth of YouTube is only part of the picture. TV networks and news organizations are turning increasingly to online video as a new source of income. In 2007, people in the 18-24 age group spent nearly as much time watching online video as they did watching programs on their DVRs. ( From an advertiser’s standpoint, online video may be a better investment because users can’t fast-forward through ads.

Social networking sites such as Facebook are also growing exponentially. It seems safe to predict that the popularity of such sites will continue, but any predictions about the Internet are risky. By the time you read this, Internet users might have moved on to something no one could have expected.


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