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American Surfers Keep It Simple

According to findings from a Jupiter Research (a unit of this site's corporate parent) September 2002 report conducted among 4,341 Americans, 35 percent of Internet surfers are using AOL for access, and the primary activity for 93 percent of the respondents was e-mail. While the research indicates that Internet users are relying on the Web for increasingly more sophisticated activities — online banking and bill paying, research, and software downloads — many are still nascent users that were lured by the ease of AOL and increased pressure to correspond via e-mail.

Jupiter reports that AOL experienced a 5 percent increase from the year prior, seemingly unaffected by MSN's "switcher" campaign aimed to convert AOL users. However, MSN continues to lag considerably behind AOL, capturing only 14 percent of the market. AOL usage jumps to 40 percent among "newbies" (defined by Jupiter as those having less than one year of online experience), whereas MSN holds 22 percent of the emerging market.

Jupiter found that the online activities conducted monthly or more frequently can be grouped into the following categories: communication/community, information/utility, commerce/consumer, career/financial, and entertainment/media.

Top Online Activities, Sept 2002
E-mail 93%
Search engine 79%
Research products/services 63%
Local information 60%
Contests/sweepstakes 59%
News 53%
Instant messaging 52%
E-greetings/postcards 52%
Online bill viewing 48%
Online newspaper 46%
Online phone directory 46%
Health 46%
Travel research 45%
Chat 41%
Work research 38%
Free software downloads 38%
Online banking 36%
Online bill payment 34%
Job classifieds 33%
Music site viewing 32%
Online audio listening 32%
Source: Jupiter Research

There are significant gender disparities among the frequent online activities, most notably among adult entertainment surfing, which accounted for 36 percent of male usage and only 8 percent of female. The other gaps in male vs. female activity were seen among sports sites, stock quotes, and free software downloads.

Women were disproportionately more likely to send e-greetings or postcards than men (61 percent vs. 43 percent), with female to male gender differences also being seen at health sites, and online coupons sites.

Top online activities for men that were conducted monthly or more frequently include news, free software downloads, sports sites, adult entertainment, and online audio, while the highest ranked online activities for women include e-greetings, contests/sweepstakes, and instant messaging.

While all age groups were avid e-mail users, generation gaps were evident among some of the other popular online activities. Among the biggest disparities:

  • Instant messaging: 59 percent of those aged 19 to 34, compared to 49 percent of those aged 35 to 54, and 45 percent of those 55 and over.
  • Health sites: 54 percent of those aged 55 and over; 50 percent of those aged 35 to 54; 39 percent of those 19 to 34.
  • Chat: 47 percent of those aged 19 to 34; 37 percent of those aged 35 to 54; 31 percent of those 55 and over.
  • Movie sites: 37 percent of those aged 19 to 34; 26 percent of those aged 35 to 54; 18 percent of those 55 and over.

Income played a prominent role in the top online activities, most notably, disparities occurred between the highest annual income level (over $100k) and the lowest annual income level (below $35k).

Almost three-quarters (72 percent) of those with annual incomes over $100k were likely to look for local information online, as opposed to 52 percent of those with an annual income below $35k. Researching products/services was a popular activity for 72 percent of those in the highest income range, compared to 56 percent in the lowest income level. News sites attracted less than half (48 percent) of those in the $35k to $44k income range, while 62 percent of the highest earners surfed the news frequently.