Gone Fishin’

Internet doomsayers have had a field day with the slowdown of Internet adoption rates, which have come back to earth as the market for Internet users reaches critical mass, and some have pointed to data compiled by comScore Networks and DoubleClick’s Diameter as further evidence that the Internet is a passing fad.

The netScore Internet Traffic Report for June, which is a joint effort of comScore and Diameter found that, on a worldwide basis, total Internet traffic was down 1 percent to 296.5 million unique visitors in June 2001 compared to 299.7 million unique visitors in May. In the United States, traffic was down 3 percent to 128.4 million unique visitors in June vs. 132.0 million unique visitors in May.

Unfortunately for the doomsayers, there’s a reasonable explanation for all of this. According to the the netScore report, visitor traffic from at-school computers, which represented almost 8 percent of U.S. Internet traffic in May, began declining as summer vacations started and decreased 40.5 percent in June compared to May. As a result, 74 percent of the Web properties in the netScore Top 50 report for June experienced a decrease in traffic during the month.

It’s the slowing of the Internet adoption rate that is making the seasonal ups and downs of Internet use more visible than in previous years, according to Maurice Boissiere, vice president and GM of netScore.

“netScore’s June data reveals that the decrease in Internet usage from May to June is most likely linked to the decrease in traffic from the at-school audience segment,” Boissiere said. “But, the data also point to the slowing of growth in the Internet user base. Last year, the addition of new online users more than offset the seasonal decline in the at-school segment. That is not the case this year. Looking to the future, this trend suggests that, to be successful, many online marketers must increasingly respond to the challenge of generating sales in a medium that is no longer showing explosive growth. This will likely increase the need for even more creative and cost-effective ways of marketing.”

Internet Traffic Comparison, May vs. June 2001

U.S. (000)
Home Work School
May 2001 132,048 74,592 47,277 10,179
June 2001 128,400 71,100 51,200 6,000
Source: netScore

As further proof that it’s vacation and nice weather keeping Internet users off the Web, consider one category that bucked the trend in June. The travel category actually became a hotbed of activity and succeeded in posting modest growth in June, with 84.5 million worldwide unique visitors visiting a travel site. This represents a 2.2 percent growth rate compared to May.

As more people explore what the Internet has to offer and become loyal to online brands, more variation can be seen in Internet usage. According to research by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, there is considerable variation in the Internet population about how much time people spend online. Overall, online Americans who are using the Internet more make up a greater proportion of the Internet population than those who say they are using it less.

In a February 2001 survey, the Pew Project asked 1,081 Internet users whether they were using the Internet more or less than they were six months earlier. The responses were:

  • 54 percent said they were using the Internet the same amount of time
  • 29 percent said they were using the Internet more
  • 17 percent said they were using it less

“There are more people online on any given day now than there were last year,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “The reasons for their increased Internet use are very straightforward: the Web is an increasingly important tool for work and school. E-mail and instant messaging are ever-more-valuable ways to stay in touch with family and friends. And many are spending more time online exploring new activities that help them entertain themselves or pursue their interests.”

Among the reasons given by people who said they are using the Internet less: They are less interested in doing things online, they have less time to spend online, they are no longer required to use the Internet at work or school or they have lost access to their computer or Internet connection.

“All the troubles of the dot-com economy have led some to believe that the Internet is a passing fad — the 21st Century version of CB radios or eight-track stereos,” said Susannah Fox, director of research at the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “For some users that is undeniably the case. They don’t find Internet tools are very useful. But many online Americans are using the Internet more now as they incorporate Internet activities more deeply into their lives.”

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