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Surf's Up

We've all seen the impressive statistics that reveal the Internet is growing by leaps and bounds. But now that we know usage is widespread, exactly who is out there cruising the Internet and how and why are they using it?

A recent survey conducted by Find/SVP, a research, advisory and business intelligence firm located in New York City, reveals that more adults are online than ever before. Some 27.7 million U.S. adults are Internet users, comprising 31.3 percent of the total online community. Of these adults, 59 percent use the Net to send e-mail every day, up from 47 percent in 1995. The number of adult users who surf the Web daily has also grown, from 36 percent in 1995 to 49 percent this year.

Another significant finding of the survey shows a gradual shrinking of the gender imbalance that's existed in the online world for years. Just two years ago, 70 percent of adult users were men. But in the past year, 40 percent of those who began using the Internet were women.

The survey results show that by and large, local content, such as regional news, weather, business and entertainment-related information, is what attracts people to the Internet. And it appears small businesses are the biggest group going online to find local content. According to the survey, 60 percent of small-business users searched for local information online during a three-month period (February through April, 1997), while only 53 percent of big-business users did so.

Thomas Miller, vice president of the Emerging Technologies Research Group at Find/SVP and the survey's director, says the link between small businesses and local information has to do with entrepreneurs' strong neighborhood ties. "Because their territory is typically close to home, small businesses are interested in local business news, new services in town, and events that directly affect their business," he explains.

Moreover, Miller believes that small businesses are placing more stock in the Internet than others. "Many small-business users see the Internet as a way to increase their marketing power, reduce costs and do more things at once, so they're using it to find ways to do business smarter," says Miller.

But while the Internet is all business for some, personal use still significantly outpaces business use for many. The survey found that 88 percent of adult users go online to send e-mail to friends and conduct other personal matters, while only 56 percent use it for business.

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This article was originally published in the November 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Surf's Up.

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