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.
A Closer Look
By now, you've probably heard all the hype about the Net PC--maybe you've even seen one. In fact, Hewlett Packard, Compaq and several other vendors should have released their versions of the Net PC by the time you read this.
There are a few key differences between Net PCs and traditional PCs: Net PCs lack expansion slots or drives for CD-ROMs and floppy disks, and their cases are sealed so they can't be tampered with (although there are some exceptions). They're also designed to connect to a network and be managed remotely by a systems administrator.
But while these and other features were intended to make Net PCs cheaper, smaller and easier to manage than traditional desktop machines, industry insiders are now pointing out that this isn't necessarily the case--leading some to question the real difference between the two. "Net PCs have all the major characteristics of the PC, like memory and hard drives, so they're actually not much cheaper," says Roger Kay, senior research analyst with International Data Corp., an information technology research firm in Framingham, Massachusetts. What's more, Kay says many models aren't smaller nor do they have any additional features that make them easier to manage.
With the benefits still unclear, particularly when it comes to small business, most industry analysts are recommending a wait-and-see approach.