A survey by PC-Meter L.P., a subsidiary of The NPD Group, shows that WWW use is growing faster than commercial online services. Measuring US home personal computer users' Web habits, the study placed America Online in the number one position for the second consecutive quarter.
PC Meter surveyed 4,000 households for its study and found the top ten sites were: America Online (37.5% of total audience); Yahoo! (35.6%); Netscape (35.5%); WebCrawler (33.9%); Prodigy (18.5%); Infoseek; Lycos; Excite; Global Network Navigator; and CompuServe.
"The presence and strength of online services surprises many people," said NPD Group spokesperson, Pam Smith. "The fact is many home users are going through one of the online services to get to the Internet and that approach brings them to the service's home page as they launch onto the Internet."
In spite of the number of people accessing the Web through online services such as CompuServe, AOL, and Prodigy, PC-Meter says a number of indicators in the latest Sweeps data suggest that home Web use is increasing at a faster rate than home use of commercial online services. A fair portion of the Web trend comes from the success of the search engine category which increased its audience by two percentage points in the quarter to overtake commercial services as the most widely accessed category.
According to the survey, some 65.6 percent of April surfers visited search engines as compared to 60.2 using number-two commercial services, down 6.2 percentage points from the January Sweeps. Internet service providers were third with a 55.8 percent reach, up 4.8 points. The company says its sister service, the quarterly National Survey of Hardware Ownership, collected data from 9,654 respondents, and found World Wide Web usage surpassed that of proprietary commercial online services. Some 8.4 million households used the Web in April, while 8.2 million used commercial services.
Citing a new and growing Web trend, Smith said the category known as "directories" are becoming very popular. As opposed to search engines, directories are e-mail, phone, and address listings. New entries in this category include c/Net's search.com and Banyan System's switchboard.com. Smith added, "I was curious why this category was growing dramatically, but when I went there I started looking for friends' e-mail addresses and phone numbers and found it was very easy to use and easy to stay there looking for more information about other friends I had not seen for years."
The survey also found differences in men and women's Web site choices. More women used the Web in April than in January, but males still dominate by 61.3 percent to 38.7. Men tend to dominate adult, corporate, and shopping sites, and women were high users of research and directory services. According to PC-Meter, the top site visited by all men, Netscape, was number three for all women, while the top female site, AOL, was number two for men. Other variances in the top male and female sites included Massachusetts Institute of Technology, number 12 among women, but number 24 among men, and Microsoft, number 13 among men, and number 24 among women.
Similar to television's Nielsen ratings, PC-Meter's system provides audience measurement of World Wide Web sites and online services. Unlike "site-centric" Web measurement systems, the company says it obtains information from a panel of household users numbering 4,000,(10,000 planned for July) which is "demographically balanced to represent the population of US PC owners." Information is collected digitally via PC-Meter software, which is installed on panel members' home PCs. Because the software measures activity from the PC, it is immune to inaccuracies from caching, which online services commonly use to store popular Web pages in their own systems.
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