Countless surveys and predictions have told us the Web is becoming more like the offline population. It is no longer a place for academics and technology professionals to conduct research, but has become a place where Mom and Dad do their holiday shopping. Most amazing of all, this change has taken place in just a few short years.
The Graphic, Visualization, & Usability Center (GVU) at Georgia Tech in Atlanta has been conducting semi-annual World Wide Web user surveys since January of 1994. As the results of the tenth survey in the series are released, a look back at its nine predecessors shows how far the Internet has come in less than six years.
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Because the GVU surveys are posted on the Internet, the respondents tend to be more technically savvy than the mainstream population. There has always been a higher percentage of men than women responding to the GVU surveys. Other studies tell us the ratio of men to women on the Net, especially in the US, is moving toward 50:50. In the first survey, 22 percent of the respondents were graduate students. In the tenth survey, 33 percent have completed college.
When the results of the first survey were published in January of 1994, 56 percent of the respondents were between the ages of 21 and 30. By GVU’s third survey, released in April of 1995, the mean age of respondents had risen to 35, up almost four years from the second survey (October 1994). Only 30 percent of the respondents were between the ages of 21 and 30, compared to 56 percent for the first survey. In the tenth survey, the 26-30 and 31-35 age groups were the most popular chosen.
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The lack of the word “Netscape” may be the most telling sign of how different things were five years ago. More than 97 percent of the respondents to the first survey reported surfing the Web with Mosaic as their browsing tool. By the fourth survey (October 1995), 89.4 percent of the respondents said they planned on using Netscape in the next 12 months, only 3.8 percent planned on using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. In the tenth survey, Internet users were once again asked what browser they planned on using in 12 months. Thirty-four percent chose Netscape’s Communicator, 31 percent chose Internet Explorer and another 19 percent chose Netscape’s Navigator.
For the fourth survey, 14.4 was the most popular connection speed to the Internet. By the eighth (October 1997), it had risen to 33.6. The overwhelming connection speed of choice for the tenth survey was 56K.
One number that has stayed pretty much the same throughout the GVU surveys is the percent of respondents that use the Web daily. In the seventh and eighth surveys, it was 85 percent, it was 82 percent in the sixth.
How far has Web shopping come in the time GVU has been conducting its surveys? In the second survey (October 1994), most respondents disagreed somewhat with the assertion that it is safe to use credit cards when making purchases from Web vendors.
In the fourth survey, 11.1 percent of the respondents used their Web browser for shopping, which was up to 14.2 percent in the fifth survey (six months later). The tenth survey is full of e-commerce questions, including some broken down for personal and professional shopping. Two-thirds (67.4 percent) of the respondents have shopped online, 70.8 percent have spent more than $100 on online purchases, and 26 percent browse the Web with the intent to buy several times a month.
These numbers are unlikely to diminish anytime soon. In the tenth survey, 82 percent of the respondents said online shopping and banking made their lives easier. A full 75 percent are now willing to use their credit card online, 92 percent said the Web is “indispensable,” 96 percent said the same of email, and none of them used Mosaic.