Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    Surveys give a hint about the kind of people who check out that Web site you've created

    by Alan Zisman (c) 1996 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #363 October 8, 1996   High Tech Office  column

    Last week, we noted that Bill Kinsella's overworked line--"Build it and they will come"--isn't entirely accurate when it comes to putting your business's pages up on the Internet. As one of the ever-growing millions of World Wide Web sites, your home page needs to be publicized actively if you expect anyone outside your immediate family to notice that it's there.

    But we're still begging the question, "Build it and who will come?" CommerceNet, a grouping of companies pushing the use of the Net for electronic commerce, has sponsored Neilsen Media Research to try to find the answer to just that question. Neilsen checked Internet use in the U.S. and Canada in two phases--first by contacting 4,200 individuals, aged 16 or older, in August 1995, and then by recontacting 2,800 of the original group last spring.

    Over the eight months of the study, Internet access rose from 16 per cent to 24 per cent. However, in both cases, only about 17 per cent of the people surveyed had actually made any use of the Internet in the past six months. About half of the people who had used the Internet were defined as new users, and that population was quite different from so-called longtime users (those who had used the Internet prior to the summer of 1995).

    In Neilsen's summary, new users are increasingly "mainstream": although income levels remain high, new users are less well-off than the long-timers. All are using the World Wide Web more frequently, but while longtime users are making more use of the Web for business purposes, on average, new users are spending a lower proportion of their on-line time for business (though the actual number of business users of the Web continues to rise).

    Both buying and selling over the Web have increased, with 30 per cent of the Web's business users engaging in purchases. Other business uses declined, however, including drops in the percentage of those who use the Web to gather information or provide service or support.

    While 23 per cent of the longtime users thought of themselves as computer professionals, this dropped to 11 per cent of the newcomers. Still predominantly male, the newcomers were closer to a gender balance--60/40 male compared to 67/33 male in the earlier user group. It is, however, those predominantly male, often computer-professional longtime users who tend to be frequent Internet users, with 24 per cent of them reporting connecting more than once a day, while fully 47 per cent reported connecting at least once in the past 24 hours. A summary of the survey's results can be found at

    Another recent survey, however, suggests that while the number of new Internet users continues to grow, the rate of increase is slowing. Research by Yankelovich Partners of Norwalk, Connecticut, suggests that the number of new Internet users doubled (at least in the U.S.) between May 1994 and May 1995, but that this explosive growth was cut in half during the following year, which suggests the end of the Internet as faddish curiosity. The study looked at Internet users identified from a group of 16,000 surveyed, and found that time spent on-line had dropped from an average of 16 hours per month last year to 12 hours per month in 1996.

    Like Neilsen, Yankelovich found the typical user to be male, between 30 and 49, with an average household income of about $65,000. About 20 per cent reported having made an on-line purchase. The report can be obtained from (203) 846-0100.

    None of this should be too surprising--like a chain letter, the number of new Net users simply couldn't continue to double each year for long. At the 1994 growth rate, everyone on the planet would have been connected to the Net within eight or nine years. And what do new users find when they do connect to the Net? Lots of information, certainly, but the bulk of it is still about computers or pop culture, with a sprinkling of sex. Trying to locate specific facts can be difficult and time-consuming, demanding constant filtering out of hundreds of irrelevant 'pseudo-hits.' The Web can be engaging, but is it up to competing with TV for a mass audience?

    Your business probably belongs on the Internet, but take the time to first clarify your expectations. What is the purpose of your Internet presence? Who do you expect to make use of your business's Web site? When you can answer these questions, by all means, build your site. And then, with a lot of ongoing publicity and work, maybe they (whoever they are) will come.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan