Monday, November 21, 2005

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Hmmm.. what's missing from this survey?

There are a lot of news stories (here's one from's Jo Best) out today on the latest Pew survey that shows search engines have become the second-most frequent online activity after e-mail. According to Pew's Lee Rainie:

These results from September 2005 represent a sharp increase from mid-2004. Pew Internet Project data from June 2004 show that use of search engines on a typical day has risen from 30% to 41% of the internet-using population, which itself has grown in the past year. This means that the number of those using search engines on an average day jumped from roughly 38 million in June 2004 to about 59 million in September 2005 - an increase of about 55%. comScore data, which are derived from a different methodology, show that from September 2004 to September 2005 the average daily use of search engines jumped from 49.3 million users to 60.7 million users -- an increase of 23%.
Here's a link to the data memo in .pdf format. What I found most interesting was "the proportion of that daily population who are doing some well-known internet activities":
Email 77%
Search engine 63%
Get news 46%
Do job-related research 29%
Use instant messaging 18%
Do online banking 18%
Take part in chat room 8%
Make a travel reservation 5%
Read blogs 3%
Participate in online auction 3%
Two thoughts -- first, this blog number is consistent with other recent surveys suggesting that not a large fraction of Americans are blog consumers.

Second, there's one very large invisible elephant in this survey. One obvious online activity was not included in the above list. See if you can guess what it is. [What is it?--ed.] Umm.... just guess. [Can you give the people a hint?--ed.] Ummm.... er.... Chapelle's Show had a hysterically funny skit about what people do when they're on the web that best captures this activity.

If search engines are more popular than that invisible elephant, then I'll start to disagree with Asymmetrical Information about Google's share price.

posted by Dan on 11.21.05 at 03:03 PM


I assume the invisible elephant is what the Register refers to as "one handed web surfing"...

They _could_ be using search engines to find the necessary material for subsequent one handed surfing in detail though so maybe the elephant is only translucent

posted by: Francis on 11.21.05 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

I'd bet good money that while only a small number of internet users report reading blogs, the people who write blogs are responsible for a grossly disproportionate amount of search engine use.

posted by: Zathras on 11.21.05 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

Hey, you're not referring to Selma Hayek as an elephant, are you? I mean, yes she should moisturize a little bit more often than she does, but...

posted by: mrjauk on 11.21.05 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

So are we to gather that blog reading is actually quite popular, but the associated social stigma means that it will track only marginally better in telephone interviews than pornography?

posted by: PD Shaw on 11.21.05 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

i actually hit this page more than i do porn.

posted by: opal on 11.21.05 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

Aside from the smut factor, it seems the bright line distinction the Pew survey makes between "get news" and "read blogs" makes little sense, particularly among those who rely on the Internet to satisfy their various news-getting requirements.

posted by: BD on 11.21.05 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

Second, there's one very large invisible elephant in this survey. One obvious online activity was not included in the above list. See if you can guess what it is.

Shopping online? I buy most of my books through, and other products from other online vendors. I know not everybody does that, but I'm sure it ranks higher than reading blogs.

posted by: rachelrachel on 11.21.05 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

It's not only missing porn, which I agree is a huge gap. It's also missing online purchases (as Rachel observes) and downloading music. So the only real question is how much do these idiots get paid to provide such completely useless "survey" data?

Not to mention the fact that every online search is in pursuit of some other objective, anyway. So what's their point?

posted by: Cal Lanier on 11.21.05 at 03:03 PM [permalink]

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