The uses for the internet?

The profile of a typical Internet user

A number of studies conducted by marketing firms between 1996 and 1999 have confirmed the fact that most Internet users tended to be young, high-income technophile males.

The technically-minded and high-income nature of most Internet users was revealed in a survey by PCMC Marketing Services. The survey showed that approximately 70 per cent of the 164 randomly selected Internet users frequently visited technical sites such as Microsoft Pty Ltd. The survey also revealed that Internet users tended to be 'male, high earning and technophile" (1)

Further support of the habits and descriptions of most regular Internet users comes by way of the independent survey conducted by Pape and Marzbani in 1996. The survey discovered that 87 per cent of Australia's online users were male aged between 20 and 44 with a majority having some form of tertiary qualification; and 40 per cent of all users have begun to access the Internet in the past six months. The average income for users was reported to be twice the national average. (2)

AGB McNair's survey also paints a similar picture with access being the highest among people in the range 18 to 24 years of age. This constitutes about 19 per cent of the total internet population. (3)

The profile of a typical Internet user is changing in 2001

Demographics on the Internet are changing in 2001. The idea that most Internet users were young, technophile men are now being replaced by more women, an older generation of Web surfers, and the visually-impaired all making use of the Internet technology.

Even the number of people aged over 55 becoming computer literate and learning to use the Internet for the first time has increased according to Nan Bosler, president of the Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association (ASCCA):

"More and more people over the age of 55 are becoming computer literate and exploring the Internet. In November 1998, 7 per cent of people over the age of 55 were using the Internet. By November 2000, this had jumped to 19 per cent." (4)

A greater emphasis on concise and relevant information

Furthermore, the idea of using the Internet for lengthy entertainment and work sessions such as playing network games and talking to colleagues by email is now turning into a more specific and short-term task-oriented approach by other Internet users where snippets of relevant information are being quickly acquired for people's daily activites in the home or at work.

Part of the reason for this is not just in the changing demographics, but also the way society is heading with limited time for people to do the things and the cost of getting on the Internet is still too high and/or restrictive in how much information can be downloaded on a monthly basis.

A greater emphasis on structured information

With more women online, the type of information being sought from web sites and the way it is presented and structured is also changing.

For example, it is known that women tend to be broader in their range of interests than men. This fact about women has influenced the kind of services available on the Internet. In the past, men tended to prefer specialised and limited online services like computers, software, sports and pornography. Today, women have expanded the interests to include lifestyle services like holiday sites, family history sites, gardening and cooking.

And with these interests comes a need to have information not only looking presentable online, but also structured in such a way that the specific information can be picked out of a Web page with relative ease and speed. And that means less cluttering of design elements on a web page, easy-on-the-eye colours and text size, small graphics, less animation, easier navigation between pages, easy access to the home page, and in finding any kind of information people want almost instantly.

Bosler agrees, saying:

"The site that's going to encourage seniors to buy is going to be fairly quick to download. If it's got too many graphics and it takes a long time to even get to the homepage, or it isn't easy to navigate, seniors will give up." (5)