The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 1 June 2004



(2004), "USA", The Electronic Library, Vol. 22 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Web content creation

In a national phone survey between 12 March and 20 May 2003, the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that more than 53 million American adults have used the Internet to publish their thoughts, respond to others, post pictures, share files and otherwise contribute to the explosion of content available online. Some 44 percent of the nation’s adult Internet users (those 18 and over) have done at least one of the following:

  • 21 percent of Internet users say they have posted photographs to Web sites.

  • 17 percent have posted written material on Web sites.

  • 13 percent maintain their own Web sites.

  • 10 percent have posted comments to an online newsgroup. A small fraction of them have posted files to a newsgroup such as video, audio or photo files.

  • 8 percent have contributed material to Web sites run by their businesses.

  • 7 percent have contributed material to Web sites run by organizations to which they belong such as church or professional groups.

  • 7 percent have Web cams running on their computers that allow other Internet users to see live pictures of them and their surroundings.

  • 6 percent have posted artwork on Web sites.

  • 5 percent have contributed audio files to Web sites.

  • 4 percent have contributed material to Web sites created for their families.

  • 3 percent have contributed video files to Web sites.

In addition, 2 percent maintain Web diaries or Web blogs, according to respondents to this phone survey. In other phone surveys prior to this one, and one more recently fielded in early 2004, Pew has heard that between 2 percent and 7 percent of adult Internet users have created diaries or blogs. In this survey Pew found that 11 percent of Internet users have read the blogs or diaries of other Internet users. About a third of these blog visitors have posted material to the blog.

Most of those who do contribute material are not constantly updating or freshening content. Rather, they occasionally add to the material they have posted, created or shared. For instance, more than two-thirds of those who have their own Web sites add new content only every few weeks or less often than that. There is a similar story related to the small proportion of Americans who have blogs.

The most eager and productive content creators break into three distinct groups:

  • Power creators are the Internet users who are most enthusiastic about content-creating activities. They are young – their average age is 25 – and they are more likely than other kinds of creators to do things like use instant messaging, play games, and download music. And they are the most likely group to be blogging.

  • Older creators have an average age of 58 and are experienced Internet users. They are highly educated, like sharing pictures, and are the most likely of the creator groups to have built their own Web sites. They are also the most likely to have used the Internet for genealogical research.

  • Content omnivores are among the heaviest overall users of the Internet. Most are employed. Most log on frequently and spend considerable time online doing a variety of activities. They are likely to have broadband connections at home. The average age of this group is 40.

Broadband penetration

comScore Networks has released an analysis of broadband penetration at both the US national and local market levels based on consumer behaviour in the fourth quarter of 2003. comScore’s research revealed that San Diego has become the first metropolitan market in which a majority of Internet users connected to the Web through a broadband connection rather than a narrowband service. Further, the analysis found that among the largest 50 markets, San Diego, Boston and New York led the nation in the usage of broadband connections.

At the national level, 36 percent of online users accessed the Web through a high-speed connection in the fourth quarter of 2003, up two points from 34 percent in the third-quarter. Comcast holds the dominant position in the broadband market, providing access to approximately 19 percent of broadband users and 7 percent of all online users. SBC, the country’s largest DSL provider, accounts for 11 percent of consumer broadband connections and 6 percent of total ISP subscriptions. Not surprisingly, AOL continues to supply Internet access (narrowband and broadband) to more Americans than any other provider, with a 28 percent share.

comScore research revealed that in many of the largest markets in the USA, consumer broadband usage is nearly on par with narrowband connections. In fact, in the fourth quarter, San Diego became the first major market in which broadband subscriptions outnumbered narrowband connections. Broadband usage is notably more common in larger markets, with approximately 40 percent of Internet users in the top 50 markets enjoying the benefits of a broadband connection, compared to a national penetration level of 36 percent.

A number of the nation’s major population centres, including Boston, New York,San Francisco and Los Angeles, rank among the top ten markets in terms of broadband penetration. By contrast, only three top-25 markets (St Louis, Sacramento, Indianapolis) were ranked among the ten markets with the lowest broadband penetration.

Russ Fradin, Executive Vice President of comScore Networks, said:

  • In the past several months, we’ve seen the US online population reach 150 million people and household broadband penetration cross the 33 percent threshold.

  • Now we’ve recorded another milestone, with broadband accounting for more than half of a major US market’s Internet connections.

At a national level, 63 percent of broadband subscriptions are cable connections, while DSL subscriptions account for approximately 37 percent of the high-speed market. In nine of the ten markets with the highest broadband penetration, the majority of subscribers with a high-speed connection use cable modems. The exception to this pattern is San Francisco, where approximately 60 percent of broadband subscriptions are DSL accounts.

A comScore proprietary survey indicated that more than one in four Internet users intend to switch ISPs in the next six months. The majority of those reporting they planned to change ISPs said they would be selecting a broadband provider. By far the most common reason cited for switching providers was a desire for a faster connection. The second most popular reason for switching ISPs was price, which was likely a key contributor to the strong performance of United Online relative to other dial-up providers in the fourth quarter.

Internet use in rural communities

Historically, Internet penetration rates have been lower in rural areas than in other kinds of communities. When the Pew Internet & American Life Project first began surveying the Internet landscape in early 2000, 41 percent of rural residents were online, while 51 percent of urban residents and 55 percent of suburban residents were online. Rural Internet penetration climbed to 52 percent by the middle of 2003. However, urban and suburban penetration rates have risen as well. Rural Internet penetration has remained roughly 10 percentage points behind the national average in each of the last four years.

The project found in survey data collected between March and August 2003, suburban and urban residents remain more likely to use the Internet:

  • 67 percent of urban residents use the Internet;

  • 66 percent of suburban residents use the Internet; and

  • 52 percent of rural residents use the Internet.

Statistical analysis to identify the principal drivers for Internet penetration suggests that some differences in Internet adoption between rural areas and other locales are related to low-income households in rural areas. Living in a rural area in itself has little or no influence as to whether one goes online. However, low-income residents of rural areas are less likely to be online than low-income people living in urban or suburban areas. Some 47 percent of rural residents have household incomes of $30,000 or less, compared to 29 percent of suburban residents and 39 percent of urban residents. Middle and upper income people in both rural and other areas are equally likely to be Internet users.

At the same time, some of the gap between rural areas and the rest of the country can probably also be explained by other demographic realities such as the fact that rural residents as a group are older and have lesser levels of education than those in urban and suburban areas. Senior citizens (those 65 and older) account for a relatively larger percentage of the rural population (22 percent) compared to the urban (14 percent) and suburban populations (16 percent). In rural areas, seniors are unlikely to go online. Only about 17 percent of rural seniors go online, making up about 6 percent of rural Internet users. Meanwhile, rural areas hold comparatively fewer young adults, the most likely age group to go online. The age of the rural population may be one major reason why penetration rates are lower in rural communities.

Many rural residents say they have less choice than others about the way they access the Internet. About 29 percent of rural Internet users say the Internet service provider they use is the only one available to them. In contrast, 7 percent of urban users reported a single ISP, and about 9 percent of suburban users were serviced by a lone ISP. Rural communities hold larger portions of relative Internet newcomers than do urban and suburban communities. Yet rural Americans are often enthusiastic adopters.

About 20 percent of rural Internet users – more than 4 million people – have been online less than three years. In comparison, 16 percent of urban users have less than three years online, and 12 percent of suburban users have less than three years online. Unlike other newcomers to the Internet, many rural residents are enthusiastic users of the Internet at an early stage in their adoption of the technology: 45 percent of rural newcomers go online daily, whereas 40 percent of urban newcomers and 46 percent of suburban newcomers go online daily.

Broadband adoption is growing in all types of communities, but broadband users make up larger percentages of urban and suburban users than rural users. From 2000 through 2003, the use of cable modems, DSL connections, and other broadband connections grew quickly in each community type, but rural areas hold a significantly smaller proportion of broadband users. In a survey in the spring of 2003, Pew found that 31 percent of those who use the Internet from home had a broadband connection. Here is the big picture about broadband adoption in different community types from 2000 to mid-2003:

  • in urban communities, the number of home broadband users grew from 8 percent to 36 percent of the online population;

  • in suburban communities, the number of home broadband users grew from 7 percent to 32 percent of the online population; and

  • in rural communities, the number of home broadband users grew from 3 percent to 19 percent of the online population.

Additionally, in October 2002, about 25 percent of rural Internet users said they did not think that a high-speed connection to their home was available. Only 5 percent of urban users and 10 percent of suburban Internet users said broadband is unavailable.

A portion of rural Internet users depend on Internet connections at places other than work or home. They are more likely than suburban or urban users to say they depend on another place for going online.

Some 22 percent of Internet users say they go online from at least one other place besides work or home. In some cases, though not most, the people who go online in a third place depend on that connection as their exclusive point of access. Some 8 percent of rural users say they only log on to the Internet from some place other than work or home, such as a library, a school or a friend’s house. Just 3 percent of suburban users do and 5 percent of urban users depend on some place other than work or home for their Internet connection.

There is a large gap between rural African-Americans and rural whites. While 54 percent of rural whites go online, 31 percent of rural African-Americans do so. This disparity can probably be traced to income and education. Over 70 percent of rural African-Americans live in households with incomes under $30,000 a year, compared to 44 percent of rural whites.

While the differences are not gaping, rural users are less likely than urban and suburban users to have bought a product online, made a travel reservation, or done their banking online. Even rural users who have been online a few years or more are still less likely to have ever performed transactions over the Web than their urban and suburban counterparts.

Compared to their urban and suburban counterparts, rural users:

  • are less likely to bank online – 28 percentbank online, while 35 percent of urbanusers and 35 percent of suburban users bank online;

  • are less likely to have bought a product online – 57 percent have done so, while 63 percent of suburban users and 61 percent of urban users have bought a product online; and

  • are less likely to have made a travel reservation online – 49 percent have done so, while 58 percent of suburban users and 60 percent of urban users have made a travel reservation online.

Meanwhile, rural users are more likely than their counterparts to search for religious or spiritual information. Some 35 percent of online rural Americans have sought religious and spiritual information online, compared to 27 percent of those who live outside rural areas. Among rural users, gathering religious or spiritual information is more popular than banking online (28 percent), looking for a place to live (26 percent), and downloading music (26 percent in June 2003; 13 percent in November-December, 2003). Rural users with three years or more online are more likely than others to seek health information online. Almost three-quarters of experienced rural users have done so, while 68 percent of similarly experienced suburban users and 64 percent of similarly experienced urban users have sought health information online.

In February 2001, the Pew Internet Project asked Internet users about their experiences with online groups. That survey revealed that urban and suburban users’ online communities are more localized than rural users’. While 15 percent of suburban users and 19 percent of urban users say that most members of their online group live “in my local community”, only 8 percent of rural users say that most of their group’s members live in the same local community. Rural users’ online community connections are more likely than those of urban and suburban users to be directed beyond their physical location. Half of rural users say that most of the other members of their online group live “all over the country”. By comparison, 42 percent of suburban users say so, and 39 percent of urban users say so. Not surprisingly, then, rural users are more likely than others to say that the Internet is more useful for becoming involved in things going on outside their local community. Some 77 percent of rural users say so, while 66 percent of suburban users and 64 percent of urban users say so.

Rural newcomers are more likely to hold mixed feelings about computers and technology than are urban and suburban newcomers. Fully half of rural residents say that they hold “mixed feelings” toward computers and technology, whereas 32 percent of urban users say this and 27 percent of suburban users say this. But rural users with some experience with the technologies are more likely than others to say they like them.

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