SAN JOSE, Calif.
— "Time suck" is a phrase often used to describe online social networks
like Facebook and online games like FarmVille. Now new research
quantifies the phenomenon, showing that nearly one-third of the time
Americans spend online is devoted to such activities, while time spent
on conventional e-mail and portals such as Yahoo has declined.
The report by Nielsen Online, entitled "What
Americans Do Online" and released late Sunday, describes changing
Internet use during a period of intensifying competition in an industry
centered in Silicon Valley.
While Google's leading search technology has proved a powerful advertising vehicle and Yahoo
leads in banner ads, Facebook's dominance in the growing social
networking sector is recognized as a major competitive threat to both
of those companies.
Strikingly, Nielsen's research also showed that
Americans now spend more time playing games than handling e-mail — in
part because tens of millions are staying in touch on Facebook rather
than communicating on services such as Yahoo Mail or Google's Gmail.
"That's the logical conclusion," said David Martin,
a Nielsen analyst. "A platform like Facebook incorporates e-mail and
instant messaging. Social networks have incorporated those basic
functions in a much larger system of communication, content management
and even gaming. The growth has come at the expense of traditional
portals, e-mail platforms and IM."
American Internet users on average are spending more
than six hours per month on social networking sites and more than four
hours per month playing online games, the research found. In addition
to those activities, users on average spent another 14 hours per month
online at news, entertainment and other sites.
Silicon Valley companies topped every sector encompassed by Nielsen's research. Yahoo ranked as the No.?1 portal, ahead of MSN and Google, as well as the leading provider of e-mail and instant messaging services. Google led the search category by a wide margin, and its YouTube division led the video/movie sector. Electronic Arts topped a highly competitive game sector, Apple's iTunes dominated the "multi-category entertainment" area, and eBay edged out Craigslist in the "auctions-classifieds" category.
Nielsen's time research, which tracked 200,000 Internet users and compared June 2009 to June 2010,
roughly coincides with a 12-month period in which Facebook doubled its
global reach to 500 million users. It has been especially popular among
younger Internet users. A recent study of U.S. Internet users by the Pew Research Center
found that more than half of those between age 18 and 45 had a profile
on a social networking site, compared to 30 percent of the "baby
boomers" under 65 and 6 percent of the population over 65.
Facebook's dominance in social networking is such
that Nielsen found it accounts for nearly 85 percent of time spent in
the sector, compared to 5.6 percent for runnerup Myspace, 1.1 percent
for Twitter and 1.1 percent for Blogger.
Overall, the combination of social networks and
online games are consuming 32.9 percent of Internet time, up from a
combined 25.1 percent, Nielsen found.
The growth was driven by a 43 percent increase in
time spent on social networking and 10 percent increase on games.
Meanwhile, time spent on e-mail, portals and instant messaging showed
Only one other Internet activity showed a striking increase: the viewing of videos and movies on sites such as YouTube, Netflix
or Hulu increased by 12 percent during the period, to account for 3.9
percent of overall time spent online. American Internet users typically
spent 3 hours and 15 minutes per month watching online videos in June.
Social networking and online games have fed off each
other ever since Facebook opened its platform to application developers
in the spring of 2007. The games of such startups as Zynga, Playfish
and Playdom have attracted millions of users and built profitable
Google, which owns a social networking site called Orkut that is popular in Brazil, has reportedly been in talks with Zynga and others about ways to integrate games into Google's developing social networking strategy.
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