Web access offered by the large national services and expansion of local Internet service providers is helping change the age, gender, income, occupation and other demographics of Web users. Though African Americans remain poorly represented, the research suggests more women are now entering the traditionally male-dominated computer network.
"The respondents we are seeing now are less technically- oriented and more likely to be female than those we have seen in the past," said James E. Pitkow, a Georgia Institute of Technology researcher who has been studying demographic trends on the Web for more than a year. "Overall, the surveys indicate the demographics of people browsing the Web has shifted to more closely reflect those observed in the general population. This continuly expanding horizon of user acceptance paints a promising picture for the Web in the future."
One key finding: Since similar research was conducted in October 1994, Windows has replaced Unix as the predominant computer operating system for those browsing the Web.
The information was gathered from questionnaires posted on the Web from April 10 to May 10, 1995. At the time the questionnaires were posted, only Prodigy had made its Web browser software widely available, and approximately 20 percent of those answering the questions entered the Web through that service. The researchers advertised the questionnaire on Prodigy, and in other Internet locations and popular sites on the Web.
"We found that Prodigy brings both younger and older population segments, compared to the traditional Internet user," Pitkow explained.
The responses demonstrate that the World Wide Web has grown beyond the college and university groups that have been the predominant users, noted Laurie Hodges, a collaborator in the work and a research scientist in the Georgia Tech Research Institute. Though the Web demographics appear to be changing, she believes marketers will still use it to reach "niche" audiences. "These numbers shouldn't be overapplied to direct the development of Internet and World Wide Web applications," she suggested. "I think successful business and government applications will be directed at the hundreds and thousands of micromarkets that exist online."
More than half the respondents answering questions about it said they had learned HTML -- the code used for creating Web pages -- in less than three hours. This shows the Web's potential as a new form of communication, noted researcher Colleen Kehoe.
"Unlike other forms of media which are basically one-way communications channels into the home, the Web is two-way," she said. "The average Web user in the future will be a producer of information as well as a consumer."
The new data also shows significant differences between North American users of the Web and their European cousins. European browsers of the Web, for example, tended to be younger and better educated, but had lower incomes and were less likely to be female.
Because the respondents were not randomly selected from the total population of Web users, the information lacks the vigor of a true scientific survey. However, the data collected by the researchers in Georgia Tech's Graphics, Visualization and Usability (GVU) Center provides one of the best available pictures of who is using the hypermedia system. An earlier survey in October of 1994 obtained approximately 4,500 responses and established a baseline for comparison.
Results are available on the Web at http://www.cc.gatech.edu/gvu/user_surveys/survey-04-1995/. Key findings of the third survey include:
Among the most significant findings in this part of the research was that Web users showed an overall median income of between $50,000 and $60,000. Prodigy users had a higher income range: $60,000 to $75,000, with 15.7 percent reporting an income of more than $100,000. Gupta's data is available on the Web at http://www.umich.edu/~sgupta/survey3/.
Research Communications Office
MEDIA RELATIONS CONTACTS:
Laurie Hodges, (After July 11: 404-894-0018);