GVU Center's WWW User Survey Home Page

GVU's WWW User Survey Background Information

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GVU's WWW User Survey Background

The World-Wide Web is clearly one of the most popular Internet resources. Yet because of its distributed, global nature, very little is known about its users, their characteristics, and why they are using the Web. A better understanding of these users, and their reasons for accessing the Web will lead to improved development of Web related tools and technologies as well as make the Web more usable by all users. The Graphics, Visualization, & Usability (GVU) Center's World Wide Web User Surveys are a public service effort. All results are made free to the public as well as access to the collected datasets, though certain restrictions do apply. The GVU Center is a research center affiliated with Georgia Tech's College of Computing (COC). Participation in the surveys is encouraged by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) (which exists to develop common standards for the evolution of the Web), NCSA's Software Development Group (SDG) (the folks who develop Mosaic and other Web technologies), and INRIA (the acting European host for the W3C in collaboration with CERN where the Web originated).

The surveys were Initally conceived, developed and deployed by James Pitkow, a GVU Ph.D. Candidate. The First WWW User Survey was in conducted during January 1994 and was the first publically accessible Web based survey. The initial idea behind the surveys was to begin to characterize WWW users as well as demonstrate the Web as a powerful surveying medium. Rather than using Newsgroups or cluttering up email, the Web provides an easy to use point-and-click, graphical user interface. This interface also enables users to complete our survey at their own convenience, and answer questions in a low-overhead fashion.

As the surveys currently stand, questions on the following topics are asked:

Basic Sections: Electronic Commerce:
  • General Demographics
  • Technology Demographics
  • Data Privacy
  • Web and Internet Usage
  • Internet Shopping
  • Information Gathering & Purchasing
  • Opinions on Internet Commerce
Special Sections:
  • Web Authors
  • Politics
  • Webmasters
  • Cultural Issues

The First Survey - January 1994

Given the magnitude of task of conducting the surveys, Jim sought the assistance of Mimi Recker, a College of Computing Research Scientist. Together, GVU's WWW User First Survey was conducted in January of 1994 and received over 4,500 responses from over 1,500 people. Results from the First Survey were presented at the First International WWW Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. These results proved to be of great interest to many people, in many different sectors and provided one of the first ever characterization of Web users.

The Second Survey - October 1994

The second survey was run from October 10th through November 16th, 1994. The survey featured adaptive questioning, where responses to certain questions resulted in specific follow-up questions being asked. This enabled us to capture fine grained data, e.g. location of user on a per country/state basis, as well as reduce the complexity of questions presented to users. The survey had over 18,000 responses from over 4,000 users. The Results from the Second Survey as well as an architectural overview were presented at the Third International WWW Conference in Darmstadt Germany, and won a "Special Award." Given the collaborative and community underpinnings of the Web, it was decided to attempt to incorporate other researchers into the design of questions. Towards this end, the Hermes Team at the Michigan Business School joined forces for the design of the Consumer Surveys.

The Third Survey - April 1995

As with the previous surveys, the Third Survey was run for one month (April 10th through May 10th, 1995). The survey team picked up Colleen Kehoe (GVU Phd Candidate) and Laurie Hodges (Research Scientist), while loosing Mimi to New Zealand. The 3rd survey was different from the first two in a few ways. First, the range of questions was expanded. Second, Prodigy placed a link to our surveys from their entrance to the Web, which enabled comparisons between traditional Web Users and users from online services. Finally, refinements were made to the adaptive questions. We received just over 13,000 respondents to the General Demographics questionnaire, making this the largest response to any online survey at the time. The Results from the Third Survey are available.

The Fourth Survey - October 1995

This is the largest survey yet, with over 23,000 responses collected. The Results from the Fourth Survey are available, which segment the user population in European & US users, Weekend & Weekday users, and Female & Male users. This stratification enables a more in depth look into who is using the Web and why.

The Fifth Survey - April 1996

Given the ever increasing role of the Web in daily activities, this survey expanded the set of questionnaires to include: online politics, data privacy, and online advertising. We also rolled out our pioneering Java-based adaptive surveying applet, which enables real-time hierarchical branching of questions based upon the user's responses. The data is currently being analyzed and preliminary results are now available.

Future Surveys

Since the Web continually grows and changes in nature, we have decided to conduct the WWW User Surveys at periodic intervals (every 6 months). This will enable us to monitor and track the growth and changes in the user base and hopefully not irritate regular Web users. Look for the surveys every April, 10th and October 10th.

The Graphics, Visualization & Usability (GVU) Center

Since it's inception in 1991, the GVU Center has earned a leadership position in the development of new technologies in the areas of graphics, Visualization and usability. These technologies represent the thrust of the Center's research toward achieving its vision of making computers accessible to and usable for every individual -- the next, and perhaps final, frontier in the computer/information revolution.

The Center's faculty, researchers and students -- who come from disciplines as diverse as Computer Science; Industrial and Systems Engineering; Literature, Communication & Culture; and Psychology -- are working in today's most exciting technologies, including virtual environments, animation, robotics, human-computer interaction, medical imaging, and multimedia. The GVU Center actively promotes interdisciplinary research, education and service, and provides a focal point for achieving successful collaborations.

In the 5 years of its existence, GVU has grown from 9 faculty members to 40, with more than 100 graduate students. The Center was recently ranked number one in the United States for Graphics: User Interaction specialty programs in a survey conducted by _U.S. News & World Report_ (3/11/96). This ranking is especially meaningful as it results from a survey of heads of graduate studies and department chairs in comparable doctoral disciplines, and it is based on such things as reputation for scholarship, curriculum, and the quality of both the faculty and graduate students.

Special Thanks

The cool artwork was created and generously donated to the surveys by Allyana Ziolko and Melissa House. Please contact allyana@cc.gatech.edu for permission to use the artwork please. Without the technical support of Bryan Rank (CoC), Michael Mealling (OIT), Dan Forsyth (CoC), Dave Leonard (CoC), Randy Carpenter (GVU) & Kipp Jones (CoC). Of course, the resources necessary for the surveys would not be possible without support from Dr. Jarek Rossiagnac, GVU's Director and the GVU administrative staff.

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