Social Media Tops E-Mail Popularity

Nielsen study finds U.S. users dedicate nearly one-quarter of Internet time to social networks, with Facebook far ahead of the pack.
Americans now dedicate much of their online computer time visiting social networking sites and blogs and less time checking their e-mail, according to Nielsen.

"Despite the almost unlimited nature of what you can do on the web, 40% of U.S. online time is spent on just three activities -- social networking, playing games, and e-mailing, leaving a whole lot of other sectors fighting for a declining share of the online pie," said Nielsen analyst Dave Martin, in a statement.

In fact, U.S. Internet users spent 22.7% of their time on social networking sites -- up 43% from the 15.8% they spent in 2009, the research firm found. By comparison, Americans are dedicating fewer hours to the once-ubiquitous e-mail: In this year's report, users spent 8.3% of their online time reading and sending missives, down almost 28% from last year's 11.5%, Nielsen said in its Aug. 1 report, "What Americans Do Online."

Users of all ages are adopting social networking, the research firm found, with double the number of Americans ages 50 and above visiting these sites than the under-18 age group. The report tracked 200,000 users in June 2010.

Facebook dominates its category, with 85% of social networking done on its site, the report found. On average, users spend six hours per month on the site. Last month, Facebook celebrated reaching its 500 millionth user milestone. By comparison, users spend 5.6% of their social networking time on its closest competitor, MySpace. Twitter and Blogger each received only 1.1% of social networking use, according to Nielsen.

Games are the second most popular online sector, accounting for 10% of time spent while connected to the Internet -- up about 10% from 2009, according to Nielsen. Electronic Arts, Blizzard Entertainment, and Zynga were the big winners in games. Zynga, developer of popular online games such as Mafia Wars and Farmville, dominates Facebook and recently inked a deal with Yahoo.

Like e-mail, PC portal usage slipped, dropping to 4.4% in 2010 from 5.5% in 2009, Nielsen said. Instant messaging use decreased 15%, shrinking to 4% from 4.7% in the prior year, the study found.

Americans spent a little more time streaming videos -- with sites such as Hulu and YouTube -- which accounted for 3.9% in 2010 vs. 3.5% last year, according to Nielsen. Search use also grew a smidgen, up 0.1%, year-over-year, to 3.5% in June 2010, the study found. Software manufacturers and classified ads/auctions remained flat.

The picture changed when Americans described their online usage via smartphones instead of computers. Americans spent 42% of their online time using e-mail when they accessed the Internet with their phone, Nielsen found. Last year, they spent 37% of their phone-accessed Internet time on e-mail, the study said. Portals were the second most used category, according to the report.

"Although we see similar characteristics amongst PC and mobile Internet use, the way their activity is allocated is still pretty contrasting," said Martin, in a statement. "While convergence will continue, the unique characteristics of computers and mobiles, both in their features, and when and where they are used, mean that mobile Internet behavior mirroring its PC counterpart is still some way off."