Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Internet statistics

A question that I am often asked by students is "Where can I find statistics on the use of the Internet?" This question, of course, really needs more precision. What is it, exactly, that you are looking for, and why?

Are you looking for figures on the number of people with Internet access in different countries or regions, perhaps to inform debate about the "digital divide"? Even here you might want to distinguish different forms of Internet access (e.g. broadband versus dial-up, access at home, or at work or via an Internet cafe or public library). You must be careful to be clear about the exact definition of any series that you obtain. The number of active Internet users, for example, is not the same as the number of users with Internet access at home.

Or perhaps you are looking for time series data so that you can chart the growth of the Internet over the years. As well as the number of Internet users you might want information on the number of (host) computers attached to the Internet, or the number of web pages, or the value of e-commerce sales. Again you must be very careful with your definitions. There may be other factors to consider too. Zook (2000) argues that we should be careful in using the number of hosts when discussing the growth of the Internet. He points out that this measure includes both company (and other organisation web servers) and personal computers that are linked to the Internet. There is a danger in failing to distinguish between the supply side (companies putting information up on the web) from the demand side (individuals trying to access the information). He prefers to look at the number of registered domain names as this better reflects the growth on the supply side. For those attempting to track the growth of the use of the Internet in individual countries Zook reminds us that companies are increasingly using generic top level domains (such as .com and .net) rather than those relating to specific country top level domains (eg. .co.uk).

Internet statistics of different kinds are produced by a variety of organisations, ranging from official national statistics offices such as the Office for National Statistics in the UK or the Department of Commerce in the US (part of the US Census Bureau) through to private research and consultancy firms such as Nielsen//NetRatings and Point Topic.

Other places to find Internet statistics include regulatory bodies such as Ofcom (in the UK) and international bodies such as the United Nations.

Sometimes you will get useful little "factoids" as part of a story on a news organisation web page - I have listed a few examples below.

Whereever the information comes from remember not only to check the definitions, but also to consider the methodology behind the data collection and the reliability of the group putting out the figures.

[1] Kiiski, S and Pohjola, M (2002) Cross-country diffusion of the Internet. Inforamtion Economics and Policy. Vol 14 Issue 2 pp297-310.
[2] Zook, M (2000) Internet metrics: using host and domain counts to map the Internet. Telecommunications Policy, Vol 24 Issues 6-7 pp613-620.

[1] Official UK Internet statistics from National Statistics Online
[2] US E-Commerce Sales data from the US Census Bureau
[3] Internet Domain Survey Host Count form the Internet Systems Consortium.
[4] Internet Usage Statistics by Continent from Internet World Stats.
[5] DSL Broadband Internet Subscribers - Top 20 Countries from Internet World Stats.
[6] Internet Trends and Statistics from ClickZ Stats
[7] Internet usage trends form the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
[8] Point-Topic.Com (Detailed tables and reports require subscription)
[9] Nielsen//NetRatings (Detailed tables and reports require subscription)
[10] UK Broadband connections from OfCom.

A few other "factoids"
[1] Technorati, a firm that tracks Weblogs or "blogs" says that there are now 27.2 million of them. [Source: "Blogosphere growing, but is anybody reading?", Jennifer LeClaire, TechnewsWorld 9th February 2006.]
[2] 420 million single tracks legally downloaded in 2005. [Source: IFPI Digital Music Report 2006 discussed in "Digital downloads top $1 billion worldwide", Jennifer LeClaire, TechnewsWorld 21st February 2006.
[3] By 2100 the Internet will influence nearly half of retail sales (in the US). [Source: JupiterResearch, relayed by K C Jones in InformationWeek , 6th February 2006.]


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