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Personal Computing: The Internet, These Days

The latest round of statistics about the Internet presents an intriguing picture of how this international medium is evolving. Some of the stats are as expected, but some are surprising.

For help with common problems, more Americans now use the Internet than consult experts or family members, according to the latest Pew Internet Project survey. Fully 58 percent of those surveyed use the Internet compared with 53 percent who turn to professionals such as doctors, lawyers or financial experts, and 45 percent who seek out friends and family members.

The Pew survey indicated that 77 percent of Americans now have Internet access, with 64 percent having broadband access and 13 percent having slower dial-up access. Those with dial-up access in general are poorer, older and less-educated than those with broadband access, and are more likely to rely on television and radio for information than broadband users.

More Americans than ever are using the Internet to help them choose the next president, according to Pew. About 24 percent of Americans say they regularly learn something about the presidential campaign from the Internet, which is up from 13 percent compared to the same time in the 2004 campaign.

Americans may have invented the Internet but other countries are taking to it with more enthusiasm, according to a new Harris survey done for Symantec. The United States, though, remains near the top.

The Chinese are by far the most active bloggers among the eight countries surveyed. Fully 86 percent of adults with online access in China spend time on their personal blogs, compared with 44 percent in Brazil, 39 percent in Japan, 20 percent in the United States, 19 percent in the UK, 18 percent in France, 17 percent in Australia and 13 percent Germany.

Along with putting information out there, other countries are also more active in retrieving news and opinions. Fully 93 percent of adults online in Brazil spend time following news sites and blogs, compared with 92 percent in China, 83 percent in Japan, 77 percent in the United States, 76 percent in France, 75 percent in Australia, 71 percent in Germany and 66 percent in the UK.

The UK leads the way with online shopping, with 96 percent of online users buying online there. This compares with 93 percent in Germany, 90 percent in the United States and Japan, 89 percent in France, 86 percent in China, 84 percent in Australia and 81 percent in Brazil.

Personal finance isn't quite as popular as shopping as an Internet activity, but the majority of online users in the countries surveyed have handled some financial transactions online. China leads the way here, with 87 percent of adults online doing online banking or paying bills online at least sometimes. This is followed by 85 percent in the UK, 84 percent in France, 81 percent in Australia, 79 percent in the United States, 78 percent in Germany, 74 percent in Japan and 68 percent in Brazil.

When it comes to making friends online, the Chinese are also out front, with 84 percent having online access doing so. This compares with 77 percent for Brazil, 54 percent for Australia, 45 percent for the United States and Germany, 42 percent for the UK, 38 percent for Japan and 31 percent for France.

Among the newly emerging Internet activities is watching or downloading movies. In the United States, 41 percent of adults and 46 percent of children online do this at least sometimes. In China, the figures are 97 percent of adults and 96 percent of children. China also leads the world in downloading music, with 97 percent of adults and 98 percent of kids online doing so. In the United States, the figures are 56 percent of both adults and kids.

As you might expect, the most popular Internet activity among kids is games. In the United States, 96 percent of kids and 74 percent of adults online play games. In China, the figures are 99 percent and 95 percent, respectively.

Despite problems with spam, viruses and phishing, e-mail remains the most popular Internet activity among adults, with 97 percent to 99 percent of adults online in all the countries surveyed exchanging e-mail.

According to the most recent Nelson survey on the subject, the ten most popular websites in the United States in order are Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, MSN/Windows Live, AOL Media Network, YouTube, Fox Interactive Media, Amazon, eBay and Apple. Google leads the way with searching, being used for 56.3 percent of the all Web searches, compared with 17.7 percent for Yahoo and 13.8 percent for MSN/Windows Live Search.

Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. Contact him at [email protected] or www.reidgoldsborough.com.

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