Goodies to Go (tm)
April 3, 2000-- Newsletter #74

By Joe Burns

Goodies to Go (tm)
April 3, 2000--Newsletter #74
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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors,

Did you hear...

In a report released by Strategis, an online analyst company, Internet growth can be measured mainly in women. By the end of last year, the male-to-female ratio of people on the Web became equal. Furthermore, women make up 60% of those who report they go on the Web every day. Keep that in mind, Web designers!

The pope's visit to the Holy Land has received a great deal of press coverage. In a speech he gave in Jerusalem, Pope John Paul said that Palestinians have suffered long enough and should have a "natural right to a homeland." Now, that's happened, at least in cyberspace. On March 22nd, ICANN (that's the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), granted Palestine its own country code. Domains based in Palestine can now begin using the suffix "ps" to designate their location.

Finally, Yahoo Magazine reports that the top five companies mentioned at, an online consumer complaint site, were

5. Continental Airlines

4. Northwest Airlines

3. United Airlines

2. Delta Airlines

1. American Airlines

Anyone else see a pattern?

Now onto today's topic...

The news is full of phrases like:

"The key finding is..." "Our research tells us..." "The data suggests..."

The Web is still a baby, really. Reports about Web growth in terms of women, countries, and other groups pepper the news every day.

Because the Web is still growing at such an alarming rate, I tend to discount a great many survey results that people send off to me. For instance, a group will ask 50 Net users a question and then claim that everyone on the Net feels the same way, or someone will ask chat room users a couple of questions and proclaim that that's the opinion of the entire Web. That's just not enough respondents. Maybe the group questioned was surveyed just because they were available, and not because they represent the whole.

Besides, with such growth, a survey taken today may be totally inaccurate in two months because an influx of people onto the Net has fully changed the user landscape.

The basis for any good survey is the sample chosen to begin the survey. Asking every single person is impossible, so the sample a researcher grabs has to be representative of the entire population.

Another factor in my acceptance or non-acceptance of survey results is what's known as "face-validity". Does it sound right? I make my living in cyberspace, so I have a general feel for the landscape. You probably do too. When I receive results that go completely against what I see, I take them with a grain of salt until I see secondary supporting material. For example, don't tell me Windows 2000 is hated by all and then allow me to find sales figures showing it's one of the fastest selling operating systems ever. That just doesn't jibe.

I say all this only to give you a basis as to why I offer you the results of some surveys and not others. Recently I was sent the hypertext link for The Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society (SIQSS). This group has just finished a survey of, not only Net users, but of all of society including the Web.

I thought that was pretty smart, because if all you surveyed was Web-heads, you certainly couldn't apply the results to the entire population, although I've seen that done many times.

By the way, you can see all of these results, with graphs, at .

The survey included 4,113 adults in 2,689 households. Please understand that those surveyed were all Americans. The results cannot be applied to people living in other countries. You may see similarities, but until the survey is reproduced in your country, any comparisons you make are pure speculation.

Norman Nie, Stanford Professor and Director of SIQSS, proclaimed the survey's key finding to be "the more hours people use the Internet, the less time they spend in contact with real human beings."

Uh oh.

Wait. Before you form an opinion, here are a few more specific findings:

1. People spend more time with the Internet the longer they have had access.

2. Internet users who are employed (this is a break-out group?) claim to spend more time working from home without lessening their work time at the office.

3. Five hours of use per week appears to be the point at which a person begins to have some level of "social isolation". The more hours of use past five, the more social isolation.

4. Sixty percent of Internet users say that their Internet use has cut into their television viewing and newspaper reading time.

5. The least educated and oldest Americans tend to access the Internet the least, but when they do, their habits are relatively equal to others with Internet access.

6. Email is the most used arm of the Internet.

7. Chat rooms did not fair well in the survey.

There is more, but these were the seven findings that were trumpeted the loudest. Now the fun begins. You may get a feeling that these results bode poorly for the Internet society.

Why would you think that? Is it because of terms like "social isolation"? That's the one that jumped out and grabbed me right off, but let's stop and look at these results in another light.

Without endorsing or condemning this viewpoint, let me suggest a positive take. Let's take one of the respondents. For the sake of argument, she's a woman, 30 years old, and uses the Internet 15 hours a week.

She is socially isolated. She doesn't watch a lot of TV, she doesn't read newspapers, and she does work out of her house without lessening the amount of work she does in the office.

By the standards of this survey, one might think this person is miserable...or is she?

Let's take the thought process one step further. What if there was no Internet? What if this person didn't have access to other human beings through a mediated pattern of communication, what then? Are we to believe that this woman would be the life of the party? She would have developed social skills and would work less and watch TV more? Is that better?

I suggest there is a reason that people cocoon themselves into the Internet. It is their method of communicating. This woman might very well be so painfully shy that without the Internet she wouldn't have ANY social interaction. The Internet is allowing her to stay comfortable and still talk with other people. It is my belief that the Internet is a form of communication. Maybe you have to have that belief to buy this argument.

I know that when I described the results of the survey, some of you pictured the man sitting for hours, surfing dirty pictures at the expense of his wife and 2.5 kids. I don't doubt that guy is out there, but I would suggest he is in the minority.

The results of this survey are quantitative, numbers, but what about the qualitative? Sure, I spend 15 hours a week at the computer. If you didn't know me, you might think badly of me because of that. But let me fill in the blanks for you. I spend that time because I am paid to.

There are times that I never want to see a computer again, but I keep coming back. Obviously, it's because I'm socially repressed, right? Nope. It's because I don't get a check if I stop.

So, what is the idea of the "normal person"? Less than five hours a week on the Internet, TV watcher, and life of the party? I don't think so.

We're all different. Again, I refuse to say whether I buy this argument or not. I just wanted to put a different spin on these results into your head. Now what do you think about that 30-year-old woman sitting in front of her computer?

What if she's happy? What if sitting in front of that box makes her feel complete? What if that box gives her the social interaction she could never get face-to-face?

A survey conducted by suggests that one of the main reasons women surf the Iinternet is to "find friends". Hmmm...

How do you feel about the results of the SIQSS survey now?


That's that. I expect this will garnish a good deal of email. Thanks for reading.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: Did you see the last million-dollar question on "Who wants to be a millionaire?" It was "What insect crashed a mainframe computer giving rise to the term 'computer bug'?" (or words to that effect). The answer - a moth.

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