Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Monday, December 27, 2020

The new numbers from Nielsen/NetRatings show that, at long last, broadband Internet use in American homes has surpassed dialup, 53 percent to 47 percent.

The break-even point doesn’t mean much: In order to launch true mass-market-targeted multimedia content, providers will have to up that level to at least 75 percent. That’s likely on the way, as competitive pricing is helping to spread broadband. The other consideration is whether or not consumers will bother to keep their computers up-to-speed enough to handle all those Flash animations and the like.

But in the meantime, Pew Internet & American Life studies show how going to broadband changes the fundamental way people use the Web:

Surveys from the Pew Internet and American Life Project find that 69 percent of broadband users go online on a typical day, compared with 51 percent for dial-up. Broadband users who went online averaged 107 minutes surfing the Web, checking e-mail and otherwise engaged, 21 minutes longer than dial-up users.

Taking advantage of their always-on connection, they practice “infosnacking.”

“People are more able and willing to just walk up to the Internet to get a quick snippet of what they need, send a quick e-mail, read a quick news article, check a sports score,” said Jim Bankoff, executive vice president for programming at America Online Inc.

Not having to wait several minutes to log on to a dial-up account, broadband user Jeannie Tatum will quickly check prices before heading out to a store. The Spring, Texas, Web designer will visit Blockbuster’s site to see if a new release is out yet, noting that with dial-up, “it would take less time to pick up the phone and call.”

Telephone books? Gathering dust on the shelf.

Atlases? What are they?

Communal behavior also is tempered by the broadband effect.

Family members arguing a point over dinner are more apt, if they have broadband, to “look it up online rather than continue to yell at each other,” said Lee Rainie, Pew’s director.

Or, in the absence of verbal interaction, families can have heated discussions in Internet chat rooms - individual members each sitting in separate rooms in front of computer screens.

Infosnacking is the key. I don’t keep my machine on 24/7, but I do turn it on as soon as I get home at night, and leave it on until I’m ready for bed. On weekends, it’s on from the time I get up until bedtime, even if I know I’ll be out of the house for long stretches. The convenience of being able to access online info fairly quickly makes “loggin on” a completely different experience than it was even five years ago.

This is the kind of scenario that was pitched to me five years ago, when residential broadband was just starting to gain traction. Five years is a pretty slow pace. It shouldn’t take that long to conquer the rest of online users: Critical mass has been reached, and other technologies like wi-fi will help things along quicker. And there’s always the ahead-of-the-curve users overseas.

Still, while content creators don’t like to hear this, dial-up is sticking around for a while yet:

In the meantime, Internet usability expert Jakob Nielsen has a word of caution for the broadband crowd:

Respect the dial-up population. It remains large. Think twice before sending friends large photo files as attachments. Those photos could sour their Internet experience.

On the other hand, come to think of it, those photos could encourage them to finally spring for broadband.

Coincidentally, one of the contributing factors to my switching to broadband DSL last year was the increasing receipt of mega-large photo files from friends. Ironically, I haven’t been getting nearly as many of those emails of late.

- Costa Tsiokos, Mon 12/27/2004 10:32:31 PM
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