Social networking is a social phenomenon.
For further proof, just take a gander at new Nielsen research out today. It says Americans spend nearly a quarter of the time they're on the Internet from their PC, or about six hours a month, on social-networking sites and blogs. That's a quantum leap from a year ago and underscores the growing power of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
The new research also reveals U.S. consumers spend the plurality of their time online, or 36% of it, communicating and networking across social networks, blogs, personal e-mail and instant messaging.
The rise of social networks has enhanced consumption of videos, movies and news and sports articles. "Friends and family are endorsing content to others," says Dave Martin, vice president of primary research at Nielsen.
And the face of that audience is getting older: Twice as many Americans over 50 visited social networks than kids under 18, Nielsen says.
The newfound zeal for the digital lifestyle is epitomized by folks like Dee Jones, 63, who works at a utility company in New Jersey. She says she uses Facebook to connect with co-workers and friends, and Caring.com, a website to exchange viewpoints.
A year ago, she wasn't part of Facebook, which has more than 500 million members. Now, she uses it every other day. "It's a new way for me to socialize," she says. "And I definitely e-mail a lot."
The research on fixed Internet (PC) use, for June, also revealed:
•Online games, led by Zynga's wildly popular FarmVille, overtook personal e-mail to become the second most popular activity. Games accounted for 10% of time spent — eclipsing e-mail, which dropped to 8% from 11.5%.
Half of all Americans online spend some time playing games.
•Videos or movies are another favorite:U.S. consumers, on average, streamed such content three hours, 15 minutes, in June.
•Predictions of the demise of e-mail and instant messaging are premature, the study says. Though both declined in use, e-mail remains the third heaviest activity online (8%) while instant messaging was fifth, at 4%.
"Despite the almost unlimited nature of what you can do on the Web, nearly half of U.S. online time is spent on three activities — social networking, playing games and e-mailing," says Dave Martin, vice president of primary research at Nielsen.
As social networking gains in popularity, its newer members tend to be older, more racially diverse and more varied by social class, says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
Still, Americans use the Internet differently from their smartphones and other mobile devices.
Despite a double-digit increase (28%) in time devoted to social-networking services, e-mail activity remained dominant on mobile devices — up to 42% from 37%. Portals such as Yahoo and AOL remain the second heaviest activity (12% of time).
Smartphone sales are expected to account for a majority of phones in the U.S. by the end of 2011, Nielsen predicts.
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