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section heading icon     demographics

This page highlights studies of who is online and the value of online activity.

It covers -

subsection heading icon     where are the dollars?

Research into the economic size of the Web featured at the 1999 US conference on Understanding The Digital Economy: Data, Tools & Research mentioned above. We recommend the papers by Haltiwanger and Varian in particular. Our economy guide discusses particular issues in more detail and concludes with detailed statistical references. 

Material at the Vanderbilt Uni eLab site is also of value. At a global level the 1997 OECD report on Measuring Electronic Commerce remains of value.

Measuring the Internet Economy
, the October 1999 report by the University of Texas and Cisco, was decidedly upbeat but worth examination for economic projections. It is available at the Internet Indicators site.

Lada Adamic & Bernardo Huberman in their May 1999 paper The Nature of Markets in the World Wide Web - based on an examination of 120,000 sites - argue that statistics for visits to sites are characteristic of a winner-take-all market. 

Whether that will remain the case in future is unclear; we believe that effective marketing online and offline will offset disadvantages faced by many Australian sites that are not 'winning' the traffic. The analysis is extended in Huberman's The Laws of the Web: Patterns in the Ecology of Information (Cambridge: MIT Press 2001).

In July 2000 Internet Ratings Report from Nielsen//NetRatings, the online audience measurement service from the ACNielsen and NetRatings partnership, argues that web usage in the US has reached 'critical mass', with 52% of the population having net access and 32% of the home population web surfing in July. Nearly 144 million people in the US accessed the net at home, compared to 106 million in the preceding year, a growth rate of 35%. A similar picture is painted in the February 2001 report (PDF) from the Pew Internet Project.

US users spent nearly ten hours a month online, an increase of 26 percent over the past year. Page views have doubled over the past year from 353 to 709 page views per month. Unique sites, however, have declined from 12 unique sites visited in July 1999 to 10 unique sites visited in July 2000. 

A spokesperson said

while Web usage has increased, the number of sites people visit has dropped in the past year. This means that the barrier to entry is higher for new Internet ventures as companies vie for surfers’ attention

and went on to attribute the growth in access to "lower prices for personal computers and competitive rates for high-speed Internet access …. making it possible for the mainstream consumer to log on."

New research from Media Metrix suggests that gender levels on the Internet reached 31.1 million men and 30.2 million women in April. 

The number of women going online is outstripping the number of men going online, and that the Internet has become so mainstream that the average Web surfers are now in their mid 40s. Women over 55 represent the fastest-growing cohort on the Internet, up to 3.19 million in April, a 98.1 percent increase over 1999. Teens were the second-fastest growing age group. The same report highlights that  the United States dominates Web usage, boasting more Web users than the next 15 countries combined.

subsection heading icon     making sense of language statistics

Estimates about languages online and offline are contentious. That is unsurprising, given disagreement about the size and shape of the global online population.

As of 2004 around 6,809 'living' languages in the world, with around 250 spoken by over a million people and 90% spoken by fewer than 100,000 people.

In terms of population size the dominant language is Mandarin, officially spoken by most Chinese. It is followed by English, Spanish, Hindi and Arabic. In 1950 around 9% of the world's population spoke English as a first language; that is expected to decline to under 5% by 2050. English, however, appears to have a cultural dominance beyond the number of 'first speakers'. That reflects its use in business and science and its resultant status as the second language of choice (with a significantly higher number of people reading English as a second language than speaking it fluently).

Some languages are rarer: it has been suggested that there are 357 languages with under 50 speakers and that 46 are known to have just one native speaker.

An estimated 4.5% of the total number of described languages have disappeared over the the past 500 years, for example over 31 of more than 235 languages spoken by Indigenous Australians. Disappearance has reflected the disappearance of particular groups - with smallpox for example resulting in the extinction of many languages in the Americas - and their adoption of other cultures.

A perspective is provided by David Crystal's Language & The Internet (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2001), Vanishing Voices: The Extinction of the World's Languages (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 2000) by Daniel Nettle & Suzanne Romaine, Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World (London: HarperCollins 2005) by Nicholas Ostler, Endangered languages (Oxford: Berg 1991) edited by Robert Robins & Eugenius Uhlenbeck and Language, Mind and Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2007) by Rhodri Lewis.

subsection heading icon     what languages are online

GlobalReach, an internet marketing company, has published figures on the languages used by those online. Those figures are inconsistent with some of the data featured on this page. They suggest that the online global language populations (in millions) from 1996 to 2005 were -

  1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
Eng
Chi
Jap
Spa
Ger
Fren
Ital
Scan
Kor
Port
Dut
other
Total
40
0.1
2.0
0.2
0.5
0.2
0.1
2.0
0.01
0.02
0.05
7.0
50
72
1.2
7
0.8
3.5
2
0.5
2.2
0.05
0.2
1
11.4
117
91
2
9
1.8
6.3
3.4
1.8
3.2
0.8
1.2
2
15.1
151
148
10
20
13
14
9.9
9.7
7.7
5
4
5.8
6.4
245
192
31
39
21
22
17
12
9
17
11
7
28.8
391
231
48
48
35
37
18
20
11
25
14
11
41
529
233
78
61
50
43
23
24
14
28
19
13
64
626
288
103
70
66
53
28
24
15
30
26
12
89
729
280
160
85
70
62
40
35
16.3
35
32
13.5
129
941
300
220
105
80
71
49
42
17
40
38
15
142
1100

Inktomi's January 2000 webmap identified 1.6 billion pages, of which 86.55% were in English, German 5.83%, French 2.36%, Italian 1.55%, Spanish 1.23%, Portuguese 0.85%, Dutch 0.54%, Finnish 0.50%, Swedish 0.36% and Japanese 0.34%. Other languages bring the total to over 100%.

Agence de la Francophonie's 2001 L5 Fifth Study on Languages & the Internet report covered the presence on the net of English, German, and the Romance languages. A Global Reach study considered the number of users per language, as did a set of global/regional reports (of varying quality) highlighted by Nua. Global Reach suggested that as of 2001 the proportion of the online population with English as the first language is 43%, Chinese 9.3%, Japanese 9.2%, Spanish 6.7%, German 6.7%, Korean 4.4%, Italian 3.8%, French 3.3%, Portuguese 2.5%, Dutch 2.2% and 'Other' 8.9%.

The Estadísticas de Internet en el ámbito internacional Madrid published a report emphasising Spanish and other Romance languages but restricted to select Western European languages. Gregory Grefenstette & Julien Nioche's 2000 paper (PDF) Estimation of English and non-English Language Use on the WWW covered the number of words rather than pages per language, albeit quite selectively. Peter Gerrand's 2007 'Estimating linguistic diversity on the Internet: A taxonomy to avoid pitfalls and paradoxes' paper in 12 Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 4 is of value.

The 2003 paper Trends in the Evolution of the Public Web 1998-2002 by Edward O'Neill, Brian Lavoie & Rick Bennett suggested that as of June 2002 the percentage of 'surface web' (ie publicly accessible) sites by language was -

graphic of surface web by language

with the percentage by site owner estimated as -

graphic of surface web by national origin

A mid-2003 report by BlogCensus on blogs claimed that of 701,150 "sites we think are weblogs", some 380,657 appeared to be in English.

The next most popular languages in the blogosphere were supposedly -

Language

Portuguese
Polish
Farsi
French
Spanish
German
Italian
Dutch
Icelandic
Number of blogs

54,496 blogs
42,677
27,002
10,381
9,509
7,736
7,017
3,684
3,542

That claim is significantly at odds with other estimates of the online population. As we have noted in discussing blogging, Iceland appears to have the highest per capita penetration of blogs.

A perspective is provided by Susan Herring's 2002 ppt The language of the Internet: English dominance or heteroglossia? and the 2005 UNESCO Measuring Linguistic Diversity on the Internet study (PDF).

 




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