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Social Networks Trounce Email in Study

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Social networks were the big winners in a new a Nielsen study of how American consumers use the Internet. Compared to a year ago, the use of social networks like Facebook and Twitter rose 43 percent to account for 22.7 percent of the time people said they spend online.

Online gaming jumped into second place at 10.2 percent, up from 9.3 percent a year ago. Time spent using email services dipped from a year ago to 8.3, a 28 percent drop from 2009 when email came in at 11.5 percent. Most of the other categories in Nielsen’s Top 10 list, including Instant Messaging, Videos/Movies, Search and Classifieds/Auctions, changed less than 1 percent in terms of how long users in the survey said they spend on those activities.

“Despite the almost unlimited nature of what you can do on the Web, 40 percent of U.S. online time is spent on just three activities — social networking, playing games and emailing leaving a whole lot of other sectors fighting for a declining share of the online pie,” Nielsen analyst Dave Martin said in a statement accompanying the report.

The news comes at a time when the so-called consumerization of IT trend is having a big impact on the enterprise.

Some companies have adopted social networks for marketing purposes, while enterprise-friendly alternatives that mimic many of the key features of services like Facebook and Twitter have emerged from such companies as Salesforce Socialtext, and Yammer.

Nielsen’s report also emphasized that the rise of social networking doesn’t mean email and instant messaging usage has become insignificant. Although both saw double-digit declines in the amount of time people spend using it, email remains as the third most popular activity online (8.3 percent share of time) while instant messaging came in fifth (4 percent share of time).

Online video was a big gainer in Nielsen’s report as the number of videos streamed passed a record 10 billion in June, 2010. Nielsen also reported that the average American consumer streaming online video spent 3 hours 15 minutes in that activity during the month of June.

In a separate study of mobile Web users, Nielsen found email use is on the upswing, rising to 41.6 percent of the time spent using the Internet on a mobile device. That’s up from 37.4 percent in the earlier survey. Social networking on mobile devices among users in the U.S. grew 28 percent.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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