Growth Rate Of World Wide Web May Be Slowing; Survey Finds Privacy & Censorship Concerns

December 19, 1996

The rapid expansion of the World Wide Web may be slowing, data from a well-respected on-line survey suggests.

After nearly three years of charting dramatic shifts in the age, gender, income and other demographics of Web users, the newest "GVU World Wide Web Survey" conducted this fall found mostly minor changes in these statistics. At the same time, the percentage of users new to the Internet has fallen significantly, with just 36 percent of respondents saying they had been on-line for less than a year, compared to 60 percent in the fourth survey done one year ago.

"The demographics of Web users are now showing stability," said James Pitkow, a Georgia Institute of Technology researcher who has conducted the survey twice a year since January of 1994. "In the past, we'd see changes of five to 20 percent in most of the major areas. Now the majority of changes are less than five percent. The trends are continuing, but the rate of change is much slower."

Institutions like corporations and universities, along with home users who already owned personal computers, have fueled much of the Web's growth over the past three years, Pitkow believes. Members of that group who were interested in the Web are now on- line, he said.

"It's my belief that we have reached saturation in the initial phase of Web growth as the rate of introducing new users has slowed and the existing user base has matured," he explained. "The users we were seeing a year ago are still there, but the stream of new users that was fueling the demographic changes has slowed."

Some growth will continue to come from sales of new computers, but Pitkow expects strong new growth in the population of Web users won't occur until new and inexpensive "plug and play" technologies such as Web TV or the Internet phone become widely available.

"The big switch to the Web started in 1995," he noted. "Those who could join the Web did. Now we will need a big throw of another switch to get a lot of new users. Additional growth will also depend on building the infrastructure by the telecommunications industry and the cable industry."

In key demographic areas, the average age of respondents increased to 34.9 years from 33.0 in the previous study done last spring. The gender statistics were largely unchanged from the previous survey: 31.4 percent female.

New questions in the sixth survey, conducted by Georgia Tech's Graphics, Visualization and Usability Center (GVU), focused on cyberspace privacy, falsification of information provided on-line, censorship and the sociological impact of the Web. More than 15,000 Web users responded to the survey, which was widely advertised and posted on the Web from October through November of 1996.

Though lacking the validity of a true scientifically- selected random survey, the study nevertheless provides an interesting and widely-respected "snapshot" of who's using the giant computer network. Pitkow conducted the survey with Colleen Kehoe, also in the GVU Center.

Complete results are available at

Other results include:
430 Tenth St. N.W., Suite N-112
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, Georgia 30318

John Toon (404-894-6986);
FAX: (404-894-6983)

Jim Pitkow or
Colleen Kehoe

WRITER: John Toon

Georgia Institute of Technology

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