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Net users take a vacation from the Web, study says

People spent less time on the Web in December than during any other month in 2000, a report says, indicating that as the Net becomes more mainstream, people may need a holiday break from it.

Despite the jump in online sales this past holiday season, people spent less time on the Web in December than during any other month in 2000, according to a Nielsen/NetRatings report.

Statistics show that there are droves of new Internet users, and that people who are already online are spending more time there. As evidence of increased use, online holiday sales reached $9.8 billion this season, more than double last year's $4.7 billion figure, according to a report from Goldman Sachs/PC Data.

However, this increased time spent online may be leading individuals to see Web surfing not as a special occasion, but as a regular activity from which to take breaks during the holidays and other nonwork days. This sentiment would lead to waning Web use during vacation-heavy months such as December, said Sean Kaldor, vice president of e-commerce for Nielsen/NetRatings, a Milpitas, Calif., company that tracks traffic to Web sites.

In 1999, however, this was not the case. Online time did not drop off in December 1999, Kaldor said, but rather showed a slight uptick. This suggests that as early as a year ago, people spent more of their vacation time online.

Analysts speculate that the changing role of the Internet--primarily its growing presence in people's lives both at work and at home--may be to blame. Whereas people might have seen the Internet as an exciting activity in years past, some now may be viewing it with less enthusiasm.

"I've got to think the Internet has just become more mainstream this year to the point that people are saying they need a break from it," Kaldor said. "In years past, it was what you took a break to go do.

"As it becomes more mainstream, people spend more time with their family during the holidays and spend fewer times online," he said.

The Nielsen/NetRatings report shows that individuals spent an average of 14.9 hours surfing the Web in December, compared with an average 17.5 hours in October. In another measure, the average individual held 33 online sessions in October, compared with just 28 sessions in December.

The number of unique sites visited per month dropped 15 percent, to 17 sites from 20, and page views declined almost 18 percent, to 983 from 1,196.

The Nielsen/NetRatings report also listed the most visited Web sites on the Internet for the month of December. America Online Web sites took first place, followed by Yahoo, MSN, Excite@Home and Microsoft.

Nielsen/NetRatings collects its data by tracking the Web surfing habits of 62,000 at-home Internet users and 8,000 at-work Internet users.