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20 million love Net, 9 leave it

Twenty million Americans consider the Internet "indispensable." Nine million have tried it and said "not now," a survey reveals.

Although more than twenty million Americans consider the Internet "indispensable" to their daily lives, almost half that number have decided they can live without it for now, a new survey says.

The survey, released today by the Emerging Technologies Research Group of FIND/SVP (FSVP), found that 9.3 million Americans have tried some type of Internet service, but do not consider themselves to be current users. The implication is that the Web has a long way to go before it becomes as ubiquitous a medium as television or print journalism.

Focus groups used for the study complained about a lack of "useful" information available on the Internet. Thomas Miller, author of the study, suggested that it is not an actual lack of information that drives people away, but that, "they don't know how to find it."

Miller also pointed out that a 23 percent churn rate is relatively low for the Internet as a whole, especially when compared to a 50 to 60 percent rate for online services alone. Miller also points to a "natural churn factor": students who have graduated and lost free Internet access, people who have changed jobs or lost Internet access for some other reason.

Analysts say that this kind of consumer reluctance is to be expected with any emerging technology. Adam Schoenfeld, an analyst with Jupiter Communications, suggested that the best thing Netizens can do to lure one-time users back to the Web is to continue what they already are doing: improving content and the technology that supports it.

"In any emerging consumer medium, you will find a group of people that try it once, and then fade away. The best thing to do is to provide compelling content and applications," Schoenfeld said.

He also pointed out that most users browsing from home are on relatively slow modems and computers not equipped to handle Java-based applications. As bandwidth improves and the Web becomes a more seamless surfing experience, Schoenfeld is confident the naysayers will return:

"As email becomes vital, they'll be back. As online banking becomes more ubiquitous, they'll be back."

In sum: "They'll be back."