Rich content may be the main focus of Internet hype, but most of the growing numbers of people signing up for Internet connections mostly just want to send and receive email, according to a new survey.
A survey by the San Francisco-based Odyssey market research firm found that for the first time, email has surpassed research, news, and other information, as the number-one activity for consumers who go online at home.
According to the survey, 32 percent of respondents said email was the main reason for going online, followed by 25 percent for research, 22 percent for news and information, and 19 percent for entertainment. In a similar survey in January, only 21 percent of respondents had signed up principally for email, while 21 percent used the Net mostly for research, 24 percent for news and information, and 18 percent for entertainment.
"This is not great news for online services," said Nick Donatiello, president of Odyssey. "The Internet and the World Wide Web will never be the medium that people want it to be if all it becomes is a replacement for the U.S. Postal Service."
Donatiello predicts that if the Net continues to be perceived largely as an email service, it will trouble developing into a medium like radio or television. He added that ISPs may find it increasingly difficult to turn a profit if they have trouble persuading people to pay $19.95 a month for such a limited use.
The survey also showed that for the first time, Internet service providers surpassed online services as the number-one way for surfing the Net at home. Donatiello said this was less surprising, given the launch of Net access by telephones such as AT&T, Pacific Bell, and Bell Atlantic.
Some 48 percent of households surfing the Net at home are using an ISP, up from 35 percent for a commercial online service such as America Online, CompuServe, or Prodigy. The latter provide information and other services, as well as connections to the rest of the Internet, to subscribers who pay a monthly fee.
"Only AOL gained in market share," Donatiello said, citing survey results.
The research also showed Netscape Communications with a comfortable lead over Microsoft in the hotly contested Web browser market. About 54 percent of the 2,000 households surveyed indicated that they used Netscape's Navigator, compared with 6 percent using Microsoft's Internet Explorer.