Social networking is more popular in Latin America, the Middle East, and China than in the U.S., Japan, and other Internet-saturated markets.
That is just one of the findings of the "Digital Life" study released today by British research firm TNS. Polling nearly 50,000 people across 46 countries, the survey was designed to gauge changes in online behavior globally.
The study found that online users in certain rapid-growth regions are now spending more time on social-networking sites than on e-mail. Consumers in Latin America, the Middle East, and China put in 5.2 hours each week on average on social-network sites, compared with 4 hours on e-mail. That contrasts with people in more "mature" markets, such as the U.S. and Japan, who spend 3.8 hours per week on social-networking sites and 5.1 hours checking e-mail.
Sharing photos online is growing in popularity, especially in Asia, according to TNS. The percentage of online users who've uploaded photos to social networks or photo-sharing sites is 92 percent in Thailand, 88 percent in Malaysia, and 87 percent in Vietnam. By contrast, less than one-third of online consumers in Japan and under half of those in Germany have uploaded photos to the Web.
Blogging is yet another area with highly variable activity. Four out of five online users in China and more than half of those in Brazil have written their own blogs, compared with 32 percent in the U.S.
The study also tracked which countries are more "social," meaning the ones where people have the greatest number of online friends. Malaysia was at the top with an average of 233 friends per user, followed by Brazil with 231. People in Japan proved the least social, with 29 online friends on average. Alhough Chinese consumers are heavy users of social networks, the average person there has only 68 friends online, which TNS believes points to China as a culture that values fewer but closer friendships.
So why the disparity in online behavior between regions?
"The Internet is a huge part of life in the 21st century, but how it affects our lives varies depending upon where in the world you live," TNS Chief Development Officer Matthew Froggatt said in a statement. "We've seen that in mature markets where people have been online for years and where access is ubiquitous, the Internet has already become a commoditized item that consumers take for granted. However, in rapid-growth markets that have seen recent, sustained investment in infrastructure, users are embracing these new channels in much more active ways."
For more details, the TNS Digital Life site offers a world map that lets you click on a specific country to see how it fared in the study and how it compared to other countries.