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Web popularity swells overseas

Although the United States has far more people online than any other country, the proportion of Americans who use the Web slips in a new global ranking.

Although the United States has far more people online than any other country, the proportion of Americans who use the Web has slipped and now ranks third globally.

According to a study to be released Tuesday by international research firm Ipsos-Reid, America's share of Internet users fell from first place to third from 1999 to 2000 after dominating the Web since its inception. That share will continue to sink as the Internet becomes a popular destination in other parts of the world.

Sweden ranked at the top in 2000 with 65 percent of the population using the Web, followed by Canada with 60 percent and the United States at 59 percent.

The study comes as the Internet continues to evolve and becomes integrated into people's lives. From online tax filing to e-greeting cards, Web surfers are increasingly using the Net for business transactions, entertainment, news, e-mail and other features.

"The Internet is now in its post-revolutionary phrase," said Gus Schattenberg, vice president of global research at Vancouver, British Columbia-based Ipsos-Reid. "What we're seeing is that the years of dramatic rapid growth are tapering off...In a lot of places, there was just a big surge that took place a few years ago, and now it's starting to slow down and just running into some barriers to move beyond the early adopters."

Schattenberg said although the American market has either reached a plateau or is in "a bit of a 7th inning stretch," Canada and Sweden are moving ahead and integrating the Internet into more people's lives. He attributed the growth to the economies of Canada and Sweden, where there is more equal distribution of income than in the United States, where a "digital divide" is separating many people from the Internet mainstream.

The study, based on more than 28,000 interviews with online users in 30 countries and general consumers in 35 countries, also showed that South Korea and Singapore have grown faster than major European markets such as Germany, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

Schattenberg said that such results show the Web is beginning to break away from the dominance of English-language and American-derived content, with companies around the world offering a range of online services in local languages.

However, in another study released Monday, Jupiter Media Metrix found that online usage in the United States increased over the past year among all age groups, particularly among 18- to 34-year-olds and baby boomers, comprising of individuals at least 55 years old.

The Jupiter Media Metrix study said that between April 2000 and April 2001, the number of 18- to 24-year-olds and baby boomers who used the Web and other digital media grew 32 percent and 33 percent respectively.

"These rapidly increasing age groups, which often have more leisure time than other demographic segments, are driving fundamental shifts in the digital media landscapes," Doug McFarland, president of Media Metrix, the online ratings division of Jupiter Media Metrix, said in a statement. "While the college-age demographic has long been sought-after, marketers and online advertisers must not forget baby boomers' strong buying propensity and potential for sheer audience size."

The research firm found that in the United States overall usage of the Web grew 19 percent over the same period. It did not track international usage.