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U.S. Web usage hits all-time high

Web measurement companies report a record number of U.S. Web surfers, driven partly by a large increase in Web access at home and the rise of online use by underrepresented groups.

A record number of U.S. residents went online last month, Web measurement companies reported Tuesday, driven partly by a large increase in Web access at home and the rise of online use by underrepresented groups.

The number of U.S. Internet users skyrocketed to an all-time high, rising 15 percent from 100.3 million surfers in October 2000 to more than 115.2 million in October 2001, according to a report released by Nielsen/NetRatings. The Internet measurement service said people accessing the Web from home contributed significantly to the increase, rising 14 percent from the previous year to more than 103.7 million surfers.

Jupiter Media Metrix also reported record Web usage, saying that the number of monthly unique users of the Web surpassed 100 million for the first time, climbing from 80.7 million users in October 2000 to 102.1 million in October 2001. Jupiter and Nielsen/NetRatings each use different data-gathering techniques and methods of compiling research, resulting in varying totals.

The increase in Web activity shows that despite the troubled economy, people are continuing to jump online to conduct business and find information. Analysts said that over the past several years, the demographics of those accessing the Web have changed from early adopters to more underrepresented groups, such as minorities and those with lower incomes.

"As time goes on, we're seeing that the Web is becoming more of an integral part of people's lives," said Lisa Strand, chief analyst at Nielsen/NetRatings. "It's not like the Internet stagnated to a certain percent of the population; it's still growing. There are still more American's coming online."

Nielsen/NetRatings also reported that Web usage rose from 110.8 million unique users in September to 115.2 million the following month. That 4 percent growth is the largest monthly increase seen in 2001, according to the company. Strand said although there was a stagnation of use during the summer with people on vacation and students out of school, she said by fall people were back online. Strand added that traffic to news sites spiked as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks.

During the week of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, news hubs such as ABCNews.com, CNN.com and The New York Times' site became inaccessible because of a huge influx of viewers.

Nielsen/NetRatings also released its top Web sites for at-home and at-work for the month of October, which remained unchanged from its September rankings. AOL Time Warner hit the No. 1 spot with 80.6 million unique visitors, followed by Yahoo with 71.1 million, MSN with 66.9 million, Microsoft with 44 million and Lycos Network with 34.2 million.

Jupiter also reported its top properties for both home and work Web users, placing AOL Time Warner Network in the top spot followed by MSN-Microsoft sites, Yahoo, Terra Lycos and camera maker X10, which derives the majority of its traffic from pop-up ads.

The Web measurement companies count Web traffic using different methods. For example, Jupiter includes visitors that came to a site from pop-up or pop-under ads while Nielsen/NetRatings ignores such traffic.

Jupiter also reported that the top newcomer sites were patriotic and religious sites, reflecting the public mood followed by the Sept. 11 attacks.

Jupiter said the patriotic newcomer sites, which sell flags and other products, include USAflagsdirect.com with 3.5 million unique users, DeskFlag.com with 3.1 million, Tigertech.com with 2.4 million and Homeofthefreeonline.com with 1.3 million. Religious sites included Presidentialprayerteam.org, a community site aimed at organizing prayer for the president and his top advisors, with 1.1 million unique visitors and Oneangel.net, which offers downloads of angelic computer images symbolizing prayer for the Sept. 11 victims, with 632,000 visitors.

"While September's newcomer sites focused on news, charity and victims' aid, October's newcomers focus on patriotism and prayer," Charles Buchwalter, vice president of media research at Jupiter, said in a statement. "Online behavior has consistently mirrored public sentiment in the five years that we've been measuring the Internet, and this appears to be as true during October as ever."