Net Becomes Everyday Tool

SAN FRANCISCO (03/03/2000) - As the Internet increases in popularity it is becoming less exciting. People tend to go online not to "surf" anything, but to handle mundane, day-to-day tasks more efficiently.

"Lots of Internet activity has to do with the kinds of things that everyday people don't think twice about doing," says Charles King, a senior analyst for Zona Research Inc. "The Web is becoming more commercial and is not the 'Wild West' environment that it was just a few years ago."

A recent Zona poll of more than 700 participants about their online activity finds an increase in activities that require "user involvement." The most popular activity is sending and receiving e-mail. Next up are obtaining information about a hobby or personal interest, getting general news, and checking the weather. Only hobby research can be characterized as more than mundane.

The least popular activity in Zona's poll is placing or receiving an Internet-based telephone call, something attempted by only 13 percent of the group. Report the Zona analysts: "While its proponents continue to insist that Internet telephony is the next great thing, the technology is not nearly ready for prime time."

Everyday Tasks

Checking weather reports is the fastest-growing activity, according to Zona's research. That activity jumped 6 percent and rose from seventh to fourth position over the previous study. And while obtaining general news and visiting sites with audio content changed position, both rose 5 percent in overall popularity.

"The percentage increase in obtaining general news indicates to us that users are growing more comfortable with using the Internet for everyday tasks," Zona analysts conclude. "That suggestion is supported by healthy increases in obtaining online information for travel, business, and school, as well as conducting banking transactions and monitoring investments via the Internet."

"The shift was subtle," King says of the changes since the last report. "People are getting more comfortable with the Web; it is becoming more useful and more used."

Still, put the numbers in perspective, King adds: Online banking, at 20 percent of usage, is not excessively popular among the sample and is again dwarfed by ATM use.

While users are--and should be--concerned with security and privacy issues, it won't be too long before ordering goods online will be no more traumatic than using the phone or a catalog, King says.

"We're still early in the cycle," he says. "The environment is still changing weekly."

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