Internet Penetration: Six Insights from IDC

Last Updated Jul 17, 2008 3:27 PM EDT

Crowd on the SquareLast month, IDC released some details about its forecast of Internet use -- which the company expects to pass 30 percent of the world's population by 2012. I chatted with chief research officer John Gantz about the findings and some that might be a bit surprising.
  • 250 million unique U.S. users by end of 2008: "It's not quite to where it is with people using phones, but it's close," Gantz says. IDC asked about access at home, school, and work, and the estimates take that into account, so these are individual users, not the total number of connections, and they must be using it at least once a month.
  • Demographic shifts: Internet use is now about even by gender. Some of the fastest growing segments are older users, "because they were less automated to begin with," and so the change is more noticeable.
  • Commerce: About half of people use the Internet for commerce, but that's trickier than it seems. "It's used to be that you'd go to the Internet and then go to the store. But now I find that some people go to the store to see it and then go to the Internet. Of the people who use store and Internet for the same item is probably about 20 percent." Companies that don't have both an online and real-world presence will be at some disadvantage. "If the Internet is the only way you're reaching your market, you are going to miss out," he says.
  • Mobile: Gantz estimates that seven percent of people use mobile Internet access to actually buy something, but again that can be a bit deceiving. "They're using it a little bit for commerce, but more like checking the stores for stock and prices." About 70 percent of mobile use is search.
  • Secret search strongholds: One of the more surprising findings is who rules search. The answer isn't Google. "More searches take place on the hidden part of the Internet, on a company's web site," he says. "A lot of search takes place outside of the normal expected patterns, and that's going to change the advertising." Gantz points to the example of Disney, which started an ad network for its own sites.
  • Local language and search: "What's least understood about online advertising is that advertising is actually executed at a local language, local level," Gantz says. "Few people understand how many of the people coming onto the internet will be outside the U.S." If you don't understand the language issues, then you're possibly wasting a lot of money in running ads that much of the audience cannot read.
Crowd on the Square image courtesy of user Pavol Špáni
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.