Nielsen Says – In: social networking; Out: email

August 2, 2010

INTERNET-SOCIALMEDIA/PRIVACYAnyone with a Facebook account knows how addictive social networking can be. But a new report by analytics firm Nielsen illustrates just how central social networking has become in the Average Joe’s day-to-day life.

Nearly a quarter of Americans’ online time is now spent on social networks, according to Nielsen. And all that time spent on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter is coming at the expense of traditionally popular Web activities, particularly email.

Email accounted for 8.3 percent of Americans’ online time in June, down from 11.5 percent a year earlier.

The total number of minutes that Americans spent using email in June plunged 34 percent year-over-year, while the total number of minutes devoted to social networking jumped 31 percent year-over-year.

“When you’re on Facebook, you can do instant messaging, you can email and share content,” said Nielsen analyst David Martin. “Maybe an assumption is that social networks are directly displacing some of these traditional channels for communication online.”

That’s not great news for the Yahoos, Googles and Microsofts of the world, which have built substantial email businesses over the years.

To make matters worse, Nielsen said the “portal” category — web sites like Yahoo or AOL — represented 4.4 percent of Americans’ online time in June, compared to 5.5 percent a year earlier.

Nielsen conducted the study by monitoring the daily surfing habits of 220,000 people in the U.S.

Social game companies like Zynga and Playfish are also benefitting from the trend.

Online games, which increasingly means social games, overtook email to become the second most popular activity online after social networking, accounting for 10.2 percent of time online in June 2010 vs 9.3 percent in June 2009.

Of course, online time isn’t a requirement for business success. Search ranked only as the seventh most popular activity, accounting for a relatively scant 3.5 percent of Americans’ online time. Yet Google remains the world’s most successful Internet company, with nearly $24 billion in annual revenue.

And there’s still hope for email and portals. Email remains the most popular activity on mobile phones, with Americans’ spending 41.6 percent of their online time on email, up from 37.4 percent a year earlier. And phone users spent more time on Web portals than they did on social networks in June, though Nielsen noted that the gap between the two is narrowing.

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