GVU's WWW User Survey

GVU's 8th WWW User Survey

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This is the main document for the Graphic, Visualization, & Usability Center's (GVU) 8th WWW User Survey. GVU runs the Surveys as public service and as such, all results are available online (subject to certain terms and conditions). The 8th Survey was run from October 10, 1997 through November 16, 1997 and was endorsed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) (which exists to develop common standards for the evolution of the Web) and INRIA (the acting European host for the W3C in collaboration with CERN, where the Web originated). The GVU Survey is now also sponsored by a Corporate Council that provides financial support to the survey effort as well as providing new directions for the surveys to explore. Special pointers to the survey were provided by Yahoo, Netscape and WebTV. The $250 US cash prize winners are Janice L. from California, Keith M. from Ohio, and Jeremiah A. from South Carolina. Congratulations!

Over 10,000 web users participated in the survey. Questions were asked on the following areas:

Basic Sections: Electronic Commerce:
  • General Demographics 
  • Technology Demographics 
  • Data Privacy 
  • Web and Internet Usage 
  • Internet Shopping 
  • Information Gathering & Purchasing 
  • Opinions on Internet Commerce 
Special Sections:
  • Web Authors 
  • Cultural Issues 
  • Webmasters 
Get an overview of the findings by reading: 
Executive Summary
Selected Results & Trend Analysis, and 
Read the results on Paper! 
GVU's Eighth WWW User Survey Report (in color).  Contains analysis and graphs of key findings from the 8th Survey and longitudinal analysis of emerging trends.  Authored by: Colleen Kehoe, James Pitkow, and Kimberly Morton, December 1997, Pages ~50; Price: $80.
To order please contact: 
Office of Technology Licensing 
Georgia Tech Research Corporation 
400 Tenth Street 
Atlanta, GA 30332-0415 
404 894-9727 (phone) 
404 894 9728 (facsimile) 
Read about previous surveys in: 
General Survey Information (Past & Future Surveys) 
Special Presentation of Selected Results for the WWW History Day (April 1997) 
Published Papers & Presentations on the Surveys 
Media Responses, Press Releases, & Appearances
Understand how the results are collected by reading: 
Survey Methodology and Limitations of the results, and Technical Information 
Dig into the details by looking at the: 
Tables and Graphs (GIF) for each question, or 
Bulleted Lists for each question (ASCII)
Project 2000 (Vanderbilt) papers based on the survey New!
Conduct your own analysis by using our: 
Collected Datasets, and 
Original Questionnaires
Look at other web and internet surveys at: 
Find/SVP & Cyber Dialogue 
CyberAtlas - a good starting point 
Nua Internet Surveys - monthly coverage of major surveys 
More sources... 
Read the fine print: 
Special Thanks 
Copyright Information 
The WWW-Surveying Mailing List 
WWW Corporate Council

Executive Summary

GVU's Eighth WWW User Survey marks the completion of four years of surveying the WWW. It brings a great deal of joy and satisfaction to the Survey Team knowing that the Surveys continue to provide a rich source of data on the widest range of topics. The past year has seen the survey results incorporated into hundreds of news stories, articles, books, academic theses, radio shows, television, and were even presented at the Federal Trade Commission's June 1997 Workshop on data privacy. Simply put, no other survey has provided as many interesting findings across as many topics for as --all without charging to access the results.

Among the top findings this time around, the gender ratio continues to move closer and closer to par, with 40% of the US respondents reporting being female (compared to 5% back in January 1994). Privacy now overshadows censorship as the number one most important issue facing the Internet, maybe in response to the tremendous amount of media coverage privacy issues have received in the past several months. Electronic commerce is taking off both in terms of the number of users shopping as well as the total amount people are spending via Internet based transactions. Just the same, security remains the number one reason Web users report for not purchasing over the Web. Supporting the notion that the Web has become an important tool to access information, 84% of the users report that they consider access to the Web indispensable, nearly the same percentage as those who feel email is indispensable. That a technology could become so vital in such a short period is truly an awesome statement of the impact of the Web on our society.

A fresh light has been shed on the browser wars as a result of a set of never before asked questions. We now know that a) the dominant method people acquire browsers is via bundling with hardware, software, and Internet Service Providers (ISP) and b) the majority of users never switch browsers (even among users who have been on the Internet for over three years). Given these new findings, it is not surprising to see the slow, but steady emergence of Internet Explorer as market share is being gained primary from new users who receive the browser bundled as part of other computer related purchases.

We'd like to extend our special appreciation to Yahoo, Netscape and WebTV for providing special links to the surveys. When results are biased as a result of any of these links, that bias is noted and explained. (See the writeup on WebTV.)

During the past six months, GVU's WWW User Survey has changed dramatically. Championed by Dennis Roberson, NCR's Chief Technology Officer, William Read, School of Public Policy at Georgia Tech, and Jarek Rossignac, director of the Georgia Tech's Graphics, Visualization, & Usability (GVU) Center, the WWW Survey Council was formed over the summer. The Council is composed of select, non-competing companies, with the purpose of steering and funding the continued operation of the surveys. As with previous surveys all results and the data sets collected by each survey will be published on the Web, free of charge. Founding Council members include Andersen Consulting, Cyber Dialogue (formerly FIND/SVP's Emerging Technology Research Group), NCR, and Sun Microsystems. Numerous other companies from the technology, media, financial, health, and entertainment sectors are currently being courted. Those interested in becoming a members should contact Molly Croft, Director of External Affairs.

The Survey Team has undergone several changes as well. Kimberly Morton joined over the summer and is contributing to the Team by overseeing the development, execution, and analysis of special interest questionnaires (e.g., the Cultural Questionnaire), performing in-depth and longitudinal analysis of all questionnaires, managing external relations (answering all survey related email, the Web site, etc.), plus much, much more. On the development side, Li Zou has been busy working on enhancing the adaptive surveying engine and database of questionnaires, which should greatly reduce the overall complexity of running the surveys. Finally, Jim Pitkow, who conceived and implemented of the first survey back in January 1994, received his Ph.D. in Computer Science this past June. Although Jim is now working at Xerox PARC doing Web related research, he remains involved in the overall management of the surveys and in the Survey Council. Colleen Kehoe, who joined the surveys back in October 1994 and has been vital to the continued success of the surveys, is more central now than ever. Without Colleen's persistent efforts, the surveys would not occur. Finally, William Read is managing the Survey Council and Jarek Rossignac is managing the overall operations of the Surveys.

As always, we would like to extend our sincere thanks to all of you who have participated in the surveys and have made GVU's WWW User Surveys an integral piece in understanding the Internet and WWW explosion.

We remain GVU's WWW User Survey Team,

 Jim Pitkow, Colleen Kehoe, Kimberly Morton
Li Zou, William Read & Jarek Rossignac

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Selected Results and Trend Analysis

General Demographics

The percentage of female respondents to the survey (38.5%) has increased from previous surveys. For the past 1-1/2 years, the gender ratio was very consistent (5th-31.5%, 6th-31.4%, 7th-31.3%), so an increase of 7% was quite unexpected. Consistent with previous survey results, European respondents continue to be predominantly male (78%). The gender vs. age graph shows the percentage of male respondents increasing with age, while the percentage of female respondents decreases with age. Similar slopes are found on the gender vs. experience graph. The percentage of male respondents increases with experience, while the percentage of female respondents decreases with experience.

Primary Language
Among European respondents, 43.92% reported English as their primary language. Other languages reported by European respondents were German (12.17%) and Dutch (10.53%) - all other languages were less than 5%. Women were slightly more likely to report English as their primary language than men (by 5%). All age groups reported using primarily English. The lowest % was the 19-25 age group, of which 10% reported a primary language other than English. Novices were slightly more likely to speak English (96%) than intermediates and experts (91%).

Registered to Vote
Consistent with past surveys, the Web remains a very viable political medium, with 82.85% of respondents reporting that they were registered to vote, a slight decrease from previous surveys (89.33% Seventh, 88.8% Sixth, 91.9% Fifth). Older respondents are still more likely to be registered than younger respondents. The percentage registered increases slightly with experience, but does not vary by age or location.

Most Important Issue Facing the Internet
The order of the top two responses has changed from the past two surveys. Currently, the issue that respondents say is most important is privacy (30.49%), followed by censorship (24.18%) and navigation (16.65%). Among European respondents, navigation and censorship were equally most important, with the next most important being privacy. Among women, privacy was the most important issue. For men censorship is most important, with privacy a close second. As with the last survey, younger people are more concerned about censorship than are older respondents. Older respondents are more concerned about privacy. In addition, concern over navigation increases with age. With experience, concern over privacy decreases, while concern over censorship and encryption increases.

Technolgoy Demographics

 Connection Speed
As in previous surveys, most web users are connecting at modem speeds (33.6K or less: 55% Eighth, 66% Seventh; the difference in percentages is mainly accounted for by those who are unsure of their connection speed). The good news is that average modem speed is increasing with 27% of users using 33.6K modems in this survey compared to 20% in the Seventh. In general, European users have faster connections as do users in the 19-50 age range. Expert users are much more likely to know their connection speed, but still a substantial number connect at modem speeds (33.6K or less: 47%).

Speed Upgrade
There seems to be no end to the demand (and need) for speed when it comes to the web. 39% of respondents report having upgraded their connection speed in the last year while 38% have not. Almost a third (31%) plan to upgrade their speed in the next six months, and 17% plan to upgrade after already having upgraded this year! More experts report upgrading and planning to upgrade than novices.

Email Accounts
The largest category of respondents reports having one email account that they access from home (25%). Overall, 42% of respondents report having one email account while 56% report having more than one. Europeans are more likely than US users to have multiple accounts and to access them from multiple places (30% Europe vs. 20% US). Europeans are also more likely to access their accounts only from work, regardless of how many they have. Older respondents are more likely to access accounts from home (65%). They are also more likely to have only a single account (53%). Experts are more likely to have multiple accounts (74%) and to access them from multiple places.

Equipment Owned
The most common piece of equipment owned is a printer, either black and white (41%) or color (47%). Following that is fax machines (24%) and scanners (21%). Since this survey was heavily advertised on Web TV, we have an unusually large percentage of respondents who own a Web TV (26%). This is probably not representative of the web population as a whole. The percentage of web users using Web TV cannot be determined with our methodology.

Frequency of Switching Browsers
Most users have not changed browsers within the past year (71%). Those who have switch infrequently with most switching only once (15%). Novices and older users (who also tend to be novices) are less likely to have switched browsers. Expert users are likely to switch browsers more frequently (33% at least once).

Years on Internet
Results from this category were used to split respondents into categories of Novice, Intermediate, and Expert users, which were used to analyze other data from this survey. Novices were evenly split - half started on the Internet in the past 6 months and half in the past 6-12 months. Most experts (as we have defined them) have been on the Internet for 4-6 years (72.33%), with the rest being on for 7 years or more. The continued migration of users to the Internet is still seen in the Eighth Survey, where 36.62% of the users have gone online in the past year. This percentage is higher than for the previous survey (25.34%), but is similar to results from the 6th survey (36.11%). About 7% of respondents have been on the Internet over 7 years, compared to 10% in the Seventh Survey and 7.14% in the Sixth Survey. This longitudinal data shows the clear bump of when the Internet began to gain wide acceptance in 1994 and 1996. Respondents from the US are more likely to have started on the Internet within the past year, while respondents from Europe are more likely to have been on for 1-3 years. Female users still are flocking to the Internet, with 42.64% having gone online in the past year, compared to 32.86% for males. Men are more likely than women to have been on the internet for greater than 4 years. Use of the internet by the 50+ age group has increased over the previous survey, with 52.65% having gone online in the past year compared to 33.72% for the 7th survey, 48.26% in the Sixth Survey and 55.86% in the Fifth Survey. The 26-50 group have the largest percentage of people on the internet for 7+ years, while the 19-25 group have the largest percentage on the Internet for 1-6 years.

Web Page Creation
46% of all respondents have created a web page. European respondents (67.66%) were more likely to have created a web page than US respondents (43.42%). Male respondents (51.38%) were more likely to have created a web page than female respondents (37.42%). Older respondents (50+) are less likely to have created a web page than other age groups. The percentage of respondents creating web pages increases with experience, (19.45% of novices, 78% of experts).

WWW & Internet Use

 Indispensable Technologies
For this question respondents could chose more than one answer. The majority of respondents say that to them, email (84%) and the web (82%) have become indispensable technologies. No other technologies listed in the question come close to these, but the next most popular are chat (22%), Java (22%) and audio (17%). The same percentage of females and males see email, the web, and chat as indispensable, but females are less enthusiastic than males about Java and audio. The youngest users (10-18) are more inclined to see most technologies as indispensable, particularly chat (41% 10-18 vs. 14% 50+). The oldest users (50+), however, are more inclined to see the web as indispensable (88% 50+ vs. 78% 10-18). Fewer experts see email and the web as indispensable, but more see Java and digital signatures as indispensable.

Frequency of Use
The frequency with which respondents use the web is on par with the previous survey with 85% using it daily (85% Seventh, 82% Sixth). The largest category of respondents use the web 1-4 times per day (45% Eighth, 42% Seventh, 46% Sixth) with 41% using it more frequently (42% Seventh) and 15% less frequently (15% Seventh). As with the previous survey, females use it slightly less frequently than males. Those aged 19-50 use it more frequently than other age groups. Expert users are much more likely to use the web daily (94%) than novice users (78%).

Navigation Services
For this question, respondents could choose more than one answer. Yahoo is frequently visited by 84% of our respondents. However, since the survey is advertised on the Yahoo site (among others), this number may be artificially high. On the other hand, other sources have established Yahoo as one of the most visited sites on the web so it is not surprising that a high percentage have visited it in the past six months. Next most popular are the major search engines: AltaVista (67%), Excite (66%), Infoseek (60%) and Lycos (59%). European respondents favor AltaVista over the other search engines more strongly than their US counterparts. Older users are more likely to use specialized email/address search services such as 411, Bigfoot, and WhoWhere than younger users. All three levels of experience report using Yahoo more than any other navigation service, but novices are most likely to use Yahoo and Excite, intermediates use Infoseek, Lycos and AltaVista, while experts mainly use AltaVista.


 Cookie Policy
Of interest to privacy advocates and developers is how aware users are of cookies (i.e. unique, persistent, session identifiers) and how they use the cookie policy options implemented by the major browsers. A full quarter of respondents don't know what cookies are (25%) which suggests that an education effort might be in order. For the rest, 22% always accept cookies and about the same percentage (23%) receive a warning before cookies are set, allowing them to make a decision on a case-by-case basis. Interestingly, only 14% of user don't know what their cookie policy is suggesting that the rest (61%) have made an explicit choice about their policy. Respondents from Europe and males tend to be more knowledgeable about cookies. Females who are knowledgeable about cookies, however, tend to be more cautious: 48% of knowledgeable females ask for warnings compared to 38% of knowledgeable males and 33% always accept cookies compared to 41% of males. As we would expect, novices are much less knowledgeable about cookies than experts.

Internet Privacy Laws
Most respondents agree strongly (39%) or somewhat (33%) that there should be new lawst o protect privacy on the Internet. Respondents from Europe agree less strongly (somewhat agree: 39%) and more are neutral on the issue (18%). Women agree slightly more strongly than men (strongly agree: 41% female, 37% male). Novices agree most strongly that there should be new laws. Experts generally agree, as well, but more of them disagree than novices. Respondents over age 50 disagree more strongly than other age groups.

Content Providers have Right to Resell User Information
The idea that content providers have the right to resell user information is one of the most disagreed with statements in the survey: 63% disagree strongly and another 19% disagree somewhat. Females disagree even more strongly than males. Novices disagree more strongly than experts -- 82% of novices disagree compared to 79% of experts.

Electronic Commerce

 Reasons for Using the Web Personal
For this question, respondents could choose more than one answer. The most cited reason for using the web for personal shopping was convenience (65%) followed by availability of vendor information (60%), no pressure from sales people (55%) and saving time (53%). Personalized services was not reason for using the web for most people (14%) which could be a result of unfamiliarity with personalized shopping services. It remains to be seen whether attitudes will change on this point as more personalized services become available. Males and females both ranked convenience first, but females slightly valued no pressure from salespeople (54%) over vendor information (51%). Experts and respondents age 19-50 were more enthusiastic about web shopping in all categories.

Time Spent Searching Personal
The largest category of users spends between 5 and 15 minutes searching before they start finding useful information (40%). The next largest spends less than 5 minutes (24%). Experts tend to find things a bit faster (less than 5 minutes: 30% experts, 22% novices), but not much.

Success Rate Personal
Respondents report that most of the time, they find what they're looking for (49%). The next largest group only find what they're looking for about half of the time (22%). European respondents report slightly less success in finding information as do users over age 50. Only 16% of experts always find what they're looking for and 13% of novices do, too. Although fewer respondents report using the web for professional shopping reasons, success rates are similar.

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Survey Methodology

The Internet presents a unique problem for surveying. At the heart of the issue is the methodology used to collect responses from individual users. Since there is no central registry of all Internet users, completing a census, where an attempt is made to contact every user of the Internet, is neither practical nor feasible financially. As such, Internet surveys attempt to answer questions about all users by selecting a subset of users to participate in the survey. This process of determining a set of users is called sampling, since only a sample of all possible users is selected.


There are two types of sampling, random and non-probabilistic. Random sampling creates a sample using a random process for selection of elements from the entire population. Thus, each element has an equal chance of being chosen to become part of the sample. To illustrate, suppose that the universe of entities consists of a hat that contains five slips of paper. A method to select elements from the hat using a random process would be to 1) shake the contents of the hat, 2) reach into the hat, and 3) pick an slip of paper with one's eyes closed. This process would ensure that each slip of paper had an equal chance of being selected. As a result, one could not claim that some slips of paper were favored over the others, causing a bias in the sample.

Given that the sample was selected using a random, and each element had an equal chance of being selected for the sample, results obtained from measuring the sample can generalize to the entire population. This statistical affordance is why random sampling is widely used in surveys. After all, the whole purpose of a survey is to collect data on a group and have confidence that the results are representative of the entire population. Random digit dialing, also called RDD, is a form of random sampling where phone numbers are selected randomly and interviews of people are conducted over the phone.

Non-probabilistic sampling does not ensure the elements are selected in random manner. It is difficult then to guarantee that certain portions of the population were not excluded from the sample since elements do not have an equal chance of being selected. To continue with the above example, suppose that the slips of paper are colored. A non-probabilistic methodology might select only certain colors for the sample. It becomes possible that the slips of paper that were not the chose differ in some way from those that were selected. This would indicate a systematic bias in the sampling methodology. Note that it is entirely possible that the colored slips that were not selected did not differ from the selected slips, but this could only be determined by examining both sets of slips.


Since there is no centralized registry of all users of the Internet and users are spread out all over the world, it becomes quiet difficult to select users of the entire population at random. To simplify the problem most surveys of the Internet focus on a particular region of users, which is typically the United States, though surveys of European, Asian, and Oceanic users have also been conducted. Still, the question becomes how to contact users and get them to participate. The traditional methodology is to use RDD. While this ensures that the phone numbers and thus users are selected at random, it potentially suffers from other problems as well, namely self-selection.

Self-selection occurs when the entities in the sample are given a choice to participate. If a set of members in the sample decides not to participate, it reduces the ability of the results to generalize to the entire population. This decrease in the confidence of the survey occurs since the group of that decided not to participate may differ in some manner from the group that participated. It is important to note that self-selection occurs in nearly all surveys of people. In the case of RDD, if a call is placed to a number in the sample and the user hangs up the phone, self-selection has occurred. Likewise, if in a mail-based survey, certain users do not respond, self-selection has occurred. While there are techniques like double sampling to deal with those members who chose not to participate or respond, most surveys do not employ these techniques due to their high cost.


GVU's WWW User Survey Methodology

Unlike most other surveys, GVU's WWW User Surveys are conducted over the Web, i.e., participants respond to questionnaires posted on the Web. In fact, GVU pioneered the entire field of Web-based surveying in January of 1994, being the first publicly accessible Web-based survey. The GVU Center conducts the surveys every sixth months as a public service to the WWW community.

The GVU Surveys employ non-probabilistic sampling. Participants are solicited in the following manner:

There are several points to be made here. First, the above methodology has evolved due the fact there is no broadcast mechanism on the Web that would enable participants to be selected or notified at random. As such, the methodology attempts to propagate the presence of the surveys though diverse mediums. Second, high exposure sites are sites that capture significant portion of all WWW user activity as measured by PC-Meter. These sites are specifically targeted to increase the likelihood that the majority of WWW users will have been given an equal opportunity to participate in the surveys. Additionally, content neutral sites are chosen from the list of most popular sites to reduce the chance of imposing a systematic bias in the results. Finally, the Seventh Survey is the first survey to experiment with the random rotation of banners through advertising networks. The ability for the advertising networks to randomly rotate banners is a relatively new, one that did not really exist during the first three years of GVU's Surveys. This ability goes a long way towards ensuring that members of the WWW community have been selected at random. Since this technique is still quite experimental, it's effect on the reliability of the results in unable to be determined, though we will be examining this effect in future research.

New to the Sixth Survey was the introduction of an incentive cash prizes. Respondents that completed at least four questionnaires became eligible to for the several $250 US awards. Our initial investigation into the effect of including incentives into the design of the surveys reveals that while the overall number of respondents did not increase tremendously, the total number of completed questionnaires did increase significantly. Compared to the Third Survey, which had over 23,000 respondents to the General Questionnaire and 60,000 completed questionnaires (average 2.6 complete questionnaires/user), the Seventh Survey received over 19,000 responses to the General Questionnaire and close to 88,000 completed questionnaires (average 4.6 complete questionnaires/user). The effect of offering incentives on self-selection is an open research issue, though it is a technique that has been employed widely though out traditional survey methodologies, e.g., Nielsen's set-top box sample, etc.

Since random sampling techniques are not employed consistently though out the methodology, the ability of the collected data to generalize to the entire population is reduced, because certain members of the Web user community may not have had an equal chance to participate. The characteristics of these users may differ significantly from those users who did participate in the surveys. As it turns out, comparison of the GVU's WWW User Surveys results to other WWW User data published that utilize random techniques reveal that the main area where GVU's Surveys show a bias exists in the experience, intensity of usage, and skill sets of the users, but not the core demographics of users1. Intuitively this makes sense, as only those users that are able to use the WWW are able to participate in the Surveys, whereas a set of RDD users may claim to be able to use the Internet or have used the Web at some time in the past. These users are not likely to be included in the GVU results. However, for many marketing needs, this bias is exactly what is desired of the data: real data from real users online today.

Given the limitations that exist in the data as a result of the methodology, we make the following recommendation to those using the data presented within this report:

Despite the evidence to support the Survey results, we remain unconvinced that the Survey's sampling methodology is optimal and welcome suggestions and further comments on this subject.

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Technical Information

Descriptive Statistics

All analyzes were performed using Splus version 3.3 for Unix.


The Surveys were executed on a dedicated quad processor Sun Sparc 20's. All HTML pages were generated on the fly via our Survey Engine (written in PERL). For more information about how the Surveys Engine actually works, see the write-up in the paper on the Second Survey Results. For those interested in more information about the Adaptive Java Surveying Applet, please see the write up in Surveying the Territory: GVU's Five WWW User Surveys, Colleen M. Kehoe & James E. Pitkow, The World Wide Web Journal, Vol. 1, no. 3. Please direct inquiries about the availability of the survey code to: www-survey@cc.gatech.edu.

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Special Thanks

Special thanks go to Georgia Tech's College of Computing's Computer Network Services for their excellent expert support, especially: Dan Forsyth, Bryan Rank, Peter Wan, Karen Barrett, and David Leonard.

Questionnaires and advice were contributed by:

Additional thanks are extended to: The fabulous artwork used as the logo for these pages was created and generously loaned to the surveys by the following artist/graphic designer: Allyana Ziolko

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 GVU's WWW Surveying Team
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Georgia Institute of Technology
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