In times of need we used to have religion, we now have the internet. It most certainly has all the answers and you never need to ask for forgiveness. Whether you enjoy stalking friends of friends on Facebook or just like looking at peoples’ dinners – the internet has a wide range of uses.
You could read books, watch films, play games, conduct academic research, publish to the world, hold events… The internet is a passive entertainment medium or an active tool. Just how does society use the internet in 2013 though? The answers have arrived in the newly published Oxford Internet Survey 2013 Report with the one statement swaying particular weight:
“One small increase is especially noteworthy: after years of rapid growth, social network site use may have stabilised.”
In fact, the report appears to show that most forms of social content creation have either stabilised or seen decline; from blogging to founding a new website. This could very well mean that the internet has left its hormonal teenage years, with 2014 looking to see stable usage of all aspects of the internet.
Before self-obsessed social media gurus start job searching and big wig FTSE bosses moan “I told you so”; society still spends hours daily on social networks. It was inevitable that a precipice was to be reached, at least until the next big digital revolution. Still, this new data does raise a lot of questions around Twitter’s upcoming IPO. Surely leveling social media registration demand only spells disaster for long-term commercial opportunities? You have to be very brave to promise big advertising bucks when audience levels look to remain stable.
Where the internet still excels, and ultimately where its foundations lie, is when searching for information. Unsurprisingly the internet is the first port of call when questions need to be asked; information online is expected to be reliable. Yet, search engine usage is down overall. The phrase ‘to Google’ still means search, except our internet habits seem to be becoming more ingrained. If we want Wikipedia then we’ll go straight to Wikipedia, this same behavior applies for each social network. We’re still searching online but are choosing to search on specific social media sites.
It was unfortunate that I was unable to attend the official launch of the report in London. How the internet is affecting society as a whole should be a primary concern to everyone who works in the media. Knowing the latest tools helps but knowing your audience trumps all. Oxford’s report has settled me that social networks still engulf much of society’s time but has got me pondering over two important developments.
- Does the stabilisation of social networks mark a significant trend in the years to come?
- Are we beginning to see a shift away from global search engines to instead specific ones (vertical search)?