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If you were lucky enough to access the first ever website on August 6th, 1991, then you - for one brief moment - had officially seen everything on the internet. It wasn't much to look at. The same can be said for the first YouTube video, the first livestream, or the first Tweet.
Nevertheless, there was a sense of intrigue and wonder back then. The internet was a Wild West; an unregulated landscape teeming with limitless opportunity.
Bo Burnham: Inside
Let’s be clear, the internet isn’t going anywhere. 5 billion people use it and that number is going to keep growing. The way we use and even feel about it, however, has changed. It’s become less functional, with fewer using it to browse and search for information. Time online has hit a ceiling; be that on social media or the internet in general, a potential side-effect of growing distrust in the things we see online.
This will affect everybody. As heads turn to the metaverse, and social media platforms adjust to a post-TikTok world, our data gives us an idea of what to expect – and potentially what to do about it.
Countries and sources can vary, but most adults are awake for around 15 hours a day. In that time, they average 6 hours and 43 minutes online through mobile, PC, laptop, or tablets.
In a nutshell, that means almost half of time spent awake is spent online.
For a period, time spent online grew rapidly, soaring 41 minutes between 2013 and 2017. Then something changed, slipping between 2018 and 2019. And though it picked up again throughout the pandemic, this proved to be short-lived.
While more people spent more time online during Covid, the daily average is now almost on par with pre-pandemic figures. It’s a potential sign that we’ve reached a kind of internet saturation point, but to get a better sense of this in action, you need to look at the situation worldwide.
Even in internet growth markets, time spent isn’t increasing as it used to. In the Middle East & Africa, and Latin America, average daily time spent online has fallen by 20 minutes and 34 minutes respectively since 2021 – and this remains the case among younger audiences too.
Covid, obviously, has a part to play in this; people have less free time now, and fewer are using the internet day-to-day than they did in lockdown. But some post-Covid activities have thrived, like online gaming.
The bottom line is, the kind of bread-and-butter activity we associate with “going online” has plateaued. And at the same time, behaviors that have been foundational to the internet since its creation are changing before our eyes.
For most people aged 25 and over, the Google search bar is their starting point when they go online. And finding information is the number one reason consumers in our data say they use the internet, but it’s also one of the fastest-falling reasons why they use it too (-14% since Q3 2018).
Finding information doesn’t quite mean the same thing it used to. Social media algorithms can surface it before we even know what we’re looking for.
% of consumers who say the following are important reasons for using the internet
Other things like sharing opinions, keeping up with news, and generally browsing the internet are down too; actions that are still popular but are gradually becoming less important to internet users as a whole.
Services like TikTok have taken these foundational online activities and improved on them. There are only so many hours in the day, and consumers want to know their online time isn’t being wasted. As the things we often do online lose the kind of appeal they once had, it sends a clear message that brands need to get creative.
So now heads are turning to Web3; heralding the metaverse as the ‘next stage’ of the internet.
Meta, of course, has made no secret of its ambitions here – along with Epic Games, the Roblox Corporation, and Tencent. These aren’t new names; they’re pioneers of established social media platforms and popular video games. And that’s exactly why they’re eyeing up the opportunities associated with Web3.
Take Facebook, for example. As the platform nears its 20th anniversary, CEO Mark Zuckerberg is focused on “building the next evolution of digital connection” – embracing the future is the best way to avoid getting left behind.
We’ve already made note of some important lessons ahead of the first true metaverses, but even though our data hints at significant metaverse interest among consumers, Web3 will still need to overcome familiar problems – particularly around trust.
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The term “information overload” predates the internet, but in a world where we can access anything, anywhere, it’s become a lot more poignant. This has far-reaching implications; our data suggests people's attitudes toward the internet, and the information they see on there, are changing.
Entrepreneur and founder of Lotus
Some of the signs point to social media here. Globally, the number of consumers who say social media causes them anxiety has grown 11% since Q2 2020 – again, with Gen Z and millennials the most likely to say this.
Trust is becoming an issue too, and there are subtle hints that this is the case. Fewer people cite looking for the opinions of experts or other people online when buying new products.
% of consumers who say the following describe them
It’s potentially why we’re not just seeing online time plateau, but time on social too, as more consumers are taking steps to reduce their time online – a 14% increase since Q2 2020.
Our relationship with the news is particularly telling of how things have changed. Between 2017 and 2021, we observed a stark decline in the number who trusted major news publishers. In the time since, we’ve watched as consumers gradually lose interest in knowing what happens around the world, while distrust in the media among Americans keeps on rising.
More people now say they see news on social media than they do on a news website, app, or anywhere else on the internet. With misinformation the number one frustration consumers have with social media, it’s little wonder why people are beginning to lose their trust in the things they see online – even if platforms are taking steps to address this.
As we cover in this report, the ramifications of this trend are incredibly broad. Addressing it will be a challenge for different sectors and businesses, but one possible solution lies in ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ experiences – things internet users can only do once a day, but also want to do.
Snapchat made this a key feature of its service long ago, but now it’s part and parcel of things like Wordle and BeReal. As time online falls, incentivizing daily use opens the door for endemic internet sites (news services, search engines, and social media) to thrive in an attention economy that’s more crowded than ever – without falling prey to issues with health and trust.
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