New Internet Users

With Internet penetration now at about half of all Americans, new users will be coming online for some time into the future, while the Internet itself continues to evolve.  Tomorrow’s new user will not be like today’s, just as today’s new user differs from yesterday’s.  This paper compares new users surveyed in a March 2000 poll to those from a November 1998 poll, and it examines what types of activities people pursue online in the two time periods.

In exploring the characteristics and usage habits of new Internet users, this paper finds that the most enthusiastic new Internet users are women, and that this group feels most comfortable engaging in fun activities online (e.g., playing games, listening to music).  Relative to long-time users, this group is reluctant to conduct financial or commercial transactions over the Internet.  Additionally, people’s willingness to engage in transactions online is found to be a significant threshold point for online activities; once new users who have chosen to make an online transaction, their Internet usage patterns are similar to more experienced users.  Finally, new users today are different from new users of two years ago; in 1998, new users quickly engaged in fun activities, but used the Internet as an information utility to a greater extent than their 2000 counterparts.

A likely explanation for new users’ reluctance to conduct transactions online is worry over the security and privacy of sending credit card information over the Internet.  New users are almost twice as likely as veteran Internet users to report high levels of concern over online credit card theft, but they are only half as likely as Internet veterans to have purchased something online.  New users’ quick embrace of fun activities suggests that they value a choice of a wide variety of Internet content as they learn to use the Internet.