One billion strong

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on January 30, 2009

And many are looking for jobs…

While the depth of the global financial crisis – and its real impact on Asia and the Philippines – is becoming alarmingly clear a year after its onset, late last year the Internet hit a new record. In December, for the first time ever the Internet audience (age 15 and older accessing the Internet from home and office computers) surpassed the one billion mark according to comScore, a research firm specializing in researching the “digital world.”

Click here to read the comScore news release.

Not surprisingly, Asia Pacific users dominate the Internet with 416.3 million users. Within Asia, China boasts the largest Internet audience with 180 million users, almost 20% of the global audience. That also makes China the world’s largest Internet audience, leading the United States by some 16 million users. Japan with 60 million users has the third largest global audience, and is number two in Asia.

Only two other Asian countries made the top 15: India (32 million) and South Korea (27 million). Because the Philippines’ total Internet audience of 24 million is substantially composed of users who gain access from Internet cafés, the Philippines doesn’t appear on the top-15 list of countries by Internet audience although the bottom five – Canada, Italy, Spain, Mexico, and the Netherlands – have Internet populations with access from school and the office of less than 22 million.

Worldwide, Europe has the second largest regional Internet audience with 283 million users followed by North America with 185 million, Latin America with 74 million, and Middle East & Africa at 49 million. Asia Pacific may have the world’s largest Internet audience, but only two Internet properties – China search engine Baidu.com and Internet and mobile services provider Tencent.com – are among the top 15 Internet properties. The world’s digital content is still largely generated by North American firms. Google sites had the largest Internet audience in December with 776 million unique visitors, or 77% of the global total.

Following Google in the rankings were Microsoft (647 million), Yahoo! sites (563 million), AOL (273 million), Wikimedia (273 million), and eBay (240 million). Only one social network site made the top 15 Internet properties list – Facebook. Almost 222 million unique visitors stopped by Facebook in December. When we talk of a global community of Internet users, this is it. The other sites on the list are global Internet users’ most preferred reference and toolbox sites.

Other top-15 sites include Amazon, CBS, Fox, Ask, Apple, and Adobe. It is interesting that of the top 15 sites only two – eBay and Amazon – are retail sites. All the others are related to search, support, and news. In Asia, Baidu is China’s most popular search service (even after recent controversy over paid listings), beating out their western rivals in China – but it is clear that the world’s Internet users for the most part share resources. Many of those Internet resources are increasingly available in users’ native languages, which may eventually seriously threaten home-grown sites like Baidu and Tencent.

How are these global sources being used? If an earlier comScore news release is any indication, probably to look for jobs. That’s already the reality in the U.S. comScore says that for 2008, “job search” was the fastest-growing content category, shooting up 51% to 18.8 million visitors, “as layoffs mount and millions of Americans find themselves seeking new job opportunities.” The end-of-the-year holiday months, typically a slow period for job search, saw heavy traffic last year.

Given the wave of headline-grabbing job losses reported recently, that trend is probably gaining momentum in the Philippines and the rest of the region. Last week, Singapore revised its growth forecast sharply downward from 1% to no greater than -2% to at least -2% and possibly -5%. Estimates of job losses in the semiconductor industry in the Philippines alone vary widely, from 35,000 to 65,000 – so far.

Internet usage overall, ironically, was apparently boosted by the crisis, as the December growth in the job search category hints. A public library in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for instance, said use of its free Internet access (users accessing the Internet from public sites are not captured by comScore) is up 10% from about a year ago, and visitor count is up 20%. A substantial number of visitors who request assistance at the help desk want assistance with writing resumes and starting a small business.

This and other examples show that the Internet isn’t just a global resource, it’s become a resource for coping with tough times. In one sense, it’s a bit ominous to think that difficult financial times account in a significant way for global Internet usage hitting a new record. On the other hand, it’s certainly a good thing that this powerful resource is available when users need it most.

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