"Time suck" is a phrase often used to describe online social networks like Facebook and online games like "FarmVille" — that is ...
SAN JOSE, Calif. — “Time suck” is a phrase often used to describe online social networks like Facebook and online games like “FarmVille” — that is, the sites tend to suck up users’ time.
Now new research quantifies the phenomenon, showing that nearly one-third of the time Americans spend online is devoted to such activities, while time spent on conventional e-mail and portals such as Yahoo has declined.
The report by Nielsen Online, titled “What Americans Do Online” and released late Sunday, describes changing Internet use during a period of intensifying competition.
While Google’s leading search technology has proved a powerful advertising vehicle and Yahoo leads in banner ads, Facebook’s dominance in the growing social-networking sector is recognized as a major competitive threat to both of those companies.
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Nielsen’s research also showed that Americans now spend more time playing games than handling e-mail — in part because tens of millions are staying in touch on Facebook rather than communicating on services such as Yahoo Mail or Google’s Gmail.
“A platform like Facebook incorporates e-mail and instant messaging. Social networks have incorporated those basic functions in a much larger system of communication, content management and even gaming,” said David Martin, a Nielsen analyst.
The growth has come at the expense of traditional portals, e-mail platforms and IM.”
American Internet users on average are spending more than six hours per month on social-networking sites and more than four hours per month playing online games, the research found. In addition to those activities, users on average spent another 14 hours per month online at news, entertainment and other sites.
Yahoo ranked as the No. 1 portal, ahead of MSN and Google, as well as the leading provider of e-mail and instant-messaging services.
Google led the search category by a wide margin, and its YouTube division led the video/movie sector.
Electronic Arts topped a highly competitive game sector, Apple’s iTunes dominated the “multicategory entertainment” area, and eBay edged out Craigslist in the “auctions-classifieds” category.
Nielsen’s time research, which tracked 200,000 Internet users and compared June 2009 to June 2010, roughly coincides with a 12-month period in which Facebook doubled its global reach to 500 million users. A recent study of U.S. Internet users by the Pew Research Center found that more than half of those between age 18 and 45 had a profile on a social-networking site, compared with 30 percent of the baby boomers under 65 and 6 percent of the population over 65.
Facebook’s dominance in social networking is such that Nielsen found it accounts for nearly 85 percent of time spent in the sector, compared with 5.6 percent for runner-up MySpace, 1.1 percent for Twitter and 1.1 percent for Blogger.
Overall, the combination of social networks and online games is consuming 32.9 percent of Internet time, up from a combined 25.1 percent, Nielsen found. The growth was driven by a 43 percent increase in time spent on social networking and 10 percent increase on games. Meanwhile, time spent on e-mail, portals and instant messaging showed marked declines.
Only one other Internet activity showed a big increase: Viewing of videos and movies on sites such as YouTube, Netflix or Hulu increased by 12 percent during the period, to account for 3.9 percent of overall time spent online. American Internet users typically spent 3 hours and 15 minutes per month watching online videos in June.
Social networking and online games have fed off each other ever since Facebook opened its platform to application developers in the spring of 2007. The games of such startups as Zynga, Playfish and Playdom have attracted millions of users and built profitable businesses.