Most Popular Online Activities Still E-Mail and Search

By August 23, 2011
Email and search

Plenty of people shop online and check the news, as well as visit social networks. But older online tools, specifically e-mail and search, still have the highest usage rates.


While digital innovations alter the way we use the Internet all the time, some of our oldest tools remain the most popular - especially e-mail and search. Most Internet users send or read email, or perform a search every day. The Pew Research Center tracked these and other popular online activities from 2002 to 2011, where applicable, and released the findings last week.

E-mail usage has remained the most constant, with a 93 percent usage rate in 2002 ending up at 92 percent in 2011. In January 2002, 55 percent of the general US population used email and grew to seventy percent this year Counting online adults only, this translates to that 92 percent, with 61 percent using email every day.

Search has the same usage rate for Internet users - 92 percent, but its most popular among the youngest surveyed group - 96 percent of 18-29 year-olds use search engines. Those over 65 still use search often - 87 percent of this group do. On an average day, 59 percent of all online adults use this online tool. Demographics show higher usage rates for males (slightly) than females, whites, college students and graduates, and higher earners.

This distribution across gender, ethnicity and the like is similar to e-mail users, but both tools exhibit more disparity when looking at typical day usage. For example, ninety percent of the lowest education bracket (some high school) generally use e-mail, and 96 percent of college graduates do - only a six percentage-point difference. But on a typical day, only 39 percent of "some high school" users check e-mail, and 77 percent of college graduates do - nearly double the number. This heightened difference runs across all categories, especially education and household income for both search and e-mail.

According to the Pew analysis, while Internet usage is constantly spent on different activities, e-mail and search "form the core of online communication and online information gathering, respectively." As a part of an online lifestyle, these tools are used habitually, or are integrated into workflows.

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