December 29, 2002

Most Americans expect to find what they are looking for online in news, health care, government information, and shopping

WASHINGTON—The growing ranks of experienced Internet users as well as the deepening reach of the Internet into all aspects of American culture has raised all Americans’ expectations about what is available online.

New research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project finds that most Internet users (80%) and many non-users (about 40%) expect that they will be able to find reliable information online when it comes to news, health care information, e-commerce, and government.

A large share of Internet users now say that they will turn first to the Internet when they next need information about health care or government services. They also say it matters to them that stores have a Web presence.

  • 58% of Internet users say they go online first the next time they need information about government programs or services, twice the rate of those who would use the telephone.
  • 46% of Internet users say they will use the Net next time they have a medical inquiry, a figure statistically indistinguishable from the 47% of Internet users who say they will contact a medical professional.
  • 47% of Internet users say that if a store provides product information online, even if it doesn’t sell goods at its Web site, this would make them more likely to go to the physical store to buy the product.

    “In the past year or so, the Internet has turned into America’s go-to tool,” said Senior Research Specialist John Horrigan of the Pew Internet Project. “Americans prefer logging on agency Web sites to dealing with government personnel. They expect they’ll find the news they need. Many say it makes a difference in their shopping and, most surprising of all, many find it more useful than their doctors when they begin researching health issues.”

    These high expectations have been spawned by several trends, Horrigan writes in a new report called “Counting on the Internet.” First, two-thirds of U.S. Internet users have more than three years experience online and that helps them become adept at finding the information and services they like. Second, Web site operators have built billions of Web pages and become better at giving Americans what they want in the form they want it. Third, search tools have become more powerful so people can locate the information they want.

    Here is how Americans line up when probed about specific topics and whether they think the Internet will satisfy their information needs:

  • 69% of all Americans, Internet users and non-users alike, expect to be able to find reliable, up-to-date news online; 85% of Internet users say this compared to 43% of non-users.
  • 67% of all Americans expect that they can find reliable information about health or medical conditions online; 81% of Internet users say this compared to 45% of non-users.
  • 65% of all Americans expect the Web to have information about government agencies online; 82% of Internet users say this compared to 39% of non-users.
  • 63% of all Americans expect that a business will have a Web site that gives them information about a product they are considering buying; 79% of Internet users say this compared to 38% of non-users.

    At the same time, the high hopes for the online world are tempered when it comes to personal information. Only 31% of Americans expect to be able to find reliable information about someone online; 35% of Internet users say this and 25% of non-users say this. However, 58% of Internet users say they expect to be able to reach someone via email.

    “The message of this survey is that the Internet is the norm now in America,” said Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “Most expect to find key information online, most find the information they seek, and many say they turn to the Internet first when they have a pressing need.”

    The Pew Internet Project is a nonpartisan, independent research organization funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to study the impact of the Internet on families, communities, health care, education, civic and political life, and the work place.