December 22, 2003

America's Online Pursuits

Part 1. Introduction

Americans’ everyday applications of the Internet continue to expand over time.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has been studying Americans’ Web usage and its impact on society since March 2000. As a central element of its research, the project has been identifying and measuring a host of Internet trends and activities that characterize the online world. In some cases, such as getting health information or downloading music online, we have released in-depth reports that provide historical context, demographic analysis, and policy implications for a particular online phenomenon. For other topics, such as online banking, we have provided brief data memos that document the growth of a certain online activity. And in some cases, we have examined an activity (such as creating content for the Web) in the context of a particular population (home broadband users).

In all, we have asked Americans about more than 50 different types of Internet activities in our tracking surveys — everything from instant messaging to searching for a home online — between March 2000 and August 2003. Over the years we interviewed more than 64,000 American adults about their Internet use.  The information contained in this report is intended to function as an overview of the demographic material we have gathered about Internet users through August 2003 and the 25 core activities we have tracked with some frequency through December 2002. Each section provides snapshots of how the prevalence of a particular activity has changed over time, pointers to our previous findings on the topic, and basic demographic trends.3 A full rundown of our latest findings about each activity can be found on our Web site.4

Throughout this report, our survey results are used to estimate the approximate number of American adults, in millions, who were engaging in Internet activities during a particular period. These figures are derived by applying the results from our nationally representative surveys to Census Bureau’s estimates of the number of adults living in households with telephones in the continental United States. The Census Bureau updates these estimates at the end of each year. The schedule of estimates that were used in this report to calculate the number of people doing any given activity online was as follows: 188 million American adults was used as the baseline for estimates from our March 2000-December 2000 surveys, 191 million for February 2001-December 2001 surveys, 193 million for January 2002-December 2002 surveys, and 200 million for March 2003 to the present. As with all survey results, these figures are estimates. Any given figure could be somewhat larger or smaller, given the margin of sampling error associated with the survey results used in deriving these figures.

  1. The demographic analysis across racial categories is generally limited to Internet users who are white, African-American or English-Speaking Hispanic because we typically do not gather enough respondents from other racial minority backgrounds in each survey to conduct meaningful analysis of these smaller groups.
  2. The table that lists the percentage of Internet users who have “ever done” all 50-plus activities we have probed is available at: The table that lists the percentage of users who do those activities on a “typical day” is available at: