March 11, 2010

Ask the Expert: How do you choose the topics you research?

Perhaps the single most frequently asked question of the Pew Internet Project is: How do you choose the topics that you research?

From the first days of our Project in early 2000, there have been two broad thrusts to our research. The first is that we want to monitor who uses the internet and the activities they pursue online. The second is that we want to focus on the internet’s impact in a handful of special areas of social importance: the family, communities, health care, education (both in formal and informal settings), civic and political life, and the workplace.

As it turns out, those broad goals have led to multiple kinds of outcomes and research products. We have counted who is online starting with our first survey in March, 2000 and regularly update those findings here. Those who want to see how the internet population has shifted since 2000 and how access has changed among key demographic groups can download a big spreadsheet with all that historic and up-to-date data on our trends page under the section “Usage over time”.

The original question about access has expanded and we have been regularly reporting on broadband, mobile connectivity and cloud computing.

At the same time, the number of activities we have measured has changed dramatically over the years and we have added dozens of new activities to our list to stay current with the most important and popular activities. We measure them in two ways: First, we ask people if they have “ever” done an online activity such as “use email” or “bank online” or “use a social networking site” and we report our latest figures here. Second, we ask people if “yesterday” they performed any of these online activities and we report those findings on here.

And, again, all our historic data about online activities is part of the big spreadsheet that covers “Usage over time.”  

When it comes to our research on the major social impacts of the internet, we have broken out a variety of key areas and they can all be found on our “Topics” page.

We also try to tackle major policy and social questions in our work on such things as privacy and identity, digital divides, copyright issues, the news environment, e-government, and the like can be found through our topics page or using the search box on the top right of all our website’s pages.

If you have an idea for subjects we should research or things we should add to our list of online activities, please let us know by writing webmaster@pewinternet.org.