When It Comes to Time Spent Online, Content Trumps Community

Never Mind the Buzz: Social Nets Get Small Share of Consumers' Time

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Despite all the buzz around user-generated content, social networking and visitors to (and valuation of) Facebook, YouTube and MySpace, consumers actually spend a relatively small share (only 7.5%) of their time online with community sites, according to the Online Publishers Association's Internet Activity Index.

Five categories
The latest index results, released last week, break online destinations into five categories: search, content, commerce, communication and community. In what is good news for OPA members, 42.7% of consumer time online is spent with content sites, 28.6% is with communication sites, 16.1% with commerce sites and 5% on search sites.

The Internet Activity Index slices and dices Nielsen Online data, which measures sites with at least 1 million unique visitors a month.

"In the last 12 to 18 months, we've seen an emergence of community sites like Facebook and MySpace," OPA President Pam Horan said. "Historically, they've fit in the content category but as we looked at them and saw the share of time, we thought it made sense to break it out."

When asked why time spent on community sites was so low even though they're seemingly the most talked-about internet sector, Ms. Horan said the category's reach is smaller than other categories: Community sites reached 59.5% of the online audience while content sites reached 92.7%. (Those numbers would, of course, look different if the index broke out reach by demographics.)

The category from which community sites have probably been stealing most of their traffic is communications sites, which include online e-mail providers. Share of time spent with sites in this category was down almost 15% over the past year, from 33.7% in January 2007 to 28.7% in January 2008.

Search's share
Share of time searching grew year over year, but the 5% share of time spent searching in January is down from 5.2% in December, even though every other measure -- page views, pages per person, unique visitors, total time spent and reach -- went up. For search sites, having less time spent isn't actually a bad thing; it can signal that those sites are becoming increasingly efficient at their job: getting people to the information they want quickly.

The OPA's index does separate sites with totally different functions, even if owned by the same company (for example, Yahoo Mail is counted as a communication site while Yahoo Search is in the search category). But Ms. Horan admits that as OPA member sites, which are primarily branded content providers, add more community-like features, categorization will be increasingly blurry. It will be, she said, a "blended view -- you can't break out what percentage of individual content sites have community."
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