August 5, 2010, 3:19 PM

Social media crowds out other Internet activities

More time is spent on Facebook and other social networks than on e-mail or IM.

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The online social realm is occupying more of consumers’ time online at the expense of other online activities, according to new research from The Nielsen Company. Americans spent nearly a quarter of their time online–up 43% from last year’s 15.8%–on social networks, such as Facebook and MySpace, as well as blogs.

Expanding that category to include personal e-mail and instant messaging, Nielsen found that Americans spend 36% of their time online communicating and networking.

Here are some of the channels that dominate Internet users’ time, including the percentage of time, as well as the percent change from a year ago:

  • Online games, 10.2%, up 9.7%
  • E-mail, 8.3%, down 27.8%
  • Portals, such as AOL or Yahoo, 4.4%, down 20%
  • Instant messaging, 4.0%, down 14.9%
  • Viewing videos and movies, 3.9%, up 11.4%
  • Search 3.5%, up 2.9%
  • Software manufacturers’ sites, 3.3%, unchanged from last year
  • Multi-category entertainment, 2.8%, down 6.7%
  • Classified and auction sites, such as CraigsList and eBay, 2.7%, unchanged from last year.

“Despite the almost unlimited nature of what you can do on the web, 40% of U.S. online time is spent on just three activities—social networking, playing games and e-mailing, leaving a whole lot of other sectors fighting for a declining share of the online pie,” says Nielsen analyst Dave Martin.

In the study, online games surpassed personal e-mail to become the second most popular online activity behind social networking, accounting for more than 10% of all time spent online by consumers.

While time spent e-mailing dropped from a year ago, Nielsen notes that the rise of social networking hasn’t pushed e-mail or instant messaging into obscurity just yet. E-mail remains the third most popular online activity after social networks and games, while instant messaging ranked fifth.

E-mail remained the most popular activity on mobile phones, where the study found slightly different patterns of consumer use. In a survey of mobile web users, Nielsen found that e-mail activity increased 11.2% year over year from 37.4% to 41.6%.

Time spent on portals was the second most popular activity on the mobile Internet, making up  11.6% of consumers’ time. Meanwhile, social networking activity rose to account for 10.5% of the time consumers spend on their mobile devices.

While noting some similarities between consumers’ use of the web on PCs and of the mobile internet, there are still significant differences, according to Martin.

“While convergence will continue, the unique characteristics of computers and mobiles, both in their features and when and where they are used, mean that mobile Internet behavior mirroring its PC counterpart is still some way off,” he says.

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