The evolution of America’s Internet activity

Nielsen released new statistics this week on Americans’ online behavior that confirms the growing dominance of social networking while illuminating strong differences in computer and mobile activity. This data gives powerful insight into patterns in consumer behavior and how advertisers fit into that equation.

According to the report, social networking now accounts for 22.7% of total U.S. Internet time, an impressive growth from its 15.8% share in 2009. Online gaming also moved into the number two spot at 10.2%, overtaking E-mail which had the steepest decline in share– retreating from 11.5% to 8.3%. Other emerging categories include Videos/Movies, while those like Portals and Entertainment seem to be waning.

In stark contrast, Nielsen’s survey indicates that E-Mail is still the dominant online activity for mobile, accounting for over 40% of time. Portals came in second for, followed by social networking at a close third. The biggest mobile growth sectors are Music and Videos/Movies (20% growth each year over year), while News/Current Events and Sports each dropped precipitously.

Nielsen analyst Dave Martin fairly chalks up differences between computer and mobile use to “unique characteristics…both in their features and when and where they are used.” It is likely that computer and mobile activity will mirror each more closely as smart phones continue to increase market share. After all, they are largely designed to replicate the experience of computer browsing on a mobile device.

Another study released Monday by Pew Internet this week may also give incite into another key factor in mobile and computer online activity. According to Pew, a higher percentage of African Americans and Hispanics (87% each) own mobile phones than white consumers (80%), and they also utilize their phones capabilities more regularly to go online, access email, listen to music, and watch video content.

More specifically, the Pew survey indicates that only 33% of whites access the Internet via mobile compared to 51% of Hispanics and 46% of African Americans. Similarly 30% of whites access email via mobile compared to 41% of Hispanics and 47% of African Americans.

The New York Times in it’s analysis also makes the point that younger and lower income consumers are more likely to use mobile phones to access the internet because they may not own a computer. Thus any survey of total mobile online activity would by skewed toward the behavior of those consumer segments.

Taken as a whole, both the Nielsen and Pew reports illustrate an evolution in the way we use the Internet.