Participants in the HomeNet study reported using
the Internet more for pleasure than for instrumental purposes.
The most popular reasons they cited for using the Internet were
to get information relevant to a hobby or a personal interest,
to communicate with family and friends, and to "enjoy myself."
HomeNet is a field trial at Carnegie Mellon University
whose aim is to understand people's use of the Internet at home.
The philosophy underlying the project was to reduce economic
and technological barriers for participants so that we might learn
for the first time how a diverse sample of families would use
the Internet. Starting in 1995, we provided 50 families with
hardware and connections and began carefully documenting how they
used on-line services such as electronic mail, computerized bulletin
boards, chat groups, and the World Wide Web. As of March 1997,
100 families are part of the trial. Through our detailed monitoring
of families' Internet use, periodic surveys, and interviews with
family members, we are able to measure the demand for and impact
of electronic communication and telecommunication services over
Our earliest findings demonstrated large contrasts in the amount
that different demographic groups used the Internet at home.
Teenagers are much heavier users than their parents; and among
teenagers, boys are heavier users than girls. However, among
adults, women are somewhat heavier users than men, especially
in their use of electronic mail. In this report note, we examine
the reasons for which different groups reported using the Internet.
Our goal is to identify whether some purposes for using the Internet
are more popular than others and whether the relative popularity
of purposes (i.e., their rankings) differs by demographic group.
Figure 1 contains a bar chart showing the extent to which HomeNet
participants reported using the Internet for different purposes
during the middle six months of 1996. The length of a bar represents
the average use for a particular purpose in reference to a response
scale where "0" meant no use, "1" meant occasional
use, and "2" meant frequent use. (Standard errors
of the means are indicated by whiskers.) For conceptual
clarity, the purposes are grouped into four broad categories-entertainment,
interpersonal communication, work, and electronic commerce.
Participants used the Internet more for hedonic purposes than
for instrumental ones. Overall, HomeNet participants reported
they were far more likely to use the Internet for enjoying themselves,
for getting information relevant to a hobby or personal interest,
and for communicating with friends and family (both in the Pittsburgh
area and beyond) than for other purposes. For example, as shown
in the far right column of the figure, 35% of the sample reported
that they "frequently" used the internet to get hobby-related
information, and 35% reported frequently using it to keep in touch
with friends and family outside of the Pittsburgh area. The percentage
of frequent users is less for other purposes such as doing school
work (29%), doing job-related work (23%), or getting product information
(17%). Participants seldom reported frequent Internet use for
joining groups (4%), for actually buying something (3%), for making
money (2%), or for viewing sexually-oriented materials (2%).
As one might suspect, these activities do not have the same appeal
to teenagers and adults alike or to males and females alike.
Females reported that they used the Internet for communication
more than males did, including communicating with friends and
family both inside and outside the Pittsburgh area, and for getting
personal help. Compared to males, females also reported using
the Internet more for schoolwork. Males were more likely to report
using the Internet for nonsocial activities-for getting product
information, for downloading software, or for viewing sexually-oriented
The most prominent contrasts by age were not surprising. Adults
were more likely to use the Internet as part of their jobs and
to get employment-related information while teenagers were more
likely to use the Internet for schoolwork and for getting educationally-oriented
information. But it is perhaps less obvious that adults rather
than teenagers were more likely to use the Internet to get product
information, to purchase items, to read the news, and to view
sexually-oriented materials. Compared to other groups, adult
males were especially likely to use the Internet for reading the
news. In contrast, teenagers were more likely to use the Internet
to play games, to listen to music, and to meet new people. Compared
to other groups, both adult women and teenage boys were especially
likely to report using the Internet for advertising, for selling,
and for making money.
In summary, to the extent that we can generalize from our sample
of 100 households in the Pittsburgh area, we can assume that people's
foremost use for the Internet in 1996 was for pleasure. They
used the Internet for entertainment-to enjoy themselves and to
obtain more information about their personal interests. They
also used it to sustain personal relationships. The most popular
use for the Internet outside of the entertainment category was
for corresponding by electronic mail, and the bulk of these relationships
presumably existed in advance of the Internet's addition to the
household. Finally, a substantial minority of people also used
the Internet for work purposes--either for paid employment in
the case of adults or for schoolwork in the case of teenagers.
Compared to these few highly-cited reasons for using the Internet,
others such as meeting new people, joining a group, or participating
in a Mud or chat session were listed relatively rarely. The general
category of electronic commerce received the least mention. While
it looks like many people are occasionally using the Internet
to find information about products, they are apparently executing
their purchases through other channels. Whether, the activities
which appear exotic now will grow in importance in the future
remains to be seen.