AOL users refute Net stereotype

The average online user, at least on America Online, is becoming more and more like the average person, a new study finds

US newcomers to the Internet are looking more and more like average people, according to a new survey commissioned by America Online.

That may change the traditional image of the Internet user as someone who is better educated and more affluent than the average consumer.

The study, conducted by Roper Starch Worldwide, found that around 29 percent of the online population were new this year. College graduates made up 30 percent of new users, compared to 43 percent last year, and 23 percent of the population. And the median household income of this year's newbie is $42,250 (£26,000), down from $53,000 last year, but still higher than the US' national average of $38,900.

"It's all walks of life saying I need to come online," said Marshall Cohen senior vice president of brand development at AOL. "You find baby boomers putting their parents online, parents putting their college students online, relatives putting each other online."

The AOL study also surveyed kids ranging from 9 to 17 years old to get their take on the Net. The study learned that the older kids became, the more time they spent online. Kids from ages 9 to 11 went online 2.8 days a week, while 15- to 17-year-olds plugged in 4.5 days a week.

While communicating -- through e-mail or instant messages -- was the No. 1 online activity, kids also saw practical benefits to the Net. It was the favoured place for doing research, topping public and school libraries. Forty-four percent of kids said the Web kept them better informed about world events, 36 percent said it improved writing skills and 33 percent said it improved their performance as a student.