People down mice as Internet backlash begins

Are we abandoning the world of online?

New evidence suggesting people are turning off the Internet in droves could be down to its increasing commercialisation according to one academic Tuesday.

Figures just released by research firm Cyberdialogue show that in 1999 30 million people in the US no longer used the Internet, describing themselves as "former users". This has led experts to question whether a backlash against the Web is beginning.

Sally Wyatt -- one of the researchers in a multinational project entitled Virtual Society -- believes the increased commercialisation of the Web is a big factor turning people off.

"The Internet is a different thing now to five years ago. People are faced with a constant stream of ads and are getting fed up because they can't find what they are looking for," she says. "The Internet has transformed from a fairly elite academic resource to a commercial entity and while that broadens access it also puts people off."

One third of the Internet defectors are young people under the age of 25. Wyatt believes the main reason they are no longer logging on is down to cost. "Often their primary source of access was through universities or schools and they can't afford it in the real world," she says. The research also suggests that self-taught Internet enthusiasts are more likely to turn off than those who have had formal training.

Steve Woolgar, director of the Virtual Society project, is looking beyond the high expectations of Internet enthusiasts to find the real affects the Web has on our lives. His research bears out surveys suggesting Internet usage is dropping off. "Survey researchers find they now need to use the category 'former user'. In particular it turns out that large numbers of teenagers have stopped using the Internet," he writes in a paper entitled Virtual Society? Beyond the hype.

The suggestion that our love affair with the Net is coming to an end comes at a time when hundreds of dotcoms are collapsing. Last month author Stephen King pulled the plug on his online novel The Plant

Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Click on the TalkBack button and go to the ZDNet News forum.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom. And read other letters.