Study Shows Browser To Be Less Popular Than Other Internet Apps

More than three-fourths of all Web users access applications such as instant messaging, media players and file-sharing applications — not just browsers — in connecting to the Internet, according to a new study by Internet researcher Nielsen//NetRatings.

Out of a total audience of 106 million people using Internet applications in November 2003 — up 11 percent from November 2002 — the majority of users accessed the Internet primarily with instant messaging, media players and file-sharing applications, rather than with browsers.

“We’ve seen it as a developing trend for quite some time,” NetRatings senior analyst Abha Bhagat told TechNewsWorld. “There have been greater numbers using messaging and media players in addition to using the browser. It actually says the browser is not the only predominant means. In addition, these other applications are also used by consumers accessing the Internet or for Internet connectivity.”

Browser Beaters Arrive

Bhagat said the browser, first introduced some 10 years ago, remained the most popular means to access the Internet until a couple of years ago. But with the introduction of instant-messaging applications, media players, file-sharing software and all the attendant Internet content, those new applications have gained in popularity and use.

Bhagat, who said “most Internet applications perform one or two functions and do it well,” credited the instant communication aspect of messaging and users’ hunger for media-player content for the shift.

“Another factor is the increased use of broadband,” Bhagat said. “That gives users the ability to download any kind of content and communicate any time as opposed to dialing up.”

Beyond Teen Chat

Yankee Group analyst Michael Kelleher told TechNewsWorld that he is dubious of the study’s implications, mainly because of the tendency of the younger Internet audience to use messaging and media applications heavily, which could skew the results to some extent.

Kelleher referred to Yankee Group findings that the top three Internet activities among users include the following: e-mail, news gathering and a three-way tie between online shopping, banking and instant messaging.

However, Bhagat said, instant messaging has matured beyond being a medium simply used for teenage chat and now is a serious communication tool designed for corporate users.

While she said the browser still will be a primary means of accessing Internet content, Bhagat added that companies must now be more aware of other Internet applications, particularly when carrying out integrated marketing campaigns.

Browser Not Bereaved

Bhagat explained that with three out of four Internet surfers using Internet applications, functionality has grown beyond the browser to become a fundamental piece of the overall desktop. “It’s become harder to distinguish when you’re on the Internet, blurring the lines between what’s sitting on the desktop and what’s coming from the World Wide Web.”

In addition, she told TechNewsWorld that increased use of nonbrowser Internet applications does not mean the browser is on its way out. “It means it’s becoming more mainstream and there are just various means to connect to the Internet,” she said.

For his part, Kelleher pointed out that a browser is often used in conjunction with a media player or instant messaging, adding that it all depends on the Internet activity in question. “I think as Internet users get older, they move away from music and communication activities more toward news and information, banking and shopping,” he said. “The browser’s really the only way, or at least the best way, to do that.”

Same Name, Different Game

NetRatings reported the top five Internet applications consisted of Microsoft’s Windows Media Player, AOL Instant Messenger and Yahoo Messenger followed by MSN Messenger and RealPlayer.

Not surprisingly, the companies that led the nonbrowser Internet activities — Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo — are the same ones that have dominated the browser business.

“They already have a predominant market share in browsers,” Bhagat said. “They have mind share, people already know them, and it’s a natural extension since they already have that audience.”

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