People between the ages of 21 to 25 tend to have the most experience with a major serge of young people, women, children and older men coming through and a real change in the ratio between men and women. The only people who seem not to join the Internet Society are women over 45. Most people believe themselves experienced after two to three years and expert after four years6.
This means that they are active communicators in the Internet Society. The GUV surveys suggest that with experience comes increased confidence in expressing opinion and interaction. As a result, they are shaping opinion. Already there are 900,000 UK Netzines primarily using the Internet for communications (excluding e-mail). This represents 8% of all users. We can expect both an increase in numbers communicating and an increase in the proportion of netzines using communication.
Who else shapes opinion? With half the Internet population taking on-line news feeds, it seems that on-line publications are disseminating news and the big portals such as Altavista and Yahoo! are gateways to added information and have news and features to provide extra on-line content.
Newsfeeds come in many forms. They include e-mailed news 'Alerts', streamed information appearing automatically on the screen (often in a 'ticker' form) as well as news windows and because people actively seek on-line publications. Just about every
search engine has a news feature.
Big Internet brands such as the BBC are also opinion forming. In addition, a number of corporate sites offer news about specific subject areas. By comparison, commercial users of the Internet are babes in arms. Their ability to provide news is hampered because they do not have enough Web sites and many of these sites are static (a brochure on the Web). Datamonitor7 reported in mid 1999 that 2.2 million businesses were using the Internet in Europe. By 2004, they say 5.4 million will use the .net or about two thirds of all businesses. In the UK just 34% were using the Internet. (Finland 45%). With 20% of the population already signed up members of the Internet Society, many companies seem to be leaving entry into this market place quite late. To be an opinion former, there is a need to provide up-to-date information and to present it quickly. In addition, Webmasters need to show how up to date their information is. I for one will not accept information without being able to reference the date it was provided. Last years' information is as old as mid '80's pop football results in Internet terms.
Internet users like and seek its interactivity and yet many commercial sites take an age to download. Zona Research, In the USA suggest that ‘merchants will loose $34 billion in sales each year if Web sites do not maintain an average download time of eight seconds’. For the interactive Internet citizen, there must have been a wry smile when Fletcher Research announced that only 35% of commercial sites changed their content daily and 17% actively encourage interaction and ‘feedback’. As in all societies, some aspire to influence more than others. They are very active and can be very influential with very little by way of resources.