Center For The Digital Future: Perceptions Of Search Reliability And Accuracy Declining

The University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication’s Center for the Digital Future is engaged in an ambitious longitudinal study on consumer behavior and media usage. Each year the center surveys the same 2,000 US adults to track attitudes toward media as well as any changes in actual media consumption. This year the center found a number of consumer attitude changes, including more skepticism about the reliability and accuracy of search results. You can download a summary of the report here; highlights are below.

The report found that the internet is now considered the most important medium and information source vs. television, radio, newspapers, and books. Almost all measures of engagement are up, although so is ambivalence among parents about their children being online.

Search-related findings include:

“A growing number of Internet users select a search engine for their home page. Twenty-one percent of Internet users said that their home page is a search page such as Google — more than double the response in 2005. Declining in the current study is the percentage of users who use an Internet portal — such as Yahoo, America Online, or MSN — as their home page.”

Yet trust of search engines is down:

“A higher percentage of Internet users reported negative views about the reliability and accuracy of information provided by search engines, such as Google. Slightly over half of Internet users — 51 percent — said that most or all of the information produced by search engines is reliable and accurate — down from the 62 percent who reported the same response in 2006.”

Consumer satisfaction with Google was also down in the annual University of Michigan American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), though not so for Yahoo, Ask, and MSN.

Below is a selected (mostly verbatim) list of more of the Digital Future report’s findings:

Hours Online — The number of hours online per week continues to increase – rising to an average of 15.3 hours per week, up by more than one hour per week from 2006, and the highest level in the Digital Future studies.

What Is Your Destination After Your Home Page? — In a new question for the Digital Future Project, Internet users were asked where they go online after they log in and land on their home page. Almost half of users (47 percent) and the largest percentage by far said that their next destination is their e-mail account.

Media Web Pages: Reliability and Accuracy — Internet users continue to report high levels of reliability and accuracy for Web pages posted by established media, such as The New York Times and CNN. Among all users, 80 percent said that most or all of the information posted on media Web sites is reliable and accurate — up from 77 percent in 2006.

Media Online: New Users and Very Experienced Users — New users and very experienced users report wide differences in use of a variety of online media. New users spend considerably more time online playing computer games — an average of 1.2 hours per week more than very experienced users. Very experienced users spend more time than new users reading online newspapers, books, and magazines, and listening to online radio.

Would You Miss the Print Edition of Your Newspaper? — In a new question, respondents who read print editions of newspapers were asked if they would miss the offline edition if it was no longer available. While more than half of respondents (52 percent) expressed some level of agreement with this question, 27 percent disagreed.

Does Online Content Lead to Canceled Print Subscriptions? — Twenty-one percent of Internet users agreed that they have stopped a subscription for a newspaper or magazine because they now get the same or related content online.

Posting Information Online — Distributing original content created by Internet users — whether through a blog, display of photos, or maintaining a personal Web page — continued to increase. In the current Digital Future Project, 41 percent of Internet users said they post photos online — an almost fourfold increase in only four years. Smaller but steadily growing percentages of users said they maintain their own Web site or keep a personal blog.

Are You a Member of An Online Community? — Fifteen percent of Internet users reported they are members of an online community — more than double the percentage since this question was first asked three years ago.

Participation In Online Communities: Does It Affect Involvement in Real-World Communities? — A large percentage of online community members said that their participation in those communities has no effect on their involvement in offline communities. However, 16 percent of online community members said that this involvement decreased their involvement in offline communities.

Participation In Online Communities Related to Social Causes — Three-quarters of online community members in the current Digital Future Project said they use the Internet to participate in communities related to social causes — up 30 percent from 2006.

Web Sites for Video Sharing or Social Networking: How Often Do You Visit? — While one-fourth of online community members never visit video sharing or social networking sites such as YouTube or Facebook, half of them visit once a week or more, and 22 percent visit at least once a day.

Why Do Users Visit Web Sites For Video Sharing And Social Networking? — Internet users reported a wide range of reasons for visiting video sharing services such as YouTube and social networking Web sites such as MySpace, with relaxing or filling time at the top of the list. Users also report several reasons involving personal values, such as gaining insight into themselves or other members, looking for a sense of belonging, or finding models of behavior.

Internet Use: The Right Amount of Time for Children? — The small but growing percentage of adults who said that the children in their households spend too much time using the Internet reached 25 percent of respondents — the highest number in the seven years of the Digital Future Project.

In addition to these, there are many more findings in the report summary available through the link above.

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Search & Society: General | Stats: Relevancy | Stats: Search Behavior

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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