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Survey: What Is America Searching For?

Staff Writer
Published: 2004-08-02

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A new survey from the MSN and Harris Interactive reveals that these days, Internet users in the United States are quite likely to turn to a search engine in their search for themselves.

Of Americans who responded to the survey, 39 percent said they have looked for themselves when searching on the Internet, compared with 29 percent who said they have looked for a family member and 36 percent who have searched for friends they have lost touch with. Seventeen percent have searched for an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend.

The What Is America Searching For? survey was conducted to discover what Internet users across the country are using search engines for. MSN commissioned the poll to mark the July 1 launch of its new MSN Search home page, which features faster loading times and quicker access to the information that people care about most.

Over 2,200 adult respondents were interviewed, representing every region in the country as well as six major cities. The online interviews took place during late June and early July, and the results provide a snapshot of users' search engine habits, as well as revealing the interests of the nation's countrymen and women.

Many of the findings revealed that users often revert to type when they search online, and their search engine habits reflect their age, gender or geography:

-- New Yorkers were most likely among respondents to search for news on
-- Searchers in Los Angeles were more likely to focus on entertainment.
-- Generation Xers, perhaps the first generation to embrace the Internet
revolution, were more likely to search for blind dates and pursue
romantic interests when online.
-- Baby Boomers, on the other hand, were more likely to search for health
and weather information and recipes.
-- Mature adults (age 59 and older) were more likely to search on ancestry
or family history topics as well as research their investments.
-- Young adults were more likely to use search engines to research
education and careers as well as to look up a friend.
-- Men, somewhat predictably, were more likely than women to look up
automobiles and technology and science topics.
-- Women were more likely than men to search for information on health and
fashion as well as celebrity news and scandals.

Although anecdotal evidence reveals that most Americans are familiar with and use search engines regularly, the MSN-Harris Interactive survey revealed the extent to which users now rely on the technology. Almost half (48 percent) of respondents confirmed they use search engines at least once a day, and over two-thirds (69 percent) said that search engines are the fastest way to get the information they are looking for. The results established that users turn to search engines to get all kinds of news and information, on topics ranging from the war and the presidential race to celebrity gossip, and even to search for long-lost friends.

Justin Osmer, MSN product manager for Search at Microsoft Corp., said, "Most people are satisfied with their search engines, but according to the survey, there is a significant minority - 29 percent - who only sometimes or rarely find what they want, which is why we have more improvements rolling out. Our vision is to go beyond today's basic search services and deliver faster, more relevant results. For example, MSN plans to offer direct answers to people's questions in plain English. In order to do that, it's important for us to understand how people use search engines and what they're searching for when they're online."

Osmer said, "Search engines may be taken for granted these days, but MSN believes that it can continue to make significant improvements and give quicker access to more relevant information. For instance, even when people do find the exact information they're looking for, an internal MSN study found that it takes an average of 11 minutes per search for people to go through the long lists of links offered by today's search services."

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