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Older but not wiser

A brief note in yesterday’s Technology Guardian claims that internet users are growing older (or rather, since we are all growing older, the average age of users is rising). Here’s what they say, verbatim: "Over the past year (October 2006 – 07), the average age of the UK internet population has risen from 35.7 to 37.9, according to Nielsen’s research." (and a link follows to their source, Nielsen Online).

Since the average age of Cornwell Internet is even higher than those figures, and the same is probably true of our clients (though I would not be so indiscreet as to ask), I was interested enough to look up the full story.

Nielsen’s press release is available as a document file at It reveals that the site whose users have the lowest average age is MiniClip, an online games site, and the site whose users have the highest is M & S – which is not entirely surprising, especially given that only the hundred most popular online brands were monitored for the press release. In general, younger users visited games, media and social networking sites, and older users visited online shopping and financial sites (and Friends Reunited, which is also social networking).

None of which explains those unexpectedly high average ages; in fact, the closer you look, the odder it gets: the average ages of visitors to the list of youth-oriented sites vary from 28.1 to 34.2, while the older internet users are from 43.2 to 46.5. According to Nielsen’s figures, the average visitor to YouTube is 34.4. Now, I love YouTube. There’s some wonderful archive material there. Cornwell Internet has its own YouTube account, which we use to post videos for clients, from the crimewriters’alliance who call themselves the Murder Squad to the New Rope String Band: but I’m sceptical that visitors over thirty outnumber those in their teens and twenties. So I started to look at where Nielsen’s figures came from.

The press release states "All figures in this release come from NetView – the Nielsen//NetRatings panel of around 45,000 UK Internet users who have opted in to download a meter which records all their PC, online and application usage on a continual and ongoing basis." I would like to think that this is reliable, and that UK internet users really are typically in their thirties; it would give businesses an incentive to design their sites for grown-ups, and to abandon the irritating animations and tiny print! But these figures are so extreme that I fear there is a flaw in the methodology: perhaps Nielsen have failed to recruit a representative proportion of young people to their panel, or perhaps computers bearing their meter are being used by younger family members, as well as the person who signed up for the research.

Or perhaps it’s true, and the silver surfers really are conquering the web.

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