If the future is digital, it seems Canadians are ahead of their time.
Canucks spend more time online than anyone else on Earth, according to new data from Web research firm comScore. And it's not even by a small margin - the average Canadian spends 43.5 hours a month on the Web, almost twice the worldwide average of 23.1 hours.
"I can't really give you a solid answer as to why we're so highly engaged," said Darrick Li, an account manager with comScore. "Since 10 years ago, since the boom of the Internet, we've always been at the top of online engagement."
According to the comScore report, the number of unique online visitors in Canada hovered at about 23 million users in the fourth quarter of 2010, almost unchanged from the same period a year earlier, and less than a 10th of the number of Web users in China. Of 11 countries surveyed, Canada ranks first in the number of website visits per user per month, at 95.2, and second only to South Korea in number of pages viewed, at 3,349.
While difficult to explain, the numbers shouldn't be all that surprising. For years, Canadians have been the most prolific users of services such as Facebook and YouTube. Late last year, video-streaming service Netflix travelled north of the border, and Canadians responded in huge numbers.
Part of the reason for this high online engagement is easy access to high-speed Internet. As a recent Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission report states: "Approximately 95 per cent of Canadian households can access broadband services using land-line facilities. Satellite facilities extend this reach to virtually all households and are only limited by capacity constraints."
In short, most of us have access to the kind of speed necessary to make sites such as Netflix and YouTube worthwhile (how much data we can use, how much we pay for it and our choices when it comes to Internet Service Providers, however, are entirely different matters).
But the comScore report goes far beyond examining the amount of time we spend online. It also shows some interesting trends about who makes up Canada's digital class, and what Canadians are doing on the Web.
Silver Surfers By far the fastest-growing demographic when it comes to Web usage in Canada is the 55-and-over crowd. While every other age group's online engagement levelled off or even declined between the end of 2009 and the end of 2010, the number of older users jumped 12 per cent. On the other hand, the number of Web users aged 17 or under actually dropped 4 per cent during the same period. The decrease may be at least partly attributable to the rise of mobile devices such as smart phones. Not only do these devices offer users alternatives such as text messaging, but they also come with more restrictive data plans, making prolonged Web use potentially more costly.
The gender (in)discrepancy The split among male and female Web users in Canada is almost exactly 50-50, according to the comScore report. Usage was also fairly consistent across the country, mirroring the population of the provinces - usage was greatest in Ontario, at 38 per cent of the country's total. Usage was also relatively consistent across income groups.
Overall, Canadians spent most of their time on directory Web sites such as Google and technology sites. Political news Web sites experienced the biggest year-over-year growth, however, jumping 47 per cent.
Both male and female Canadian Internet users spent much of their time on directory sites (the single most popular category for men, followed by photo sites and online trading). However, women visited photo sites most often, followed by directories and music entertainment sites.
The most persistent ad in Canada As Canadians become more prolific Web users, the world of advertising is following suit. According to the comScore report, total Web display-ad impressions rose 3 per cent between December of 2009 and December of 2010. Procter & Gamble was the biggest single advertiser, followed by Internet bank Ally. Between them, the two companies accounted for 17 billion ad impressions, or views, during 2010.
Perhaps the most often-viewed Canadian ad on the Web belonged to Ally, whose banner advertising a high-interest savings account and featuring an image of a purple phone ran for 329 days and garnered 740 million impressions.