In thinking about broad questions such as “how do people use the internet?”, one very simple and curious problem solving approach would be considering how usage of the internet fluctuates (e.g., over time, by country, by web site, by segment of users, etc.). Whether the cause is something as simple as seasonal patterns (e.g., perhaps usage declines during summer months) or as complex as genuine shifts in users’ behavior, an understanding here seems like a very basic and critical need for the technology arena and business world.
For example, one pattern we’ve noticed here at Mozilla is that the overall usage of Firefox seems to decline a bit during this time of year. In 2007, for example, the number of average daily users (ADU) declined by about 2% from April to May. Even though we’re currently less than halfway through the month of May, it looks like a similar pattern will likely hold in 2008.
So, the first question this raises is: is this pattern in Firefox usage representative of the entire internet population? The answer seems to be “yes.” Looking at comScore’s data (subscription required), the number of worldwide average daily visitors dropped during April and May 2007 (relative to its level that March), jumped back up in June and then declined again in July and August 2007. This pattern tracked extremely closely with month-to-month Firefox usage.
The next question this raises is: “why?” (and why aren’t folks talking more about this?). In short, the answer to the former seems to be holidays. Much of the world celebrates some version of May Day or Labour Day on May 1st. Moreover, countries like China and Japan enjoy “golden week” holidays. While it may seem hard to understand how a single holiday can have such a macro level effect, consider this: all else constant, if overall internet usage drops by 30% within just a single day, that month will show a 1% decline in average daily users.
As cool as it is to uncover this pattern and its potential causes, the question I raise in parentheses above seems like the most interesting part of this discussion. And it starts to touch on the recent discussion by John Lilly and Mike Arrington (and John’s follow-up here). Many cohorts (curious users, university researchers, small businesses, etc.) would certainly be interested in the opening up of all sorts of data… indeed, much of the reason folks aren’t talking more about questions such as “how do people use the web?” primarily relates to information being locked up.