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updated 8/7/2008 3:15:48 PM ET 2008-08-07T19:15:48

The search box is everywhere online these days. It's built into Web browsers. It's incorporated into Web sites of all sorts. And it's a major driver of traffic and revenue for Google Inc. and the like.

So it should come as no surprise that nearly half of Internet users conduct a search on a typical day, up from about a third in 2002, the Pew Internet and American Life Project said Wednesday. Search is approaching e-mail as the most popular thing to do on the Internet; about 60 percent use e-mail on any given day.

Users with college degrees, higher incomes and broadband connections are more likely to conduct a search. So are men and younger users.

Firing off queries to search engines seems to be replacing a different kind of Internet starting point that people used to favor: making rounds of checks on previously visited, bookmarked sites.

Whether this shift is making people smarter remains to be seen, of course.

And by launching their Web surfing with precise search terms, people might be less likely to serendipitously come across off-topic content that might have interested them.

Nonetheless, greater use of search is inevitable as people grow more comfortable with the Internet, said Susannah Fox, an associate director at Pew.

"As more and more content is being uploaded to the Internet, people are putting themselves in the driver's seat instead of waiting for Web sites to serve up the content," Fox said.

The phone study of 1,553 Internet users was conducted April 8 to May 11 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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