updated 10/27/2004 12:54:51 PM ET 2004-10-27T16:54:51

Internet users are doing far fewer searches for sex and pornography and more for e-commerce and business than they were seven years ago, University of Pittsburgh and Penn State researchers say in a new book.

"Twenty percent of all searching was sex-related back in 1997, now it's about 5 percent," said Amanda Spink, the University of Pittsburgh professor who co-authored "Web Search: Public Searching of the Web" with Penn State professor Bernard J. Jansen.

"It's a little bit more in Europe, 8-10 percent, but in comparison to everything else, it's a very small percent," Spink said. "People are using (the Web) more as an everyday tool rather than as just an entertainment medium."

Experts aren't surprised by the results.

"They're not getting excited about using the Internet anymore," said Barry Wellman, a University of Toronto cyberspace researcher said of the findings. "Remember when cars came out, and people would say, 'Wow, we're going for a ride today!' Now they just go for a ride."

Or go shopping. Spink said her studies show queries for e-business or commerce increased by 86 percent in the past seven years.

"That makes sense because e-commerce in the last seven years has boomed," said Gary Price, news editor of SearchEngineWatch.com, a branch of Connecticut-based Jupitermedia.com, which reports on Internet surfing.

In one study detailed in their book, Spink and Jansen randomly selected thousands of search sessions from more than 1 million they culled anonymously from search engines such as AltaVista. They tracked the type of search terms used, how many search terms were entered and how deeply into the results computer users clicked for information.

What hasn't changed much in seven years is how hard people are willing to work at searching. The answer: Not very. Spink and Jansen found that people averaged about two words per query and two queries per search session.

"The searches are taking less than five minutes and they're only looking at the first page of results," Spink said. "That's why people are wanting to get their results on the first page" of search engine results.

That's one reason behind a proliferation of sponsored links that appear at the top of results pages, often highlighted or in bold print. And it's why search engine companies — and the creators of the Web pages they're sifting through — are trying to develop technology to help computer users hone in on desired results and filte— out the rest.

Spink and Jansen have just begun a study on Pittsburgh-based Vivisimo.com. Their findings will be used to improve the "metasearch" engine, which culls results from other search engines and categorizes them for users.

"We were surprised that people weren't doing more complex searches," Spink said. "If you put a couple of words into the Web, you're going to get hundreds of thousands of results. I think people aren't trained very well to use the search engines."

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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