Unilluminating overview offers few new insights into how and why we use the Web.
Tancer is the general manager of global research for Hitwise, which analyzes the web-browsing habits of ten million Internet users in the United States. Aggregated and analyzed, he asserts, this data “can reveal a great deal about society”—who American users are, what they’re interested in and how those interests change and evolve over time. Unfortunately, his conclusions are intuitive and simplistic rather than surprising or complex. For example, it’s hardly a revelation that Americans spend a lot of time looking at pornography, or that they might visit porn sites more frequently when they have free time on their hands, such as during the summer or over Christmas vacation. Nor is it remarkable that people are more likely to search for a particular celebrity by name after that celebrity has been arrested, had a baby or died. Tancer certainly delivers on the first part of his subtitle. He gives a broad sense of what people are doing online, from searching for porn and obsessing over celebrities to trying to lose weight and participating in social-networking sites. He’s less capable when it comes to explaining why it matters that affluent teenage girls search for prom dresses in January, or that searches for quick-fix diets peak just after New Year’s Day. The book includes plenty of data and year-old buzzwords—“today’s age of texting, MySpace pages, and that old standby, email”—but few insights into what all that adds up to, or why anyone should care in the first place.
Fails to address the significance of Americans’ online habits.