The Pew Internet Project's latest study of search engine use in the US found that more and more people there depend on such search tools to discover relevant data among the millions of sites on the Web.
According to Pew, 85 percent of Internet users have used a search engine and 29 percent rely on at least one on a typical day. In fact, it appears that the only Internet technology more popular than search engines is e-mail, which is used by 52 percent of Net users on a daily basis.
The study also found that experienced Internet users are likely to be more frequent search engines users than those who are new to the technology. This may be due to the fact that it takes quite a bit of practice and know-how to get the most out of search engines.
Pew said that nearly 40 percent of users who have been on-line for three or more years will use search engines during a typical day, while this percentage falls to below 15 for those who got access in the last six months.
The Pew study also looked at the popularity of searches covering four topics which would be of interest to most users -- finding people, health advice, government services and religious information.
It certainly appears that Internet users are interested in discovering how much data about themselves is on the Web. About one in four have typed their own names into a search engine, with 55 percent saying they found what they expected to find. However, nearly a quarter were surprised by just how much information about them could be accessed on-line.
Search engines are also being used to track down individuals, with around one in three users looking up somebody else's name. However, most of these searches seem to have been done for personal reasons, with nearly two-thirds of "detective" searches being made with this in mind.
Search engines are also popular devices to find health information and it seems that people have generally found the data discovered to be reliable. Seventy-three million American adults used the Internet to look up health information during March 2002, said Pew. Many said that the information found helped them or someone else they knew and very few reported harmful effects from acting on data discovered on-line.
Searches on religious matters were also found to be quite frequent. Pew estimated that 28 million Americans, or 25 percent of the population, have used the Internet to get religious or spiritual information at one point or another. Of those who used search engines to find intelligence on these subjects, only four percent started their search at a religious portal.
When it came to searching for governmental information, Pew said that users are also more likely to start their trawl at a major search engine such as Google than rely on a government agency site.
The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a research organisation founded to study the impact of the Internet on the US.