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Face it, we live in an instant-instant food and drink, instant news, instant gratification, and according to this year's Design News survey of engineers and the Internet, instant information from the Internet. It's available to us anytime at home, for most of us at work, and for many of us with one of the hundreds of new wireless devices hitting the market.

The Internet is always on. When the stock market goes up (or down), we know immediately with the stock ticker running at the bottom of our computer screen. When tragedy occurs in a distant land, we can watch streaming video online for the latest news reports we can't always get from television. And when we need a part for a new design, we can do a search and find out which companies have it in stock and how quickly we can get it.

In fact, that's what many of our respondents noted as the advantage of using the Internet-access to information, always available, easy access, instant information, quick access...well, you get the picture.

While not surprising, 88% of those who responded to our survey use the Internet for work, a slight increase from the 87% in our survey in 1999. Even more amazing is that in our 1998 survey, 24% accessed the Internet for work several times a day, in 1999, it more than doubled to 52%, and in this recent survey 59% said they used the Internet more than once a day; 27% went online at least once a day.

Not only do engineers send and receive email, check out online catalogs, and re-search competitors, but some other uses of the Internet at work include:

Communicating with customers

Collaborating on design and other project functions

FTPing (file transfer protocol) data

Obtaining and searching patents

Purchasing parts

Transmitting drawings

Bert Wymore, a design engineer with Huskvarn Turf Care, is a professed "newbie" to the Internet, having used it only for a few months. "I use it to search for products, look for materials for the lawnmowers we design, download CAD drawings of an engine we used in a design, keep up with vendor products, and even to see what competitors are doing." The Internet even was instrumental in helping him find a plastic handle without PVCs. "This was for a design going into Sweden and there could be no PVCs on the product," he noted. "But using the Internet, I found several companies, including one that sold plastic products to Sweden."

On the other hand, Marc Taylor, a re-search and development engineer with Ohio Willow Wood, uses the Internet for much more than searching for products. "I worked on a project with a group of engineers from Russia and the Sandia labs, and the Internet was instrumental in us sending documents and designs back and forth. We also used a web phone for this project and were able to communicate directly (and free)."

He's also used real-time collaboration software for projects, but found bandwidth and lack of intuitive design to be a hold-up. "I've tried a lot of different collaboration software and found Alibre to be the most intuitive. But all of the software developers are missing the boat in real-time collaboration. They need to consider adding voice interaction as part of the package."

Probably the most innovative way he uses the Internet, though, is to sit in chat rooms and "listen" to the unsolicited and honest comments about products he's worked on. "When your insight is in your cubicle, where you think you have a good idea, it may not work for the person it's directed towards. These areas allow you to get honest opinions to develop better products."

Materials and Process Engineer for Taber Bushnell Amy O'Malley uses the Internet to "push the box." The company has only five engineers who often have to do functions not part of their regular work. "The Internet is the first place I go to get information, then I'll start digging through books. Most of the time, I find the information I need on the Internet."

Even though most of the engineers use the Internet for their jobs, many employers, 51% according to those surveyed, impose limits on Internet access by doing everything from locking out all but business-appropriate sites to denying access to some computer stations, to time-outs and blocking out downloads and streaming audio/video.

How do engineers get to a website? Again, as in last year's survey, engineers find the websites they need through engineering magazines-the articles and the advertisements. Sixty-six percent find the sites through magazine articles and 65% find sites via advertisements. In addition, links from an engineering magazine's website drive 32% of the engineers surveyed to another site. And even though search engines are popular with engineers, only 8% of our respondents use them to find websites of value.

While on a supplier's website, engineers print hard copies of supplier information 55% of the time, download a file 19% of the time, fill out a form or register for more information 23% of the time, email a request for information 26% of the time, or link to another website 27% of the time. In fact, 95% of our respondents have requested information through a web or email link on a suppliers website. But they are reluctant to register with the sites-66% register less than half the time. The biggest reason: They don't want unsolicited responses from the site and others. Security issues and the time involved to fill out registration information are also factors.

An engineer returns to a website for the catalogs and specification sheets 88% of the time. They also go back for regularly updated information 68%, for downloads in 62% of the cases, and for contact information 60% of the time.

They also make purchases online for work 44% of the time with personal use purchases 78% of the time.

But surfing the Internet for information has its downfall, as most respondents noted. Their biggest complaints? Not getting a reply back from an email requesting information quickly enough, or lack of complete information on a website.

Just how big is the Internet?

For running data on how big the Internet is and just how fast it is growing, head on over to www.domainstats.com. When we ran the stats for this article on July 25, 2000, there were 17,804,717 domains registered worldwide with 9,482,427 of those being .coms.

According to The Censorware Project (censorware.org), every 24 hours, the Internet adds:

4,600,000 new pages

86,200,000,000 new bytes of text

1,030,000 new images

17,200,000,000 new bytes of image data

1,260,000,000,000 bytes of information is changed daily

In addition, an average of 51.5 million pages are changed and 11.6 million images are changed daily.

With all that new stuff added and changed on a daily basis, you'd need 29,200 people reviewing the Web daily for updates. Now you wonder why that search engine can't find and index that information you wanted?

Interestingly enough, the hottest websites for the month of June 2000 were search engines. The Nielsen ratings concluded the reach of the top 10 sites were:

AOL-57.3%

  • Yahoo!-53.5%

  • MSN-39.6%

  • Microsoft-35.9%

  • Lycos-27.2%

  • Excite-24.6%

  • Go-21.6%

  • AltaVista-15.3%

  • Time Warner-15.1%

  • NBC-14.5%

How many people use the Internet?

According to the Nielsen/Netratings for the month of June 2000 (the latest month before the magazine went to print) there were the following people online:

130 million in the U.S.

21.2 million in Japan

18 million in the U.K.

6.3 million in Australia

1.7 million in Singapore

(In June 1999, according to the previous research by Nielsen, there were 63.4 million U.S. Internet users.)

There were a total of 322 million users online for the month.

According to www.commerce.net research, since 1997 there has been a 59% increase in Internet users worldwide.

Worldwide users

The number of worldwide users is increasing. A report from the www.commerce.net site showed the following growth worldwide from 1998 to 1999:

Africa-72% increase

Asia-80% increase

U.S./Canada-16% increase

Europe-117% increase

Middle East-62% increase

South America-165% increase.

The most popular languages included:

51% English

8.1% Japanese

5.9% German

5.8% Spanish

5.4% Chinese

3.9% French

3.5% Korean

3.0% Italian

1.8% Dutch

Where do Engineers go online?

Here's a listing of the favorite sites of engineers from our 2000 survey.

Overall best websites:

Thomas Register-(www.thomasregister.com)

Yahoo (www.yahoo.com)

Dogpile (www.dogpile.com)

McMaster Carr (www.mcmaster.com/)

Google (www.google.com)

Design News website (www.designnews.com)

AltaVista (www.altavista.com).

Other hot websites:

Electrical/Electronic-Newark Electronics (www.newark.com/), Digikey (www.digikey.com/), and AMP (www.amp.com/)

Fluid Power-Parker Hannifin (www.parker.com/), and the National Fluid Power Association (www.nfpa.com/).

Fastening, Joining, and Assembly-Southco (www.southco.com), and Bolt Science (www.boltscience.com/).

Ferrous and nonferrous metals-MatWeb (www.matweb.com/).

Plastics, elastomers, and nonmetals-GE Plastics (www.geplastics.com/), DSM Engineering Plastic Products (www.dsmepp.com/), and DuPont (www.dupont.com).

CAD/CAM/CAE-PTC (www.ptc.com/), Autodesk (www3.autodesk.com/adsk/), Unigraphics Solutions Inc. (www.ugsolutions.com/), and MSC.Software (www.mscsoftware.com/).

Aerospace-Boeing (www.boeing.com/) and NASA (http://www.nasa.gov/).

At-work vs. at-home use sessions

According to Nielsen/NetRatings for the month of January 2000, Internet users at work were online an average of 21 hours in 41 sessions while at home users spent half as much time online in 18 sessions. The at-work Internet audience was 30.6 million as compared to the 77 million at-home users (no data in this report as to the under 18 numbers of this 77 million.)

So how do average at-work online users spend their time? Finance sites reached out and touched 31.1% of those Internet users. In fact, five of the top 10 stickiest sites for this survey were finance sites. At-work browsers spent 68% more time on news and information sites than those at home. And of course, the travel sites are being used extensively to make business travel arrangements, review maps and get directions, and determine meeting locations, an increase of 60% over the at-home users. Search engines were popular with both at-home and at-work users, including Yahoo!, Lycos, Excite, Go and AltaVista, all in the top 10 combined sites.

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