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The eight ball says 133

When I first heard of a new U.S. survey that found almost half of all Internet users turned to the web before making major life decisions I scoffed – then realized I was only scoffing at myself.

When I first heard of a new U.S. survey that found almost half of all Internet users turned to the web before making major life decisions I scoffed – then realized I was only scoffing at myself.

Before my fiancée bought a car I researched every make and model out there, reading the reviews while comparing stats like gas mileage.

When I was proposing to said fiancée, I went to the web to find out how to size rings and look at different styles and prices.

When I get sick or injured these days I research my symptoms on the web sometimes before I head to a doctor. And if a doctor prescribes any medication I always look it up online to learn more about side effects and possible contraindications – in other words I want to know if I can still drink beer.

Before we buy a house I know we’ll use the web to research our mortgage options to figure out what we can afford. We’ve already done some online research, even though we’re likely still two years or more away from coming up on the staff housing list.

I use the web to plan vacations, to stay in contact with friends and family, and to otherwise organize my life. It becomes a bigger part of my job all the time.

In fact, I use the Internet for so much these days that at this point I would say that there are very few major decisions I make in life without consulting the web.

I always make sure to check several sites so I’m not getting my information from a single, potentially wrong, potentially crazy source, and I try to balance that information with my own knowledge and intuition. But I need the extra data the web provides to feel confident I’m doing the right thing.

Part of the reason is that I have a tendency to be indecisive when I don’t have all the information, but the main rationale is that the web has officially become habit – I go there for information today because that’s where I’ve been going for about the last 13 years.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project, which conducted the survey, found that about 60 million Americans, representing 45 per cent of regular Internet users, consulted the web before making big decisions. That figure is up five per cent since the last survey in 2002.

The survey group was comprised of 2,201 respondents which were asked whether they used the web to make decisions in eight key areas; career training, changing careers, choosing schools, buying a car, making an investment, making a major financial decision, to help themselves or another person with a major illness or health condition, or when looking for a home.

More amazing than the fact that people go to the web for these kinds of crucial decisions is the fact that the web is almost always more than able to help. That took some vision and investment in the web on behalf of a lot of companies and organizations, as well as the ability to anticipate the kind of information and interactivity people might need.

For example, the U.S. Environment Protection Agency has been publishing fuel efficiency data and comparisons for every vehicle sold for the past 20 years (at, long before the price of oil skyrocketed to $70 U.S. a barrel. Banks have been offering free online mortgage calculators since advances in Java first allowed that kind of interactivity, long before the housing boom (or bubble) that we find ourselves in.

Work done yesterday is helping us make better decisions today.

Website of the Week

MySpace ( ) Now firmly in the top-10 of most visited websites, MySpace has gone well beyond the trend stage and is now in the realm of a legitimate pop culture phenomenon.

Most of the publicity for the site up to now has been negative. Attractive to teens, the site has also become attractive to sexual predators. Earlier this month police even arrested U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Brian Doyle while he was attempting to seduce a 14-year-old girl, prompting MySpace to hire a new security director. And Homeland Security to hire a new spokesman.

Another negative story has been about the whole concept of teens joining an online community, and the fact that kids are spending more time with Internet friends than becoming socially acclimated by making some actual friends.

But all the negatives don’t outweigh the positives. That’s why MySpace, which gives every member their own little homepage as well as access to chat rooms and other interactive tools, already has about 67 million members around the world, with about 250,000 new members signing up each day. Not bad for a site that has only existed for three years.

It’s a good way to keep in touch with actual friends, but other than that I wouldn’t waste too much time or effort on it. And if your kids are members, it wouldn’t hurt to remind them that some people lie, that some predators are using the site to find prey, and that MySpace friends are a poor substitute for the flesh and blood variety. There’s a good guide at the Canada Safety Council,