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It’s official, people know very little about the internet and domain names

Public Interest Registry, the not-for-profit operator of the .org, .ngo and .ong domains, debuted the findings of its first Internet 101 Survey, a study testing basic internet knowledge among U.S. internet users of all ages and backgrounds.

The results underscore the need for widespread internet education among users and spotlight critical issues from net neutrality to global internet access disparities. Public Interest Registry’s Internet 101 Survey also reinforces the organization’s goal to provide useful information for individuals and companies on topics ranging from internet operations to online security to help users more safely and effectively harness the power of the World Wide Web.

The results of the survey make it official: people know very little to nothing about how the internet works and what domain names are and do. (Like I didn’t know this…)

Internet Knowledge – Perception vs. Reality

The survey found that while 84 percent of people reported they are “knowledgeable” about the internet, there’s a significant gap between perception and reality. For instance, only 20 percent of consumers knew that the World Wide Web is different from the internet. The below results show how basic internet facts can stump many internet users.

  • Only 29 percent of participants correctly identified the meaning of HTTP, with 31 percent admitting outright they did not know the meaning of the term
  • 68 percent of people could not identify the decade when the World Wide Web was invented
  • Only 31 percent of users could correctly define a “domain name system”
  • Less than half of participants correctly identified HTTPS as a more secure protocol that’s safer to share personal or financial information

While the survey revealed a handful of widely held misconceptions about the internet, consumers did fare slightly better on the below questions.

  • Most participants (59 percent) correctly defined a URL as another term for a web address
  • 66 percent of people correctly identified a domain name from a browser, an email address and a social media handle
  • A total of 80 percent of users knew that they could find official information from their Congressman at a .gov domain name

Battle of the Ages – Millennials vs. Boomers

Millennials may have grown up using the internet, but users from the boomer generation are more knowledgeable than both millennials and Generation X when it comes to basic information about the internet, from online safety to internet operations. Here are a few areas where boomers outpaced their younger counterparts.

  • More baby boomers could identify a safe site (47 percent) than millennial or Generation X users.
  • 34 percent of boomers compared to 29 percent of millennials knew the World Wide Web was created in the 1980’s
  • Fewer millennials (42 percent) knew the correct definition of the internet than boomers (46 percent)
  • More boomers knew the correct percentage of the world’s population with access to the internet than the other age groups surveyed

“The survey revealed that 50 percent of U.S. internet users think more people globally are connected to the internet than actually are, which is a reminder of the work that must be done to close the global internet education and the internet access gap,” said Public Interest Registry CEO Brian Cute. “Public Interest Registry hopes this survey will not only educate, but also help spark dialogue around internet issues such as access, cybersecurity threats and more.”

Internet 101 – What You Should Know 

There’s a lot for users to learn about the internet – how it works and the issues impacting future internet regulation and access. Of those surveyed, the average user has been online for 17 years, which shows that long term internet use alone does not equate to a better understanding of this powerful tool. Users must be provided the resources they need to more confidently use the internet. Below are few facts to get up to speed on the basics.

  1. A total of 47 percent of the world’s population has access to the Internet, which amounts to approximately 3.9 billion people globally who are not online.
  2. The correct definition of the internet is a system of interconnected networks that allows different computers to connect with one another.
  3. The World Wide Web is not the same as the internet, it is an information system on the Internet that allows documents to be connected to other documents by hypertext links.
  4. The World Wide Web was invented in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee in a paper called “Information Management: A Proposal.” The concept was initially deemed “vague, but exciting” by Berners-Lee’s boss.
  5. The HTTP at the beginning of a website stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol, the standard over which data is sent between a browser and a site.
  6. A site that begins with HTTPS is a secure site that is safer to insert credit card info or personal information. The “S” at the end stands for secure and means that communications between your browser and the website are encrypted.
  7. HTML is the standard language for creating websites, but a variety of web development languages such as Java and Python exist to help make webpages more dynamic and complex.
  8. While the internet is not managed or regulated by any one individual, organization or country, some organizations help maintain the internet, such as The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) which manages internet protocols and domain name systems.
  9. The first generic top-level domains created in the early development of the internet were: .org, .com, .net, .gov, .edu, .mil and .int.
  10. If you’d like to create a website, you can purchase a domain name from a registrar.

For more information on the Internet 101 Survey and to test your own knowledge of the internet please visit https://pir.org/internet101/.

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About Konstantinos Zournas

Konstantinos studied Computer Engineering and Computer Science in London and lives in Athens, Greece. He works on domain names, websites and software development. Has been online since 1995 & domaining since 2002.

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7 comments

  1. Konstantinos… I agree with almost everything you write and report on. Year over year you are spot on!

    However, today I disagree and think this this article was a waste of time for far too many reasons.

    Being a domain name investor for over 20 years now, the base questions in this study are extremely technical in nature.

    HTTP – Who cares what it stands for? This is a standard and means nothing to most everyone I know. I don’t need to type http or https into a browser. Nor do I need to type www. Nor .com. I just hit CTRL-ENTER to get past the mundane and get to the website I want to go to. Most people just search the term and then click on the first link Google gives them.

    And then 31% of the participants did not know when the world wide web was invented…? Frankly I am a very savvy web guy and my response is different than that of what most people would say. How do you define the invention of the World Wide Web? Are we talking WWW, or “The Internet”? Are we talking dial-up? AOL? Are we talking about bulletin board systems? Or DNS? Is this when Meg Ryan responded to “You’ve got mail”, or was it “Sleepless In Seattle”? I can never remember between those two movies. Are we talking about the invention of the protocols, or the decades later when people started understanding it and using it outside of universities? Are we talking the infamous clip of the Today Show in 1994 when Bryant Gumbel asks what the Internet is? More or less, this question is hogwash.

    To sum up my dislike for these stats and this report, PIR does not capitalize the “Internet” in their info-graphic most of the time. The Internet is a proper noun, and missing this minor fact shows the inaptness of the study and the foolishness and distrust for those who put it together.

    Oh, and this infographic cites the birth of WWW to be 1989. I’m pretty sure Symbolics.com was registered in 1985. So this sort of blows the lid off of the whole article. But of course they don’t want to cite a .com for the “birth of the Internet”.

    So, I feel this report is just a #WasteOfTime. Possibly PIR should cite Verisign for managing most of the DNS system and the root servers on the Internet…?

    -KD

    • KD you clearly didn’t visit the website to see the way the survey was given to the people. You can find it below.
      I am not saying the survey was perfect but some of the questions portray the ignorance perfectly. Have a look. Whoever doesn’t answer the HTTP question right has a problem in some way.
      I can also guarantee you that almost no one knows what CTRL-ENTER does yet alone where CTRL is on the keyboard.

      BTW symbolics.com was registered in 1985 but was not used for a webpage as that didn’t exist at the time. Domain names are still used for other things except websites up until today like, email, ftp, etc. There are not the WWW.

      Here it is:
      What percentage of the world’s population has access to the Internet?
      Less than 30%
      Between 30%-50%
      Between 50%-70%
      Over 70%

      The “World Wide Web” is the same as the Internet. True or False?
      True
      False

      What does HTML stand for?
      Highly Technical Megabyte Lists
      Hyper Text Markup Language
      Holistic Telephony Media Link
      Highly Traditional Markup Lingo

      Wikipedia.org, Paypal.com, and Slideshare.net are all examples of what?
      Domain names
      Browsers
      Email addresses
      Social media handles

      What domain name might you find official information from your congressman?
      .gov
      .org
      .com
      All of the them

      In what decade was the world wide web invented?
      In the 1960s
      In the 1970s
      In the 1980s
      In the 1990s

      What is a URL?
      A web address
      A site protocol
      A file transfer
      All of the them

      Which website is safer for sharing credit card info or personal information?
      A website starting with HTTPS
      A website starting with HTTP
      None of the them

      Where would you go to buy a website?
      Registrar
      Registrant
      Registry

      Who regulates/manages the Internet?
      No one individual or organization regulates the Internet
      Stakeholders around the world
      The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)

  2. I totally wouldn’t know the World Wide Web(WWW) (Dub Dub Dub) and the Internet are different haha! Sounds like the same thing to me. And what KD said no one is going to know what HTTP stands for, why not just ask them what a packet is or how many feet you can run CAT5 cable lol

    Ask the real questions, does any one know what .xyz is ? I bet more people would be confused over that!

    I think the Internet started in 1994 with Yahoo!

  3. Okay, so then to summarize, I was right, but I already knew that.

    And now you can wait another five years before admitting that Google is the #1 reason why people scarcely know what domain names are and do, and why they know even less than they did in the 1990’s.

    • Who said Google (and Facebook #2) isn’t the #1 reason people know nothing about how the internet works?

      • Yes, FB would be my #2 as well. K, I was using the “collective you” there though perhaps I should have been clearer about that. I don’t doubt you realize Google is #1, but I have gotten a strong sense over a long time now that generally speaking the industry is afraid of their own shadow when it comes to talking about the blatant 800 megaton gorilla Google as the deliberate Public Enemy #1 of domain names, except for only very rare, slight and brief occasions if at all.

      • P.S. I realize it’s easy for me to talk from behind a polar bear, however, and perhaps I’d feel the same if I weren’t. But still…and knowing me as I do, I’d probably still do it anyway…

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