Digital trends 2019: Every single stat you need to know about the internet

We Are Social & Hootsuite (edited)

We Are Social and Hootsuite’s latest collection of Global Digital reports reveals that internet users are growing by an average of more than one million new users every day, with all of the original ‘Next Billion Users’ now online.

The number of people using the internet has surged over the past year, with more than one million people coming online for the first time each day since January 2018. It’s not just internet users that have been growing either, as the extensive new collection of Digital 2019 reports from Hootsuite and We Are Social reveals.

Now, just before we get started with all those numbers, you may want to go grab a coffee and get comfortable. There’s a huge amount of information to digest in the 8,800 words below — I’ll cover global internet penetration, amount of users and internet speeds, global social media usage, numbers for each major social media platform, status of ecommerce, etc. —  so you’ll want to take your time to make sense of it all.

We’ll explore all of the key trends and insights from this year’s reports in detail in this article, but here are the essential headlines you need in order to understand ‘Digital in 2019’:

  • There are 5.11 billion unique mobile users in the world today, up 100 million (2 percent) in the past year.
  • There are 4.39 billion internet users in 2019, an increase of 366 million (9 percent) versus January 2018.
  • There are 3.48 billion social media users in 2019, with the worldwide total growing by 288 million (9 percent) since this time last year.
  • 3.26 billion people use social media on mobile devices in January 2019, with growth of 297 million new users representing a year-on-year increase of more than 10 percent

With thousands of charts across more than 200 global and local reports, this year’s Global Digital series is one of the most comprehensive and up-to-date studies of today’s connected world. We’ll be publishing the local country reports in stages over the coming days over on DataReportal – our dedicated reports library – but this article and the SlideShare embed above distil the essential headlines, trends, and insights you need in order to make sense of digital in 2019.

Before we get into the analysis though, I’d like to take a moment to thank all of the wonderful data partners who’ve made this year’s series of reports possible, in particular:

OK… all set for those numbers?

Internet users in 2019

I’m sure I say this every year, but 2018 really was another year of impressive growth across all things digital. However, perhaps the most compelling story in this year’s numbers is that internet user growth actually accelerated in the past year, with more than 366 million new users coming online since we published our Digital 2018 reports.

Our latest internet data – collected and synthesized from a wide variety of reputable sources – shows that internet users are growing at a rate of more than 11 new users per second, which results in that impressive total of one million new users each day. It’s worth noting that some of this growth may be attributable to more up-to-date reporting of user numbers, but that doesn’t detract from the implications of this growth.

We’re particularly encouraged to see that a significant proportion of this year’s growth has come from developing economies, with countries that previously suffered from lacklustre internet penetration posting some strong gains as we start 2019.

The standout story here is India, which has seen internet users jump by almost 100 million in the past 12 months, representing annual growth of more than 20 percent. Internet penetration in the South Asian country now stands at roughly 41 percent – a considerable improvement over the 31 percent that we reported this time last year.

These big numbers mean that India is responsible for more than a quarter of this year’s total global growth. Overall, Asia-Pacific delivered 55 percent of the annual growth figure, with China adding another 50 million new users in the past year.

Perhaps surprisingly though, the United States takes third spot in our global ranking of absolute internet user growth. Despite already enjoying an internet penetration rate of 88% this time last year, internet users in the US grew by almost nine percent year-on-year, reaching a total of more than 310 million users in January 2019 (95 percent penetration).

Meanwhile, African nations dominate the list of countries with the fastest growing internet communities, although many of these countries start from relatively small bases. Western Sahara saw the greatest year-on-year relative gains, with the reported number of internet users in the country increasing by almost five times since January 2018.

Five countries saw their internet populations double over the past 12 months, while nine countries experienced annual growth of 50 percent or more.

These annual growth numbers are already impressive, but an even more striking picture emerges as we take a longer-term view. We’re pleased to offer a whole series of five-year growth charts in this year’s reports, and the first of these – internet growth – tells a particularly compelling story.

The number of internet users around the world has grown by more than 1.9 billion since our 2014 reports, an increase of more than 75 percent in just five years. This year’s total of 4.39 billion global users is also more than double the figure of 2.08 billion that we reported in our first Global Digital report back in January 2012.

For context, it’s worth noting that the World Wide Web turns 30 this year. Although many people’s connected activities now rely on recent innovations like native mobile apps, the Web still represents ‘the internet’ for most users around the world.

Data from the ITU suggest that it took roughly 16 years for the internet to reach its first billion users, but just another six years for it to reach two billion. However, the data in our Digital 2019 reports suggest that the internet is now growing at a rate of one billion new users every 2.7 years. That rate isn’t sustainable of course – at some point, everyone in the world who wants to connect to the internet will do so – but I wonder if Tim Berners-Lee could even have dreamt of the fact that his handy little tool for sharing research findings would reach almost 4½ billion people by its thirtieth birthday.

Internet user behaviors in 2019

The ways in which people use the internet are evolving quickly too, with mobile accounting for an ever-increasing share of our online activities. I’ll dig into the specifics of mobile and app use in the dedicated mobile section below, but it’s worth noting here that mobile phones now account for almost half the time that people spend on the internet.

On average, the world’s internet users spend 6 hours and 42 minutes online each day. That’s down slightly on last year’s figure of 6 hours and 49 minutes, but our suspicion is that this drop may be in part due to the large number of new users who are still learning how to use the internet, and who use the internet less than those more seasoned users who turn to their connected devices hundreds of times each day.

Despite the year-on-year drop, our online time quickly adds up. An average of more than 6½ hours a day equates to a total of more than 100 days of online time each year for every internet user. If we extend that average across the total internet user base of almost 4.4 billion users, we find that humanity will spend a collective total of more than 1.2 billion years online in 2019.

Just. Amazing.

The good news is that faster connections mean we’re achieving more in our online time. Ookla reports that average mobile connection speeds have increased by 18 percent since this time last year, while the speed of the average fixed connection has jumped by a third.

Twelve countries and territories now enjoy average fixed internet connection speeds of more than 100MBPS, while ten countries enjoy average mobile connection speeds in excess of 50MBPS.

Singapore enjoys the fastest average connections in the world at almost 191MBPS – that’s more than 50 times faster than the average connection in Venezuela at the other end of the spectrum. Iceland tops the mobile connection speed rankings, which may be one of the reasons why the country holds joint-first place in this year’s global internet penetration rankings.

Interestingly, the average mobile connection speed exceeds the average fixed connection speed in 44 out of 117 countries and territories for which Ookla reports data, and the average mobile connection speed is more than double the average fixed connection speed in 10 of those countries.

But what are the world’s 4.4 billion internet users actually doing online for those 6½ hours each day?

As you might expect, Google continues to dominate the rankings of the world’s most visited websites, with both SimilarWeb and Alexa putting the search giant at the top of their tables. Alphabet’s ‘other’ big platform – YouTube – comes in at number two on both lists, while Facebook takes third spot.

Social media platforms feature strongly on both companies’ lists, and it’s interesting to note that Twitter continues to show strong results in website rankings, despite its eroding user base (more on that in the social media section below).

Ecommerce sites have been steadily rising through the ranks of these lists over the course of the past year, and Alexa’s latest data puts five ecommerce sites in the top 20 ranking. Chinese platforms are particularly well represented this year, and it’s worth highlighting that both Taobao and Tmall now rank higher than Amazon in terms of global traffic.

‘Adult’ sites continues to feature strongly in SimilarWeb’s rankings too, although Alexa’s data tells a slightly different story. Either way, the numbers all indicate that people spend a lot of time consuming adult content.

That probably comes as little surprise, but the sheer amount of time involved may still shock you. Data from SimilarWeb suggest that, in 2019 alone, people will spend more than 1 billion days of collective human time on just the top 5 adult sites. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the average visit lasts just over 10 minutes…

More broadly, video is becoming an increasingly important part of our internet activities. Google searches for the word ‘video’ increased by 30 percent over the past year, and the query now ranks fourth amongst all global queries, behind Facebook, YouTube, and Google. [As an aside, if you’re wondering why people search for Google on Google, it’s all to do with using the address bar as a search input].

GlobalWebIndex reports that 92 percent of internet users now watch videos online each month, meaning that more than 4 billion people around the world are consuming online video content in early 2019. For context, roughly 6 billion people around the world have a television set at home, based on data reported by the ITU.

Games have become a huge part of the internet too, from simple mobile games to complex MMORPGs. GlobalWebIndex’s data also indicates that more than 1 billion people around the world now stream games over the internet each month, with games like Fortnite becoming global phenomena.

People are spending an increasing amount of time watching other people play games online, too. The latest numbers indicate that almost a quarter of all internet users – more than 1 billion people – watch livestreams of other people playing games each month. Meanwhile, more than 700 million people will watch esports in 2019 – that’s double the number of people who watched Formula 1 in 2017.

The ways in which people ‘interface’ with the internet are changing too. The use of voice control tools increased significantly during 2018, with roughly four in every ten internet users now using voice commands or voice search every month.

Crucially, roughly half of all internet users in China and India now use voice control, and with these two markets being top priorities for developers, we can expect to see even stronger growth in the use of voice tech during 2019.

Social media users in 2019

Our full suite of Digital 2019 reports includes extensive insights into people’s use of the world’s top social platforms in more than 230 countries and territories around the world. These in-depth numbers tell a mixed story though, with some platforms showing impressive growth over the past 12 months, and others starting to lose ground.

Worldwide social media user numbers have grown to almost 3.5 billion at the start of 2019, with 288 million new users in the past 12 months pushing the global penetration figure to 45 percent. Social media use is still far from evenly distributed across the globe though, and penetration rates in parts of Africa are still in the single digits.

Countries in the Middle East top the social media penetration rankings again this year, with the United Arab Emirates and Qatar tied for top spot. In some cases, the individual platform figures reported in these countries actually exceed the total population figures published by the United Nations, but this is likely because both countries have significant expat communities that are not included in ‘official’ local population figures.

At the other end of the scale, North Korea continues to languish in last place in the global social media rankings, with a penetration figure of less than 0.1 percent. This is perhaps unsurprising though, considering that the internet – or at least the internet as the rest of the world knows it – remains blocked throughout the country. We also suspect that the figures for Turkmenistan may actually be higher than those reported here, but we have been unable to source data from the county’s top platform, imo.

African nations make up the remainder of the bottom 10 countries by social media penetration, and a number of countries across the region actually registered declines in social media use over the past 12 months.

However, comparisons to total population are less representative when it comes to social media, because most platforms prohibit use by children. As a result, this year’s reports also include analysis of what we’re terming ‘eligible penetration’ – i.e. social media use among adults aged 13 and above.

Considering that almost 40 percent of the total population in some parts of Africa is below the age of 13, this has a meaningful impact on the overall social media picture. The number of social media users around the world at the start of 2019 equates to roughly 58 percent of the total ‘eligible population’, but this figure rises to more than 70 percent in almost 100 countries around the world.

In a number of countries, the total number of social media ‘users’ actually exceeds the total eligible population by a considerable margin. We’ve capped our eligible penetration figures at 99 percent though, because it’s unrealistic to expect that everybody in a country uses social media, and it’s also likely that some of these ‘users’ will represent duplicate accounts.

Even when adjusted for age, however, social media penetration in many parts of the developing world still lags below 30 percent, and 16 countries around the world still register less than 10 percent eligible penetration.

The good news is that many countries have shown strong growth in social media use over the past 12 months. Just as in the internet growth rankings above, Western Sahara posted the fastest social media growth during 2018, with the number of active users in the country increasing by more than 4½ times [note: in the absence of other data, we use active social media user numbers as a proxy for internet users in Western Sahara, which is why the numbers are the same].

Ethiopia has also seen impressive growth this year, with an additional 2.3 million new users translating to annual growth of more than 60 percent. Encouragingly, Cuba has also witnessed strong social media growth this year, despite internet access remaining a challenge across the country.

China added the greatest number of new social media users over the past 12 months, with the country’s total rising by close to 100 million new users since this time last year. The latest data suggest that more than 1 billion people in China now use social media, although we suspect that this figure is somewhat inflated by duplicate accounts. India also saw strong growth, with more than 60 million users signing up to social media for the first time during 2018.

Meanwhile, despite a flurry of restrictions on social media platforms in recent months, the number of people using social media in Iran has also grown considerably in the past year. The team at Techrasa and local social media expert Niki Aghaei both concurred that annual user growth is well into double digits, and even official government sources have reported strong growth.

The five-year growth figures for social media users are even more striking than those for internet use, with the global social media user total almost doubling since our Digital 2014 reports. This year’s total of 3.49 billion is also just over 2 billion higher than the 1.48 billion we reported in our first Global Digital report back in January 2012.

The global social media audience has also matured considerably during that time, with people around the age of 30 now accounting for the largest share of the world’s social media users. Senior audiences are now better represented too, and Facebook’s various platforms report a greater number of users over the age of 55 than users below the age of 18.

There’s still a meaningful gender imbalance across overall social media audiences too, but – as we’ll see below – this varies markedly at the individual platform level. In general, countries with the lowest overall social media penetration are also those countries with the greatest male skew.

While these figures are specific to social media users, they’re likely representative of broader internet use too, which suggests that women suffer from poor levels of internet access in many parts of the developing world. As an essential resource for education, financial inclusion, employment, and empowerment, ensuring more equal internet access for women must be a priority for the next phase of internet development.

Social media behaviors in 2019

The amount of time that people spend on social media has increased again this year, albeit very slightly. GlobalWebIndex reports that the average social media user now spends 2 hours and 16 minutes each day on social platforms – up from 2 hours and 15 minutes last year – which equates to roughly one-third of their total internet time, and one-seventh of their waking lives.

As with internet use, this time quickly adds up: if we extend this average daily time across all 3.484 billion people using social media today, we get a combined total of almost 330 million years of human time spent on social platforms during the course of 2019.

It’s worth noting that the time spent on social media varies considerably across cultures though, with internet users in Japan spending an average of just 36 minutes on social media each day. At the other end of the scale, Filipinos continue to spend the most time on social media, with this year’s average of 4 hours and 12 minutes reflecting an increase of 15 minutes per day (6 percent) versus the average that we reported last year.

The amount of time that people spend on social media each day has grown considerably over the past 5 years too, with the average user now spending 40 minutes – and 40 percent – longer each day on social compared to this time in 2014.

However, not all of that time is spent ‘being sociable’. Data from GlobalWebIndex shows that 98 percent of internet users in the world’s top economies visited a social media platform in the past month, but just 83 percent actively engaged with – or contributed to – those platforms.

Meanwhile, the average user now has an account on almost nine social media platforms, but they don’t necessarily engage with every one of these accounts each month. People are also increasingly using social media for work activities, with almost a quarter of users saying they’ve done so in the past month. If we extend this average to the total number of social media users around the world, the data suggest that more than 800 million people are using social media for work today.

Top social media platforms in 2019

Despite a troubling year in 2018, Facebook maintains its top platform ranking in early 2019, and – contrary to ongoing media hysteria – there’s little evidence to suggest that people are leaving the platform in any significant numbers.

In fact, Facebook’s monthly active users (MAU) numbers grew steadily across the past 12 months, and the platform’s latest earnings announcement reports year-on-year user growth of almost 10 percent. The platform’s five-year growth chart looks pretty impressive too.

Published January 30, 2019 - 11:17 pm UTC

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