The internet virtually rules our existence today, especially in comms fields like marketing and PR—but you’d be surprised how low the average person’s general web knowledge can be. Nonprofit web domain provider Public Interest Registry recently released 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. The study 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.

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, in a news release. “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.”

Consumers’ internet knowledge much lower than you think

Internet 101: What we 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:

  • A total of 47 percent of the world’s population has access to the Internet, which amounts to approximately 9 billion peopleglobally who are not online.
  • The correct definition ofthe internet is a system of interconnected networks that allows different computers to connect with one another.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The first generic top-level domains created in the early development of the internet were: .org, .com, .net, .gov, .edu, .mil and .int.
  • If you’d like to create a website, you can purchase a domain name from a registrar.

Test your knowledge here.

This report presents the findings of a survey conducted among a sample of 1,014 adults comprising 506 men and 508 women 18 years of age and older. The online omnibus study is conducted twice a week among a demographically representative U.S. sample of 1,000 adults 18 years of age and older.  This survey was live on May 22-24, 2017.

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Richard Carufel

Richard Carufel

Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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