The latest round of statistics about the Internet presents an intriguing picture of how this international medium is evolving. Some of the statistics are to be expected, but some are surprising.

For help with common problems, more Americans now use the Internet rather than consult experts or family members, according to the latest Pew Internet & American Life Project survey. Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed use the Internet while 53 percent turn to professionals such as doctors, lawyers or financial experts, and 45 percent seek out friends and family members.

The survey indicated that 77 percent of Americans now have Internet access, with 64 percent having broadband access and 13 percent having slower dial-up access. Those with dial-up access are generally poorer, older, less educated and more likely to rely on TV and radio for information than broadband users.

More Americans than ever are using the Internet to help them choose the next U.S. president, according to Pew. About 24 percent of Americans say they regularly learn something about the presidential campaign from the Internet, which is up from 13 percent during the 2004 campaign.

The Internet may have been invented by Americans, but other countries are currently taking to it with more enthusiasm, according to a new Harris survey done for Symantec.

The Chinese are by far the most active bloggers among the eight countries surveyed. Eighty-six percent of adults with online access in China spend time on their personal blogs, compared with 44 percent in Brazil, 39 percent in Japan, 20 percent in the United States, 19 percent in the UK, 18 percent in France, 17 percent in Australia and 13 percent in Germany.

Some countries are also more active than America at retrieving news and opinion. Ninety-three percent of adults online in Brazil spend time following news sites and blogs compared with 92 percent in China, 83 percent in Japan, 77 percent in the United States, 76 percent in France, 75 percent in Australia, 71 percent in Germany and 66 percent in the UK.

The UK leads online shopping, with 96 percent of online users buying merchandise online. This compares with 93 percent in Germany, 90 percent in both the United States and Japan, 89 percent in France, 86 percent in China, 84 percent in Australia and 81 percent in Brazil.

Personal finance on the Web isn't quite as popular as shopping, but the majority of online users in the countries surveyed have handled some financial transactions on the Internet. China leads the way with 87 percent of Web-connected adults doing online banking or paying bills online at least sometimes. This is followed by 85 percent in the UK, 84 percent in France, 81 percent in Australia, 79 percent in the United States, 78 percent in Germany, 74 percent in Japan and 68 percent in Brazil. 

When it comes to making friends online, the Chinese are also out front, with 84 percent who have online access doing so. This compares with 77 percent for Brazil, 54 percent for Australia, 45 percent for the United States and Germany, 42 percent for the UK, 38 percent for Japan and 31 percent for France.

Among the newest Internet activities is watching or downloading movies. In the United States, 41 percent of adults and 46 percent of children online do this at least sometimes. In China, the figures are 97 percent of adults and 96 percent of children. China also leads the world in downloading music with 97 percent of adults and 98 percent of kids online doing so; it's much lower in the United States - 56 percent of both adults and kids.

As you might expect, the most popular Internet activity among kids is games. In the United States, 96 percent of kids and 74 percent of adults online play games. In China, the figures are 99 percent and 95 percent, respectively.

Despite the presence of spam, viruses, and phishing, e-mail remains the most popular Internet activity among adults, with 97 percent to 99 percent of adults online in all countries surveyed exchanging e-mail.

According to the most recent Nielsen survey on the subject, the United States' 10 most popular Web sites, in order, are: Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, MSN/Windows Live, AOL Media Network, YouTube, Fox Interactive Media, Amazon, eBay and Apple. Google leads search engines and is used for 56 percent of all the Web searches, compared with 18 percent for Yahoo and 14 percent for MSN/Windows Live Search.

Reid Goldsborough  |  Contributing Writer
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at reidgold@comcast.net or www.reidgoldsborough.com.