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Web surfing the night away

It's 11pm – do you know what your neighbors are doing? Well, yes, actually. They're surfing the Internet!

That appears to be the conclusion of a study conducted by Arbor Networks, a Massachusetts-based security firm.  Arbor compiled traffic data from Internet service providers (ISPs) across North America, which shows that Internet usage peaks at 11 p.m. ET, considerably later than in previous years.

The study found that Internet activity builds steadily during the day from a low point of 6 a.m. There is a peak around 4 p.m. and then activity declines, presumably as the work and school days draw to a close. Home Internet activity starts spiking around 8 p.m. and stays surprisingly strong until well after midnight. Of course, at the 11 p.m. ET peak it is still only 8 p.m. on the west coast but, as Arbor points out, the eastern and central time zones account for three-quarters of the U.S. population, so it's clear there is a lot of late-night traffic.

So what is it that's keeping everyone up at night? Sadly, it doesn't appear to be any kind of higher calling. Internet video including YouTube and pornography appear to be the popular choices, according to Arbor's Craig Labovitz. Video usage peaks at midnight eastern, later than any other type of traffic. Online gaming also appears to be another big evening activity, but one that's most intense between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Arbor also took a look at European Internet habits and came up with some interesting differences, as the chart reveals. European traffic peaks at 7 p.m. and plummets soon after. This could have something to do with the different eating habits on either side of the Atlantic. Europeans generally eat later and longer, and perhaps are more reluctant to resume web surfing after the meal is over. Americans eat earlier and finish earlier, leaving plenty of time to turn to the Internet for their evening's entertainment.

Arbor promises more research to shed additional light on our web-surfing habits, particularly as the original study took place in July and might have been affected by summer vacation hours. More work is definitely needed before we can conclude, as one Arbor customer suggested, that  "Europeans use the Internet less at night, have better social interactions, eat better food, and generally live better lives"!

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