SYDNEY: Browsing social networks now makes up over 20% of the total time Australian consumers spend online, a study has found.

Research firm comScore reported that the country's 13.4m netizens dedicated 18.8 hours to surfing the web during December 2010.

This marked a contraction of two hours on an annual basis, and below the global average of 23.1 hours.

Some 89.9% of the internet population use search and navigation services, 81.6% access properties such as Facebook and Twitter, 67.3% browse ecommerce platforms and 66.4% utilise directories.

Auction sites registered a 48% penetration, blogs posted 45.2%, instant messaging hit 36%, and 27.1% of consumers employ this route to view TV content.

Social networks now take 22% of all time online, beating portals, which secured 19.7%, and instant messaging, yielding 11.6%, although the two latter categories recorded 10% and 8% declines year-on-year respectively.

Facebook has a 75.5% reach, with the typical member dedicating 305 minutes to its pages a month, as Windows Live Profile, LinkedIn, MySpace and Twitter trail considerably.

One adjacent shift is the decreasing importance of web-based email, dropping ten percentage points, to 68.7%, for penetration, while usage duration has also fallen.

Turning to retail, Amazon claims the highest uptake levels, on 19.8%, received 18.5%, attained 10.8%, and Coles lodged 10.6%.

Group buying is another sector rapidly gaining ground, as Microsoft's Cudo attracts 418,000 vistiors a month, ahead of Spreets, generating 220,000, and Jumponit, on 161,000.

A 53.7% majority of Australia's netizens visit YouTube, streaming content for 139 minutes per month each.

The iTunes software app is exploited by approximately a third of the connected audience, and CBS Interactive logged 28.2%.

More specifically, 10.3m individuals watch web video, or 79% of people at least 15 years old, engage in this pastime.

Men under 35 years old enjoyed roughly twice as much video as women of the same age, topping 12 hours, and a gender gap remained in place across all demographics.

Over 941m videos are played back every month, lasting a combined 78m hours, equating to 89 videos, or 7.5 hours, per viewer.

Google holds an 80% share of the search market, while eBay and Facebook take second and third, albeit both a long way behind, on 6% and 3%.

However, Microsoft's portfolio - including MSN and Hotmail - had the largest total reach, 95.9%, surpassing Google's portfolio, on 92%, and Facebook, on 75.5%,

"Consumers are turning to the internet with increasing frequency for a vast array of activities ... as digital media becomes embedded in the daily lives of Australians," said Will Hodgman, comScore's executive vice president, Asia Pacific.

"Look for 2011 to be another year of continued innovation and increased competition as brands vie for consumers' attention in this rapidly fragmenting digital environment."

Data sourced from comScore; additional content by Warc staff