The Web Use Project is Eszter Hargittai’s research group at Northwestern University. The core focus of the work in this group is on how people use the Internet and other digital media in their everyday lives and in particular, how differences in digital media uses may contribute to social inequality, broadly defined.

Started during Hargittai’s Ph.D. studies at Princeton University (1997-2003), the group is now housed in Northwestern University’s School of Communication.

Current studies include research on the following:

  • Web-use skill differences and how these relate to differentiated online activities
  • Variation in online participation such as creating and sharing content on the Web
  • Political participation and civic engagement (both online and offline)
  • Health information seeking (both online and offline)
  • Conducting job searches (both online and offline)
  • Keeping up on goings-on in the world (both online and offline)
  • The adoption of social network sites and other online services
  • Information seeking for everyday tasks
  • Methodological issues related to the study of the above questions
  • Programs to improve people's Web-use skills

The group hosts several graduate students and undergraduate research assistants in addition to project staff and occasional visitors and interns.

The research involves whatever methodology is best suited to answer questions of interest including both quantitative and qualitative analyses. Much of our current work has relied on surveys and in-person observations of people’s Web usage. We continue to collect such data supplemented recently by focus group research as well. We have collected several unique data sets, but also draw on secondary sources when appropriate (e.g., we have worked with the Current Population Survey’s Computer and Internet Use Supplement, and Hargittai was part of the team that worked on the General Social Survey’s Internet Module).

The research is made possible by generous funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation through its Digital Media and Learning Initiative, the National Science Foundation, a research gift from Nokia, a research award from Google, a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, grants from the Robert & Kaye Hiatt Fund, in addition to institutional support from Northwestern University.

See our publications and updates about talks and press coverage for details about our current and past work.