Latin America is seeing explosive growth in its online population with social networks championing other communication mediums, while in the areas of video usage and online banking, the region still has a lot of room to grow, according to consultancy ComScore.
ComScore's senior VP for Latin America, Alejandro Fosk, showed in a webinar that the Latin American population of internet users over the age of 15 accessing from home and work had grown 15% in 2010 to 111mn.
Compared with other regions, North America's growth rate was almost flat, while the Middle East and Africa grew a staggering 32%. Within Latin America, Brazil saw the highest growth last year of 23%.
Brazil had the largest online population at 45.1% for home and office users older than 6. Though taking into account users of shared computers, the extended online population was 77.3mn.
Venezuela and Colombia saw the largest growth in their online populations in 2010, at 27% and 26% respectively.
Latin America's large young population is a driver of internet use. Some 62% of the region's internet population was between age 15 and 35 compared with the global average of 53%.
People in the 15-24 age group were the most intensive users, spending an average 26.6 hours per month online - above the global average of 22.8 hours.
Of the age group under 35, men spent more time online than women, while in the 35 or older age group, women spend more time online. Regional average of time spent online for 15 plus is 23 hours.
Pushing growth is the massive adoption of social networks and the use of digital cameras, now available on most mobile phones, which further drives social network use.
"The way we're consuming the internet has changed radically, and social networks are taking on a more protagonist role," Fosk said.
Search is also a huge. Latin American internet users had the highest rate of visits per search and results per searcher in the world, according to ComScore, with users seeking information, news, images and products.
Some 88% of internet users in the region accessed social networks, compared with the global average of 70%.
And instant messenger - despite the decline in its use worldwide - was still popular in Latin America, with a 68% penetration rate compared with the global average of 35%. Email use was also high at 76%, versus 63% globally.
"In other words, we still use IM as a top communications experience. This confirms something we commented last year during the same presentation that Latin Americans see it as the cheapest way to communicate," Fosk said.
Facebook is massive in Latin America. Six of the biggest 15 Facebook using markets worldwide were in Latin America last year. Penetration rates among online populations were Chile (89.5%), Argentina (88.3%), Venezuela (87.8%), Colombia (86.7%), Peru (83.4%), and Mexico (82.6%). In Brazil, Orkut is still bigger than Facebook.
Latin America also had six of the top 15 Twitter markets - Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Colombia - and that was taking into account only users that access via their PCs, and not via mobile devices.
"Social network continue to be the central place of contact for experience on the web in Latin America. However with such high levels, the growth rate has been declining," Fosk said.
As regards access to other types of sites, some 62.1% of the internet population in the region accessed retail sites - below the global average of 63.9%, and well below North America (85.5%) and Europe (72.8%).
Surveys showed that Latin Americans find the internet very useful in providing information when making buying decisions. However, under penetration of online buying mechanisms meant that the level of these types of purchases was still low.
Consumer electronics was the only subcategory in retail that was close to the global average as regards site visits.
A ComScore survey showed that Brazilians gave the highest rating of local retail sites, while Peru and Chile gave the lowest rating.
Group selling sites like Groupon saw significant expansion in 2010 in Latin America, with Argentina as Groupon's largest growth market. About one in five web users in Argentina visited the Groupon site in February 2011, whereas in Brazil the rate was only 6%.
Visits to online bank sites in Latin America were 25.7% in 2010 - below the global average of 27% and almost half that of North America at 47.7%. Venezuela, Chile and Brazil showed the highest levels of online bank site visits in the region.