In the battle for our digital attention, social media appears to be winning. According to Nielsen, social networking is now the most popular activity online.

In contrast, email now occupies less of our time online than gaming. But rumors of its demise are greatly exaggerated. The email is still alive and kicking.

According to Nielsen, Americans spend almost a quarter of their time online on social
networks and blogs. That’s up from 15.8% a just a year ago (a 43% increase).

Meanwhile, email dropped two spots in time consumption online. In June of last year, email was the most popular online activity, occupying 11.5% of people’s time online. Now it has been surpassed by both social media and online games, which take a 10.2% share of people’s time, compared to the 8.3% that people spend on email these days.

Is email losing its value for consumers? Not exactly. As Nielsen puts it:

“Despite some predictions otherwise, the rise of social networking
hasn’t pushed email and instant messaging into obscurity just yet.
Although both saw double-digit declines in share of time, email remains
as the third heaviest activity online (8.3 percent share of time) while
instant messaging is fifth, accounting for four percent of Americans
online time.”

Can we expect people to replace email with social media? Not likely. Email may become more of a utility tool than the time waster it once was. Extended messaging and interaction between friends and coworkers now seems to happen in other venues. But email and instant messaging are not disappearing. Email especially remains a big part of the top trifecta of time consuming activities online.

According to Nielsen
analyst Dave Martin:

“Despite the almost unlimited nature of what you can do on the web, 40% of U.S. online time is spent on just three activities – social
networking, playing games and emailing leaving a whole lot of other
sectors fighting for a declining share of the online pie.”

Other than gaming and social networking, videos/movies was the only other categories that saw a significant rise in share of U.S. activity online. The other interesting sector to keep an eye on will be surfing at the major portals.

Both AOL and Yahoo are in the midst of a major content push to retain eyeballs on their sites. But the decline in viewership has been steep. A year ago, people spent 5.5% of their time online on portals. Now they spend 4.4%. That’s a 19% decline.

But portals are still the fourth most popular activity online. And they’re the second most popular activity on the mobile internet, with an 11.6% share of time. It will be interesting to see if any of the investment that the portals have been making pays off next year. Or if they start focusing more clearly on mobile going forward.