What Europeans do at Night

The New York Times recently had an interesting piece on the changing daily Internet usage patterns in the US. The basic gist of the article was Americans are using the Internet more than in the past and starting to twitter / surf / email much earlier in the day.

Which made us wonder if Europeans are any different?

It turns out — yes.

We took a look using the Internet Observatory at daily traffic through roughly 40 North American and 25 European consumer / regional providers (taking the average of 10 weekdays in July).

We graph the daily average of European and North American Internet traffic below. To make the graph more readable, we show both European and US traffic as a percentage of their respective peak traffic levels (i.e. 100% is the respective peak of each Europe and US traffic). All times are EDT. The yellow shaded area represents daylight hours in Europe and the US.

As expected, both Europe and US Internet traffic have a lot in common. Both show regular, daily cyclical traffic patterns with Internet traffic dropping at night and growing during the day.

Also expected, we see the two graph lines offset by their roughly 5 hour timezone differences, i.e. European traffic bottoms out at 12am EDT / 5am BST / 6am CEST followed by US traffic reaching its low at 5am EDT.

But what is really interesting is how the daily US and Europe Internet traffic trends differ.

To make some of these differences more obvious, we show European and North American traffic on a single daily timeline. In other words, 5am for European is 5am GMT and 5am for the US is 5am EDT.

Even after we account for the multiple time zones in both Europe (3 if we exclude Russia) and the US (4 if we exclude Halifax and Alaska), European traffic really is different.

Some observations:

  • We all share the same morning and evening Internet addiction: On average, European traffic starts picking up around 5am GMT / 7 am CEST and similarly US traffic takes off around the same time at 7am EDT. Internet traffic also reaches its peaks in the early evening (7pm GMT / 9pm CEST in Europe and 10pm EDT / 7 pm PDT in the US).

  • North American’s don’t surf over dinner: Unlike European traffic, US daily Internet percentages take a small dip in the early evening between 6pm and 10pm EDT. In contrast, Europe traffic keeps climbing through the evening until a marked 9pm GMT / 11pm CEST drop off. Of course, Europeans tend towards later (and longer) dinner hours than their North American counterparts.

  • What Europeans do at night: Actually, this bullet point should be what Europeans don’t do at night — spend a lot of time on the Internet. In contrast to North America, European traffic plummets much more steeply and reaches a lower daily minimum than US traffic (US traffic never drops below 50% whereas Europe declines more more than 60% from its peak). Apparently, North American Internet users stay up later and use the Internet longer (next blog post we’ll explore what they’re doing on the Internet late at night).


Editor’s Note: This blog is the first in a series of weekly (or more likely semimonthly) posts leading up to the publication of the joint University of Michigan, Merit Network and Arbor Networks “2009 Internet Observatory Report”. The full technical reports goes into detail on the evolving Internet topology, commercial ecosystem and traffic patterns — available this October.


25 Responses to “What Europeans do at Night”

August 18, 2009 at 2:42 am, Vez said:


August 18, 2009 at 3:08 am, George Tziralis said:

Interesting, if not kinda weird results. I think that GMT is a bad approximation or European average (especially in the summer), you’d better try CET. Also, I suggest you merging the two graphs for better readability. Again, great work, looking forward to your next posts and book.

August 18, 2009 at 4:43 am, chris said:

Well, this is easily explained. It clearly shows that much fewer Europeans use the internet privately (Facebook, Twitter et al.) in the evening than in the US. Of course, this also has to do with the different demographic structure, whereas the European population is significantly older than the US counterpart.

August 18, 2009 at 4:49 am, Nicolas said:

You might want to consider that all the european countries don’t have the same dinner time. For example spaniards start eating around 10pm, while the most froggies eat for an hour or less between 7 and 9 pm. maybe a stat per country would help showing these differences.

August 18, 2009 at 5:26 am, Arturo Servin said:

Is it outbound, inbound or a composite of both?

Could it be that the US host some services that are accessed by other regions in different timezones?

August 18, 2009 at 5:26 am, Lesenswert: Social Gaming, Xonio.com, Rocket Fuel, Basic Thinking, MySpace, Gimahhot :: deutsche-startups.de said:

[…] What Europeans do at Night The New York Times recently had an interesting piece on the changing daily Internet usage patterns in the US. The basic gist of the article was Americans are using the Internet more than in the past and starting to twitter / surf / email much earlier in the day. Which made us wonder if Europeans are any different? It turns out — yes. Arbor Networks […]

August 18, 2009 at 5:29 am, Sjoerd van Groning said:

I think there should be a correction for the timezones/countries. In Europe, the highest density internet usage/population is roughly UK, NL, FR, DE, mostly in the same timezone. In the US, westcoast and eastcoast are densely-populated zones.

When you better narrow it down to people living the same hours, the pattern will be better to analyse. I am very sure that the dinner-dip is present in the Netherlands (working at an ISP).

August 18, 2009 at 5:42 am, phil said:

“5am for European is 5am GMT” It isn’t for most of them. See e.g. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Time_zones_of_Europe.svg
GMT is just the blue strip in the west.

August 18, 2009 at 7:06 am, nandan said:

really very informative for a student of networking

August 18, 2009 at 7:18 am, Titan said:

Interesting data but please learn how to draw a proper chart. Also discard the first chart, it’s confusing and doesn’t bring any real info. 10x

August 18, 2009 at 9:36 am, Donogh said:

Unfortunately, I don’t believe it makes sense to group all European countries for statistics like these. As earlier commenters pointed out, the time zones are off, but as someone living in Europe I can assure you Europe is not one place.

Ireland and the UK are quite similar, France and Belgium have similarities, Germany and parts of the Netherlands are alike, but culturally there are vast differences between most countries, even when they share a border. The fact that we have so many official languages in the EU is a testament to that.

The other side of it is Internet penetration rates vary wildly between EU countries, which I’m sure is a major underlying factor in this survey. You would certainly need to do a separate survey for every European country and you would need to factor in Internet penetration somehow.

Interesting topic all the same! : )

August 18, 2009 at 11:29 am, Dio said:

Also remember that in central European countries people don’t have “dinner” at all; usually we only have a small meal in the evening (slice of bread, an apple, whatever). The main meal of the day is taken at noon.

August 18, 2009 at 12:11 pm, Random bits « Equilibrium Networks said:

[…] What Europeans Do at Night […]

August 18, 2009 at 12:37 pm, Aeroid said:

Apart from cultural variations, july is also one of the worsed months for such a data sample: spain for example is almost completly on vacation. Another point is, that population densitity is higher in Europes center and US east and west coast. Maybe these are some factors that could explain this awkward result.

August 18, 2009 at 2:40 pm, Americans enjoy middle-of-the-night web surfing more than Europeans do – The Next Web said:

[…] look at the graph below, put together by the team at Arbor networks (via the Internet Observatory), highlights a number of interesting […]

August 18, 2009 at 6:09 pm, Sam Steiner said:

Ha! You caought me (European) surfing the web at night while all the rest of the people in my town are sleeping or watching TV 🙂

August 19, 2009 at 3:34 am, Devang said:

Try comparing with India and China also along with US and Europe. Also show a comparison of actual traffic in a chart.
I don’t need to explain how, you know it better…

August 19, 2009 at 4:03 am, The surfing day - Cash-Bandit.com said:

[…] that may not be entirely true, according to an interesting blog post by Arbor Networks, which monitors internet traffic. They’ve set about comparing usage patterns in the US and […]

August 19, 2009 at 4:40 am, Flow » Blog Archive » Daily Digest for August 19th - The zeitgeist daily said:

[…] Shared What Europeans do at Night […]

August 19, 2009 at 6:41 am, tamas said:

Perhaps Europeans have a life?

Seriously, all the above arguments are cancelled out. The dinner time drop of North American traffic suggests that the influence of other regions routed through there is small. The cultural variation of different dinner times in Europe would be enough not to expect a European dip, and there is none. Thus the observation remains: Europe has shorter Internet day. None of the above gives an explanation for that (except for the suggestion that Europeans use home internet less — which would explain it, but I think it’s bogus), and I do not have a clue either.

Is it possible at all to get country level data? Would that even make technological sense?

In any case, brilliant question!

August 19, 2009 at 9:50 am, Craig Labovitz said:

Rather then reply individually, some general responses to the above comments:

– I agree CEST would have been more representative of European traffic. GMT was just simpler since our native data collection infrastructure uses UTC and I could skip a conversion step.

– Having fond memories of late night tapas in Madrid and more than a few nights in a Cork pub (as well as a varied array of other cities and countries in between), I understand the challenge in viewing Europe as single, cultural monolith — it clearly is not.

– Unfortunately, our data granularity is mostly at the level of continent — without a significant amount of work, we cannot easily tease out traffic patterns by individual country.

– The traffic is the sum of outbound and inbound. We explicitly excluded tier1 transit networks to avoid bias from Europe / Asia traffic going to US based content / servers.

August 19, 2009 at 4:35 pm, Hudson Barton said:

This data largely matches my own on the fluctuations of Skype usage, which I have been looking at for more than 5 years. Some of my data is displayed at http://ckipe.com/borderless/ . The main difference is that I am looking at one particular cloud of traffic, but worldwide…. which I parse into three regions (The Americas, Europe/Africa, and Asia/Pacific). I’ll note for you that there is a lot of seasonal fluctuation. That’s something I don’t think you have looked at yet. Anyway, I’d love to compare notes sometime. You can contact me on Skype (garnet_stone).

August 20, 2009 at 1:24 pm, David Beckemeyer said:

What are North American Internet users doing on the Internet late at night?

Talking to Europeans? — And Asians?

October 14, 2009 at 1:40 pm, Two-Year Study of Global Internet Traffic Will Be Presented At NANOG47 said:

[…] Observatory blog post series: /blog/asert/2009/08/what-europeans-do-at-night/ /blog/asert/2009/08/the-internet-after-dark/ […]

November 05, 2009 at 8:37 am, Weekly Email: 3 September 2009 « Culture Politick said:

[…] Internet Observatory Report’ out this October a regular blog reveals what Europeans do at night, HERE; daily P2P (Peer to Peer) traffic trends – ‘highly suggestive of either persistent congestion […]

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