How popular is the Web?

By Pauline M. Berry

1. How popular is the Web? 2 The Popularity of Some Web Sites 3 Who Travels the Web? 4 Why Is The Web So Popular?

1. How popular is the Web?

This is a difficult question to answer. Here is an information snippet from Kevin Hughes "Entering the World-Wide Web: A Guide to Cyberspace"

"From January to December 1993, the amount of network traffic (in bytes) across the National Science Foundation's (NSF's) North American network attributed to Web use multiplied by 187 times. In December 1993 the Web was ranked 11th of all network services in terms of sheer byte traffic - just twelve months earlier, its rank was 127."

In June 1993, Matthew Gray at MIT ran a small program which automatically travels links within the Web network to try to determine just how many sites there are that offer information over the World-Wide Web. His small "World-Wide Web Wanderer" found around 100 sites that month and over two hundred thousand documents. In January 1996 his robot found over 100,000 unique sites. The robot's programming was improved somewhat, and a number of factors may have affected the final count. As Matthew Gray says, "The growth of the Web has been remarkable even compared to the Internet at large, as shown by the number of hosts per Web server. In June of 1995, even with the phenomenal growth of the Internet, the number of Web servers soared to a point where one in every 270 machines on the Internet is a Web server."

Brian Pinkerton at the University of Washington wrote a similar program called the "WebCrawler". Its run in mid-May 1994 found over 3,800 unique Web sites. Its run in April 1996 found over 145,000.

Given that many sites are private (hidden behind corporate firewalls or not connected to the public Internet), estimates of the number of active Web users are difficult to verify. However, it is probably safe to say that a conservative estimate would put the number of active Web users over 14 million (this assumes around 100 people per web server).


2 The Popularity of Some Web Sites

Perhaps the best example of early growth in Web usage can be seen at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). The NCSA produces a number of popular software products for World-Wide Web use and their Web site is used as documentation for their products as well as a repository for announcements of new events on the Web. In July 1993 NCSA's site received roughly 100,000 requests per week. Currently it receives at least one million requests per week and its traffic continues to increase.

One of the major search engine sites is that of ALTAVISTA. It claims to be accessed over 8 million times every day.

The most popular site in Australia?: "The Next Online Web site is available free of charge to anyone with Internet access. The site grew out of an interest and investment made in Next Online by Rolling Stone magazine publisher Philip Keir, and has been online since October 1994.

It is visited by between 20,000 and 30,000 people each week, which gives rise to its claim of most popular Web site. 50% of visitors are of Australian origin, 30% from the USA, and the other 20% mostly from Scandinavia. Next Online initially took advantage of in-house talent, placing selected articles and images from Rolling Stone and Hyper magazine online." Ric Curnow


3 Who Travels the Web?

An informal comparison of host statistics from 15 government, research, educational, and corporate Web sites in March 1994 shows that the people roaming the World-Wide Web follow the makeup of the Internet fairly well.

Shown in Table 1 are the top five Web users by domain and the average percentage of total hosts each Web site received. Next to these statistics is the estimated percentage of total hosts on the Internet for these domains.

         Domain           % of Web Traffic    % of Internet Traffic

U.S. Educational (.edu) 49% 27% U.S. Commercial (.com) 20% 26% U.S. Government (.gov) 9% 6% United Kingdom (.uk) 7% 5% Canada (.ca) 5% 4%

Table: Top Five World-Wide Web Users, by Domain From January 1994 Stanford Research Institute (SRI International) statistics, available from ftp://nic.merit.edu.

In January 1994, James Pitkow (pitkow@cc.gatech.edu) and Mimi Recker at the Georgia Institute of Technology held the first World-Wide Web user survey. They had 1300 valid responses, at the end of 1995 the 4th GVU survey had 23000 unique resonses. Some of the statistical results are summarised below:

      User Profile          January 1994       October 1995  

Aged between 21 & 30 56% 35% Male 94% 70% located in North America 69% 86%

"Although it is impossible to know for sure, it can be guessed that, in 1994 the largest segment roaming the World-Wide Web consisted of four-year campus populations within the United States." Kevin Hughes

This user profile is changing,a survey by SRI International in California in 1995 divided Web users into two roughly equal categories. 50% of Web users being highly educated professionals working in technical and academic field whilst the "other half" are students and recent graduates working in technical, managerial or professional fields. In all recent studies the proportion of female Web users in increasing.


4 Why Is The Web So Popular?

The Web offers a very simple-to-use interface to the traditionally hard-to-master resources on the Internet. It is probably this ease of use as well as the popularity of many graphical interfaces to the Web that caused the explosion of Web traffic from 1993.

The potential of using networked hypertext and multimedia has prompted many users to create and explore countless innovative applications on the Internet. It is perhaps no surprise that there were initially more educational users are on the Web. However, as the possibilities for this new medium become more apparent and the popularity so widespread there has been a rash of commercial interest in the Web.


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