No one rang a bell. And you may not have noticed. But sometime in late July the number of websites in the world may have surpassed one billion. That’s: 1,000,000,000.
Don’t believe me? Check it for yourself. As I write this, the official count at internetlivestats.com is about 1,050,000,000. It was under one billion in mid-July. The number may be higher by the time you read this.
Whatever the figure of the moment, it is a staggering number. Some of these websites are inactive, of course. But the level of creative activity reveals a transformation of human communication that is barely comprehensible.
More than any other single thing, the growth of the web gives meaning to “future shock,” the term sociologist Alvin Toffler coined in his book of the same title. Published in 1970, the book warned us that the pace of technological and social change was accelerating. People and institutions, he predicted, might not be able to keep up. While most books predicting the future are almost laughably wrong, his is one of the few worth noting.
The driving force behind this change itself was also new. Intel co-founder Gordon Moore observed in 1965 that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit was doubling every year. His observation is now known as “Moore’s Law.”
The speed of change here is so amazing, many younger people may not grasp it because it seems as if it was “always this way.” So here’s a quick recap for the development of the World Wide Web: Tim Berners-Lee, a British physicist, published the first website in August of 1991— only 23 years ago. A year later there were 10 websites. The count was 130 a year after that.
Then the real growth began.
The website count started 1994 at 2,738, rose tenfold to begin 1995 at 23,500 and rose tenfold again to open 1996 at 257,601. The first million sites were up by late 1996. The first 10 million websites were up before 2000. And the first 100 million websites were up before 2007.
My website, www.scottburns.com , launched in July 1996. I did it “in my spare time, at home” using Microsoft FrontPage, one of the early website creation and management tools. I am proud to say that, one way or another, it has been in continuous operation ever since. Back then I worried that it was late to the party.
But let’s explore that billion website figure a little further. With a global population of 7 billion human beings, we have a website for about every seven people on the planet. And since only 3 billion people have access to the Internet, a more meaningful figure is one website for every three people.
Here’s a way to grasp the growth of the web: Compare it to the growth of the human population. According to estimates on the Census Bureau website, it took human beings about 240 years to grow tenfold from 700 million to the current 7 billion. It took 2,525 years to grow 10 fold from 70 million to 700 million.
These are rough figures, of course. The actual estimate is that the human population was 50 million in 1000 BC and 100 million in 500 BC. So I’ve just picked 750 BC as the midpoint for having about 70 million humans.
It is also estimated that the number of human beings was a mere 7 million in 4000 BC, some 6,014 years ago, give or take a few centuries. Meanwhile, the number of websites grew by the same factor— times 1,000— in only 17 years. (The table below provides a side-by-side comparison of growth for the two populations.)
Can we make too much of these figures? You bet. But I think everyone would agree that the use of the World Wide Web is still young. It’s also pretty easy to see how someone involved with the web over the last 17 years might feel, well, a bit prehistoric.
Comparing the Human Population with the Website Population
This table compares the growth of the human population with the growth of the website population as each grew by factors of ten.
|Number of Websites||Year||Number of Humans||Year|
|One billion||2014||Seven billion||2014|
|100 million||2006||700 million||about 1775 AD|
|10 million||2000||70 million||about 750 BC|
|1 million||1997||7 million||about 4000 BC|