50 Million Web Sites Served, And Counting

Sure, the dot-com world had to shrink after the tech bubble burst in 2000, but new numbers from online stat firm Netcraft show that the dot-com universe is expanding again, and quite rapidly. And that may not even be the half of it, if similar numbers from the Internet Systems Consortium are any indication.

In its May survey of Web servers, Netcraft said it counted http responses from 50,550,965 sites, which marks the 16th consecutive month of growth for Web servers by the survey.

Netcraft said the latest numbers, which cover a 30-day span, cap a period of revived growth for the Internet, especially since it comes only 13 months after the survey crossed the 40-million mark in April, 2003.

That’s a long way from Netcraft’s first survey in August of 1995, when it counted 18,957 sites. By April 1997, it had counted one million and by July of 2001, 30 million Web sites.

Although Netcraft attributes the rebound and continued growth in Web sites as a testament to the vibrancy and renewed growth across the Internet industry, more skeptical observers point to the low cost of domains that followed the dot-com fallout, which is now helping to fuel the growth. For example, in 1995, an Internet domain could be had for around $70. Today, thanks to all the competition in the sector, a similar domain can be found for as low as $6.

The Internet Systems Consortium (ISC), the group that produces the open source DNS tool BIND (which allows IP addresses to be resolved as domain names) also produces a similar survey, albeit with a different methodology, and vastly different results.

The ISC’s Domain Name Survey has been active since August 1981 when it counted a mere 213 hosts. But the group’s latest survey released in January 2004 found over 233,101,481 million hosts, over four times higher than Netcraft’s numbers.

So what explains the approximately 183 million difference in the numbers? According to the ISC, the surveys are measuring different, yet similar things.

“The Netcraft survey counts Web servers, and the ISC survey counts hosts,” ISC Fellow Brian Reid told internetnews.com.

“While both numbers are important, the ISC number is probably a better indication of the size and maturity of the Internet, because it includes both producers and consumers of information. The Netcraft number counts only producers of information.”

Reid speculates that Netscraft’s survey is based on a spidering crawl approach (similar to the way Google indexes Web pages).

(Netcraft does not provide an official statement of how their numbers are determined on their Website. Netcraft officials were unavailable for comment by press time.)

“This would be an accurate technique for finding public servers,” Reid said, “but, of course, it will not find servers behind firewalls.”

The ISC’s Internet Domain Survey, by contrast, counts the number of IP addresses that have been assigned a name.

“Netcraft’s numbers are not comparable to ISC’s numbers, because they count different things,” Reid said.

Netcraft’s latest survey also continues to show the unabated dominance of the open source Apache Web server as the most popular web server sitting at 67 percent market share followed by Microsoft’s IIS at 21 percent.

A recent Nielsen/Net Ratings survey suggests that there are over 297 million active Internet users worldwide, 141 million of which reside in the United States.

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