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How Big is the Internet?

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An ADSL modem, one way to connect to the Internet.
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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 July 2014
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Assessing the size of the Internet is a somewhat difficult proposition, since it is a distributed body, and no complete index of it exists. What we mean by asking how large the Internet is also plays into how we answer the question. Do we mean how many people use the Internet? How many websites are on the Internet? How many bytes of data are contained on the Internet? How many distinct servers operate on the Internet? How much traffic runs through the Internet per second? All of these different metrics could conceivably be used to address the sheer size of the Internet, but all are very different.

Perhaps the simplest metric is simply how many people use the Internet. This can be viewed as the population of the Internet, and so would seem to be a decent gauge of its size. Many different companies try to measure Internet usage, ranging from Nielsen Ratings to the Office of the CIA to Serverwatch. The general answer seems to be that just over a billion people used the Internet in 2008. Of these, about 500 million use the Internet at least once a week, making them more-or-less permanent citizens of the Internet population.

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It may be that what most people mean when they ask the size of the Internet is how many bytes it takes up. Estimating that is a fairly difficult task, but one person made an estimate not so long ago who can probably be trusted to have a good idea. Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, the world’s largest index of the Internet, estimated the size at roughly 5 million terabytes of data. That’s over 5 billion gigabytes of data, or 5 trillion megabytes. Schmidt further noted that in its seven years of operations, Google has indexed roughly 200 terabytes of that, or .004% of the total size.

There are thought to be some 155 million websites on the Internet, but this number fluctuates wildly from month to month, and one runs into a problem of what exactly constitutes a website. Is a person’s individual Facebook page its own website? How about their LiveJournal or blog? What if the blog is hosted by a blog service?

Other metrics for the Internet's size run into problems with finding any reasonable numbers on them. People estimate there are roughly 75 million servers worldwide, but this number may be off by up to a factor of five. The traffic that runs through the Internet in a single day might seem like it would be easily measured, but in fact it is very hard to find a reliable collection of this data, because of the sheer amount of computers, servers, and nations involved.

Perhaps the best way to conceive of something as inconceivable as the size of the Internet is to follow the lead of Russel Seitz. He took estimates for size and traffic of the entire Internet, and used this with the weight of the energy used to move a byte of information around. Although minuscule individually, over trillions and trillions of bytes it slowly added up. How large is the Internet? According to Russel Seitz: two ounces.

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Discuss this Article

anon324813
Post 49

On the question of who's going to own the internet, I would say that nobody is going to own it, but the really important issue is, who's going to control it!

The plans for achieving this were made long ago, and accepted by most nations and other bodies of power that have great interest in this goal.

The United Nations have a stated goal of taking control of the internet, and to be the supreme authority that implements the laws and regulations the signatories of various treaties have agreed on. This will give them right to charge us a fee to generate revenue in order to pay for their tyrannical surveillance of everything anyone puts out onto the internet. And even worse, it gives them the power to decide what's to be allowed or not. This is a genius scheme, because your government can refer to them if there's a dispute over some content being censored and even removed.

The governments of the world are only to happy to sign these kinds of treaties, and most have already, which makes it easy to censor internet content. So this really means the end of free speech as we know it, and the sad thing is that very few are aware of this, let alone trying to resist it!

Please research it and spread the word about it! It's the most important issue of our time, probably the most important issue concerning personal freedom and rights that have ever faced humanity!

anon323684
Post 48

@anon280389: The internet is still running on advertisement money. The reason facebook, twitter, google, youtube, etc. are all free is because they sell your statistics to advertisers who in their turn do targeted advertisements for specific people or groups of people.

I'd rather pay 50€/month than the current system just to keep my privacy.

anon280389
Post 46

The internet used to be free, with such sites as net zero and alta vista. Yes, it was free for the user and paid for by the advertiser. Now If I could just remember who it was who changed all that.

anon220591
Post 41

And you can get free internet as of today, and last week, and the last four years. It's called dial up. Slow as hell, but you can get it free if you dig a bit.

But you still have to have phone service, which you can get for free, if you dig enough. Well, I say that. You may not be able to get phone service for free. Happy hunting.

anon220590
Post 40

So, if you froze the internet from the time this article was created, and all of it could be downloaded from a OC192 LINE (10 gbps), it would take you about 126 years to download the Internet, and 22,649,851 years on dial up (56kbps), and 126,839 years on the fastest DSL/cable (10 Mbps) and 9,909,309 years on some of the slowest dsl (128kbps).

anon170527
Post 39

Nothing is free. But my free water comes from the well behind my house. If I had a roof full of solar panels I wouldn't have to pay for electricity to pump it off the ground. Then I would be truly living off the grid.

Taxes and Death are a part of life. But hey, why can't someone demand free internet or that at least my taxes covered it, or maybe all the advertising? We don't all try to sell or spam other people. We sometimes contribute invaluably through helping out with distributed computing projects such as ones that study protein folding. Some of us are useful nodes, searching for well researched answers, not a grumbling bunch of crap about how they paid for it, or they own it, or they take care of it.

Because, for all we know, they were subsidized by the government or banks with our pooled tax money or savings to provide a service, and for some companies it was phones, others Internet. Who are “they” anyway, and why are we submitting to them?

If we each were born with our own IP and connected to each other with a rat's nest of cabling we would have a free monthly internet that was slow and awkward. Now we have an internet that is crumbling into decay by greedy companies trying to regulate it with download caps to line pockets with money instead of poles with cable, while neglecting improving this pipe called the internet, the companies soared on profits instead of putting money and equipment into to improve it into a faster and better internet that supports more users and data. And yes, the internet is infinite, a.k.a., unmeasurable. Is it green? Who cares? Is it fast, and is there a download limit?

anon138358
Post 33

Such a statement about Google or Microsoft owning the web is as silly as his comment about "If it's so damn big, why are we paying these creeps for it?" To start with that one, you're paying for access to it because you want to access it, which means that someone has to host servers that will provide you with said access. This costs money. Thus, they charge you (even McDonald's charges someone for your "free" access.. every time they purchase something. This is how business works).

The internet is a commodity. Products and services. Hardware. Software. Such things cost money to create and maintain. Therefore, someone has to pay for it.

To the post of anon20420, if any one company were to end up owning most of the web in the end, it would almost certainly not be either Microsoft or Google. The central power of the web is the routers. Most of the corporate routers, the hosting provider routers, and the backbone routers maintained by various corporations are made by Cisco with Netgear and a couple of other companies taking up the remainder. This makes Cisco the most important player on the web.

Every Microsoft web server could shut down at once and you would still have the internet. Every Google server could shut down at the same time and you would still have the internet. If all of the Cisco routers shut down, it wouldn't matter how many servers there were in data centers. They would be talking to themselves.

anon137486
Post 32

anon60749: Yes, 5 Gigs is accurate. On average, of course. Do you know what that means? That means that there are many, many people out there that only have a few kilobytes of word documents on the internet, while others are responsible for whole terabytes by themselves.

It might be difficult to understand, I know.

anon135217
Post 30

Hey 32470, you think your tap water is free? You must be very young with no bills to pay.

anon120941
Post 28

If you take off all the crap, the internet is very small indeed.

anon109695
Post 27

unfortunately, the internet is not infinite.

anon103853
Post 26

A transcript of Eric Schmidt's statements can be found online.

What he actually said was: "Another example: how much information is there in the world? A study that was done last year indicated roughly five million terabytes."

So the 5 million terabytes corresponds to the amount of information in the world, not just on the internet.

anon93708
Post 24

the internet will be infinite, by which i mean it will keep on growing in size (bytes), considering mainly that online every day, a video is uploaded every minute. therefore, you could say the internet is a lot like the universe, meaning that maybe someday it will inevitably crash, leaving anyone hopelessly searching for meaning in life. of course, I'm a kid. maybe the internet is infinite, or maybe it's just over two ounces.

anon82557
Post 22

The internet is infinite.

anon76574
Post 20

Also, 32470, you do realise that in most cases tap water is actually cleaner than bottled water?

You may not know this, but they don't just pipe water from the river directly into your home. It's actually processed!

anon75527
Post 19

Lol I agree with anon37462. I mean those tubes have to come from somewhere! I mean it's not like it's just a big truck!

anon60749
Post 10

Interesting. I agree with most of the posts here.

However we are forgeting a critical piece of information here. As an owner of a domain I feel comfortable saying "The various government agencies know how many domains there are, and which ones have a website on them".

This means we could add up a complete quantity of Websites.

Additionally it is interesting to know that 1 billion people use 5 billion gigs of data.

So each of us use 5 gigs of data?

If that is the case I guess I'm way over my limit.

Additionally you can't own the internet - each of us will/do have the opportunity to buy a domain, create a webpage, set up a server, and transmit. The people with the most control in my opinion are the overly expensive internet service providers (ISP).

anon59143
Post 9

It is free for him because his parents pay the water bill.

anon50650
Post 7

Can I also add that tap water isn't free?

anon49472
Post 5

i completely agree with 37462.

anon47879
Post 4

i completely agree with 20420.

anon37462
Post 3

anon32470, because you're probably too careless to come back and figure out why you're wrong, I'm going to explain your comment to future visitors of this website in order to stem the perpetuation of your useless crap.

Your analogy fails like your synapses when you compare the internet, which is not a naturally occurring rainforest of tubes (in spite of your See-Spot-Run understanding of it), to a "natural resource." The internet is, in fact, a network of computing machines (da computeerz) that are specifically purposed for said network. Like your pc, iphone, etc, these doohickeys cost *money*. I fully expect the "I dont even *have* an Iphone DURRR" orwhateverthebleep comment.

The Interwebs are operated by people and machines that *cost* $$$ (since I bet you wouldn't work for free regardless of how hippy-go-lucky it made you feel). That $$$ needs to come from somewhere, and therefore, *surprise*, we pay for it. In spite of your campfire song, the webnetzzorz cost money because they cost money... not because of some evil scheme to control mother earth (or father internetzorswebnetspr0nsitesM$), esta claro?

How do I know all this!? It's *my scheme*! OR maybe I just read a book.

anon32470
Post 2

Wow...for some reason the only question this makes me ask myself is, "If it's so damn big, why are we paying these creeps for it?" The fraction that Google put on it after seven years, makes me think it's not going anywhere in my lifetime at least. Sounds like a natural resource to me. I have a choice as to whether to take my chances on my free tap water, or whether to pay for the store's trusted, approved, and branded water. The internet should be treated the same.

anon20420
Post 1

Oh, well. Microsoft or Google will end up owning most the web in the end.

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