SATELLITE WATCH

The Internet is growing as fast as ever, with 24,000 new users signing up in the UK alone last month. As with any new medium, a key area of interest is its rate of growth. For about two years now many Internet pundits have claimed a total of about 30 million users, while at the same time pointing up growth of ten per cent or more per month. Something is not adding up.

For those in search of an accurate count of Internet users, the answer is to be found in two invaluable sites on the Internet.

The first is the Internet Domain Survey (http://www.nw.com/zone/ WWW/top.html), published every six months by US company Network Wizards, and showing the total number of computers connected to the Internet by every country in the world. The survey, conducted since 1981, when there were only 213 computers connected, is an automated total universe count (not based upon a sample) of each computer with an Internet connection.

In its latest survey, published in January, Network Wizards counted 9,472,000 Internet connections worldwide, up from 4,852,000 in January 1995 and 2,217,000 a year previously. The number of Internet connections is doubling each year.

The second valuable source of Internet penetration statistics is to found at the Réseaux IP Européens (RIPE) Network Coordination Centre’s publication, the DNS Hostcount (http://www.ripe.net/) which shows the number of Internet connections by European country, updated every month and tracking back to October 1990. RIPE is the central registry of all computers connecting to the Internet in Europe and its count of connections is therefore highly, if not entirely, accurate.

While the figures from both sources provide an accurate count of Internet connections, neither can tell us how many users of the Internet there are or what they are like. For that information there is no comprehensive global source yet available. While numerous studies have been conducted among Internet users, most suffer from being based on voluntary self-completion questionnaires over the Internet. The largest surveys of this kind are the GVU’s WWW User Surveys (http://www.cc.gatech.edu/gvu/user_surveys/).

One highly acclaimed survey that avoids this bias is the Internet User Survey conducted by O’Reilly Research (http://www.ora.com/survey/), based on 32,000 telephone interviews within the US. However, no survey of this kind yet covers the global Internet user base.

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