What’s Going On Online?
The Internet is a busy place. Every second, approximately 6,000 tweets are tweeted; more than 40,000 Google queries are searched; and more than 2 million emails are sent, according to Internet Live Stats, a website of the International Real Time Statistics Project.
So how much information does the Internet hold? There are three ways to look at that question, said Martin Hilbert, a professor of communications at the University of California, Davis. “The Internet stores information, the Internet communicates information and the Internet computes information,” Hilbert told Live Science. The communication capacity of the Internet can be measured by how much information it can transfer, or how much information it does transfer at any given time, he said.
It discusses the state of the internet – but in real time. It may not be exact, and some of the data is based on previous activities, but it’s interesting to see the jump in activity from one second to the other. The print screen shown below is activity taking place on those sites after only 14 minutes.
Some of the companies included in the ever-changing infographic are social sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Happn. Also included are epic e-commerce sites like Amazon, Groupon, and Ebay, messaging sites like WhatsApp and Skype, search engines like Yahoo, Bing, and Google, and entertainment sites like Hulu, HBO, and Netflix. Creators of the infographic claim that the data used was fetched from sources around the web referenced in above link. Some statistics are based on a yearly reported data and are thus averaged down to per second basis and do not represent actual real time data but rather a very accurate approximation of real time growth.
But these statistics only hint at the size of the Web. As of September 2014, there were 1 billion websites on the Internet, a number that fluctuates by the minute as sites go defunct and others are born. And beneath this constantly changing (but sort of quantifiable) Internet that’s familiar to most people lies the “Deep Web,” which includes things Google and other search engines don’t index. Deep Web content can be as innocuous as the results of a search of an online database or as secretive as black-market forums accessible only to those with special Tor software.
One way to estimate the communication capacity of the Internet is to measure the traffic moving through it. According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index initiative, the Internet is now in the “zettabyte era.” A zettabyte equals 1 sextillion bytes or 1,000 exabytes. By the end of 2016, global Internet traffic will reach 1.1 zettabytes per year, according to Cisco, and by 2019, global traffic is expected to hit 2 zettabytes per year.
One zettabyte is the equivalent of 36,000 years of high-definition video, which, in turn, is the equivalent of streaming Netflix’s entire catalog 3,177 times, Thomas Barnett Jr., Cisco’s director of thought leadership, wrote in a 2011 blog post about the company’s findings.
In one particularly offbeat study, an anonymous hacker measured the size of the Internet by counting how many IPs (Internet Protocols) were in use. IPs are the wayposts of the Internet through which data travels, and each device online has at least one IP address. According to the hacker’s estimate, there were 1.3 billion IP addresses used online in 2012.
Hilbert and his colleagues took their own stab at visualizing the world’s information. In their 2011 Science paper, they calculated that the information capacity of the world’s analog and digital storage was 295 optimally compressed exabytes. To store 295 exabytes on CD-ROMS would require a stack of discs reaching to the moon (238,900 miles, or 384,400 kilometers), and then a quarter of the distance from the Earth to the moon again, the researchers wrote. That’s a total distance of 298,625 miles (480,590 km). By 2007, 94 percent of the information was digital, meaning that the world’s digital information alone would overshoot the moon if stored on CD-ROM. It would stretch 280,707.5 miles (451,755 km).
The Internet’s size is a moving target, Hilbert said, but it’s growing by leaps and bounds. There’s just one saving grace when it comes to this deluge of information: Our computing capacity is growing even faster than the amount of data we store. We need better and better ways for website owners to keep it safe, like security scanning for vulnerabilities used by hackers to mess things up.
While world storage capacity doubles every three years, world computing capacity doubles every year and a half, Hilbert said. In 2011, humanity could carry out 6.4 x 10^18 instructions per second with all of its computers — similar to the number of nerve impulses per second in the human brain. Five years later, computational power is up in the ballpark of about eight human brains. That doesn’t mean, of course, that eight people in a room could outthink the world’s computers. In many ways, artificial intelligence already outperforms human cognitive capacity (though A.I. is still far from mimicking general, humanlike intelligence). Online, artificial intelligence determines which Facebook posts you see, what comes up in a Google search and even 80 percent of stock market transactions. The expansion of computing power is the only thing making the explosion of data online useful, Hilbert said.