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A Billion Internet Users, and Counting

Growing and growing and growing and...

February 17, 2009

The moment when the Internet passed 1 million users is veiled in history.

The truth is, whenever it happened, no one was counting—or even had the means to do so. But according to the “Internet Growth Survey” from MIT, there were 1 million hosts (defined as either a computer or IP address) in 1995.

At the time, it was estimated that the Internet was doubling in size every year, so there would be over 1 billion users in 2005.

That timeline proved overly optimistic. But according to the comScore World Metrix audience measurement service, the Internet surpassed 1 billion visitors in December 2008.

“Surpassing 1 billion global users is a significant landmark in the history of the Internet,” said Magid Abraham, comScore CEO, in a statement. “It is a monument to the increasingly unified global community in which we live and reminds us that the world truly is becoming more flat.”

comScore got to a billion users without counting access from Internet cafes, mobile phones or PDAs.

By contrast, eMarketer employs a slightly broader audience definition—access by anyone of any age from any location—to estimate that there were 1.172 billion Internet users worldwide in 2008.

Either way you count, one thing few prognosticators foresaw in 1995 was that the US would have only the second-largest online population when the Internet hit the billion-user mark. China ranks No. 1.

The Web still has plenty of room to grow.

“China has taken the lead in the number of Internet users worldwide, and today only about 20% of its residents are online,” said Lisa E. Phillips, eMarketer senior analyst. “While China will continue to lead the world in Internet users, look for India to eventually overtake the US, Japan and Germany.”

While Internet usage is close to saturation in the US, Japan and Germany, India’s Internet population lags behind its status as the second-most-populous nation on earth. “But eventually India’s Internet population will grow large enough to overtake those smaller countries that are now in the top spots,” Ms. Phillips continued.

“The second billion will be online before we know it,” said Mr. Abraham, “and the third billion will arrive even faster than that.”

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