New on the Web Archive I

Viruses and Hoaxes
Lake Placid 2 September 1997 -- sources: internal, web sites.

Visitors to the Beadmakers Chat Line will have noticed something in the last day or so. One of our old friends posted a warning that two viruses, Penpal and Good Times, were extremely dangerous. If you got an email with these words as the subject and opened it, your hard disk and possibly many others would be infected. Another old friend had sent me a similar warning a few days before by email.

The warning was supposed to have come from Big Blue itself. I figured it was part of my webmaster's duty to check them out. I went to www.ibm.com and typed in Virus Warnings on their search function. This led me to www.av.ibm.com/BreakingNews/. It turns out that these two "viruses" and many others like them are complete hoaxes. Good Times has been around since 1994. They get circulated periodically. You cannot get a virus from an email unless you open an attached program.

Last night, after Labor Day dinner out on the island at my folks' camp (and finding about a pound of coral mushrooms), I started to investigate this more. I discovered a fascinating site, http://kumite.com/myths/. It is extremely detailed, explaining all about viruses, urban myths and many more hoaxes that are out there. It even noted the recent pairing of Penpal and Good News in the most current scare cycle.

We're all afraid of viruses, and I am grateful that these two friends were thoughtful enough to warn me when they thought there was some danger. But, before you panic and when you want to know, visit these sites and see for yourself what the scoop really is.

The Biggest Hit
Lake Placid 13 August 1997 -- source News Media

Since Pathfinder landed on Mars, the NASA Website has received nearly a half a billion hits. On July 8 it received 46,000,000, setting a new record. I don't know what the old record was.

How Big Is the Web, Part Two
Lake Placid 26 June 1997, updated 3 July 1997

Since writing the preceding story on this topic, I have been wondering just how many web sites there actually are out there. In March the Deputy Solicitor General of the United States, Seth F. Waxman, was asked about software to screen out "smut" on the Internet. His reply provided an estimate, "hundreds of thousands of Web sites and tens of millions of pages..."

Mr. Waxman lost his case. Today (26 June 1997) the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the "Communications Decency Act," providing yet another judicial ruling in favor of free speech. Yeah! But, what of Mr. Waxman's estimate? How accurate was it?

John C. Dvorak, contributing editor to PC Magazine says in the latest issue (July 1997, page 87), "Right now the World Wide Web has somewhere between 150 and 200 million pages online. Maybe more."

That would tell us something, if only the estimate were more accurate and we knew how many pages the average site has. Some have thousands. Many more are single page home sites of a bewildering yet fascinating array of individuals. The Bead Site is probably in the middle-to-high range -- we are approaching 300 pages. We continue to grow, as the site becomes an increasingly helpful service to the Bead World.

Dvorak's column also surprised me by saying that the number of domain names, stand-alone Internet addresses (called URLs; ours is thebeadsite.com), is approaching a million. Somewhere I heard that all single-word domain names have been taken. All?

Well, a million domain names means a million sites, yet not all sites have their own domain names. Most ISP (Internet Service Providers) allow members to put up their own small web site for free. One of these ISPs, Geocities, is downright aggressive about this. In March 1997 this company announced that it had 450,000 "homesteaders" (personal web sites, grouped into 33 "neighborhoods"). It was adding 5000 a day and expected to have a million by October. The last I heard they were up to 600,000.

Then there are over 5100 ISPs in the U.S. Many of them host personal web sites for free and all of them encourage commercial or larger, paying web sites. When we moved to our ISP in January we were their 40th site. Now they have 109. And this is a small (but good, thank you) ISP serving only part of upper New York State. Their local rivals host about 226. The two average 168 web sites. Just 168 sites per 5100 IPSs give you 856,800. There is probably some overlap, because some of these sites have their own domain name.

Total: 2,456,000 web sites; 2,856,000 by October, just counting Geocities. Does this cover the whole world? Any other estimates?

Update: I talked to Tom and Kathleen at our local ISP about these estimates. Tom said he thought they were about right. Kathleen said that they now host 200-300 web sites, and have not posted new names on their site for months. She also said that there were 17,500 ISPs listed in the current directory called Internet Service Providers. Between us, we estimated that a single ISP might host 250 web sites. 17,500 times 250 is 4,375,000.

So, we now have two estimates ranging from 2.5 to 4.4 million web sites. Any other estimates?

Sources:

Dvorak, John C. 1997 File Not Found PC Magazine 16(13):87.

Schiesel, Seth 1997 How Web Smut is Regulated May Depend on Tools to Filter It The New York Times 24 March:D5.

Sreenivasan, Sreenath 1997 New Neighborhood, No Money Down: Internet Companies Building On-Line Communities Without Fees The New York Times 17 March:D5.

So, How Big Is the Web?
Lake Placid 26 April 1997

Update. Business Week conducted a survey of 1000 homes and released the information the other day. Their conclusion? 21% (40 million) of American adults surf the Web and another 12% (23 million) subscribe to an online service (AOL, etc.) This makes a total of 33% or 63.000,000 Americans (I am not sure if Canada was included, but there was no mention of it). If this is doubled for world-scope, that means about 125,000,000 now.

Does anyone have any estimate of how many Web sites there are? Deputy Solicitor General Seth P. Waxman said here were "hundreds of thousands" during the oral arguments at the Supreme Court last month. That's fair, but the home page provider Geocities alone claims to have 450,000 "homesteaders" (each with their own Web site). They say they are adding 5000 a day and expect to have a million by October. And that's just Geocities.

Lake Placid 14 March 1997

I am writing about this topic a little sooner than I thought I would be doing because the answer has suddenly become clearer. It is over 100,000,000!

The truth is, no one really knows how big the Web is. (The Web is only part of the Internet, but by far the fastest-growing segment.) It depends how you count. If you count the number of computers with modems or the number of connections made with service providers you get different figures. Also, you have to decide how many people use a given connection. Home, home office, office, school and library usages are all different.

So, numbers have been thrown around a lot. In the Fall of 1995 the Nielson Survey (the people who keep track of what Americans watch on television) released a survey that said that 19% of all adults (over 16) in the US and Canada were on the Internet. That came to about 25,000,000 people. This was larger than other estimates, and criticized by some for its polling methodology.

But now (12 March) the Nielson Survey has taken the poll again with better methodology. Donna Hoffman of Vanderbilt University, a former critic, has praised the new method and the figures seem as accurate as possible. They were based on telephone surveys.

The result? 50,600,000 or 23%, or about one out of every four adults in the US and Canada are on the Internet. Twice what it was 18 months ago.

However, this is only part of the story, because it only covers northern North America. What about the rest of the world? The US and Canada are only about 5% of the world's population. If we merely double Internet usage for the remaining 95%, we reach 100 million easily.

I think doubling the US figure is playing low-ball. West Europe and Japan, with a combined population of twice the US/Canada, are catching up fast. So is the developing world. Why do you think Bill Gates was in India last week?

Another very interesting statistic from this poll (you have to pay $5000 to get the whole thing) is that 5 years ago women were only 10% of Internet users (remember when computers were "toys for boys"?). Eighteen months ago women had become 38% of the audience, and the latest numbers puts them at near parity (42%) with men. They are the fastest growing segment of Internet users.

Sources:

AP Elizabeth Weise (AP Cyberspace Writer) Survey: "Internet Use Has Doubled." San Francisco.

CNN Interactive. 12.3.97, 24.4.97

Schiesel, Seth 24.3.97 " How Web Smut Is Regulated May Depend on Tools to Filter It" The New York Times D5.

Sreenivasan, Sreenath 17.3.97 "New Neighborhood, No Money Down" The New York Times D5.

The Reach of the Web -- Who Is Being Left Out?
Lake Placid 9.3.97 - 14.3.97

Several years ago in India there was a communications revolution. Everyone who could afford to bought a FAX machine. The government forgot to regulate them (oops.) Suddenly, there was a quick, reliable, easy, cheap way to communicate. No more waiting forever for a letter (though the Indian Post Office is pretty reliable, it's slow). No more getting cut off or never getting someone on a telephone line. The technology for faxing is nearly as old as that for telegraphs. In the US, I predict that fax machines will largely be superfluous soon. But in India they paved the way for greater business expansion that came soon on the heels of Narasimha Rao's reforms.

I was reminded of India when reading a recent article on what's happening in Egypt. There, the newly renamed TelecomEgypt is suddenly pushing cellular phones. And Egyptians (at least those who can afford them) are snatching them up. They cost about $590 each, equivalent to an average year's wage and $0.19 a minute to use. The setup cost is twice what a regular line costs and the per minute charge four times. However, there is a backlog of 1,700,000 for the regular lines, and that will take years to fulfill. Also the cellular phones work. Apparently, the idea is to lower the prices after the rich have paid out the maximum and bring in a million new customers in three years. As the 62 million population of Egypt, the center of the Arab word, becomes more important, multinationals are rushing in to help out. Alcatel (France) just won a big contract for establishing a 70,000 line GSM network, beating out Ericsson (Sweden), Motorola (US) and Nokia (Finland's biggest company).

And what about elsewhere? "The Evolution of Advanced Large-Scale Information Infrastructure in the United States" just released by the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois concludes that by 1992, 96% of all US locations had fiber optic network connections to local telecommunications providers. The most advanced communication network has in a few years (it was only 72% in 1986) linked virtually the whole US. Rural areas are becoming business nodes on the Internet because as long as you're hooked up you can communicate with the world.

Well, that's fine for the US, but what about everyone else? Europe is determined to catch up, at least parts of it. French President Jacques Chirac has just pledged a computer literacy drive that aims to put computers in every secondary school by the year 2000. That sounds lofty, but is the government serious? It seems to be. VAT (the Value Added Tax) for all multimedia products and services are to drop from 20.6% to 5.6%. If that's not an incentive, I don't know what is.

O.K., the US and Europe, but what about other places? The last I heard, U.S.A.I.D. (a State Department aid-to-developing-countries scheme) is going to install the ability to reach the Internet through a local phone call in every sub-Saharan French-speaking village. This is a form of Cultural Imperialism against one of our oldest friends, but I'll discuss that later. That links every village from Senegal to Rwanda, Mali to Cameroon and potentially beyond into the Internet. There's already a node in Madagascar.

The thing is, technology is driving this all forward by decreasing prices and making intelligence power more and more accessible (how much did you pay for your first digital watch or hand-held calculator?). It's not leaving anyone behind, though there will be a catch-up period and there will be bumps on the road. There will be regressive moves, such as Vietnam's new attempt to censor their entire Internet connections (wonder if this will work?). But, think about it.Not only would West Africans benefit from being on the Web, but also their creative energies will contribute to World culture and to each of our lives when they begin building their own Web pages!

I really do believe a new age is dawning.

Sources:

CNN Interactive. 10.3.97, 11.3.97

Thomas L Friedman "Foreign Affairs: Parlez-Vous U.S.A.?" The New York Times 26 February 1997: A23.

John Markoff "A Differing View of the Spread of Technology: Rural Areas in U.S. Are Not Being Left Out, a New Study Finds" TheNew York Times 24 February 1997:D6.

Emad Mekay "Egyptians Find Status in Costly Cellular Phones" TheNew York Times 24 February 1997:D5.

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