The 20 Internet Giants That Rule the Web (1998-Today)
With each passing year, an increasingly large segment of the population no longer remembers images loading a single pixel row at a time, the earsplitting sound of a 56k modem, or the domination of web portals.
Many of the top websites in 1998 were basically news aggregators or search portals, which are easy concepts to understand. Today, brand touch-points are often spread out between devices (e.g. mobile apps vs. desktop site) and a myriad of services and sub-brands (e.g. Facebook’s constellation of apps). As a result, the world’s biggest websites are complex, interconnected web properties.
Today’s visualization, inspired by an earlier work published by WaPo, looks at which of the internet giants have evolved to stay on top, and which have faded into internet lore.
America Moves Online
For millions of curious people the late ’90s, the iconic AOL compact disc was the key that opened the door to the World Wide Web. At its peak, an estimated 35 million people accessed the internet using AOL.
By 1999, the AOL rode the Dot-com bubble to dizzying heights, with a valuation of $222 billion dollars.
AOL’s brand may not carry the caché it once did, but the brand never completely faded into obscurity. The company continually evolved, finally merging with Yahoo after Verizon acquired both of the legendary online brands. Verizon has high hopes for the company – called Oath – to evolve into a “third option” for advertisers and users who are fed up with Google and Facebook.
A City of Gifs and Web Logs
As internet usage began to reach critical mass, web hosts such as AngelFire and GeoCities made it easy for people to create a new home on the Web.
GeoCities, in particular, made a huge impact on the early internet, hosting millions of websites and giving people a way to actually participate in creating online content. If the web host was a physical place, it would’ve been the third largest city in America, just after Los Angeles.
This early online community was at risk of being erased permanently when GeoCities was finally shuttered by Yahoo in 2009, but the nonprofit Internet Archive took special efforts to create a thorough record of GeoCities-hosted pages.
From A to Z
In December of 1998, long before Amazon became the well-oiled retail machine we know today, the company was in the midst of a massive holiday season crunch.
In the real world, employees were pulling long hours and even sleeping in cars to keep the goods flowing, while online, Amazon.com had become one of the biggest sites on the internet as people began to get comfortable with the idea of purchasing goods online. Demand surged as the company began to expand their offering beyond books.
Amazon.com has grown to be the most successful merchant on the Internet.
– New York Times (1998)
Digital Magazine Rack
Meredith – with the possible exception of Oath – may be the most unrecognizable name to many people looking at today’s top 20 list. While Meredith may not be a household name, the company controls many of the country’s most popular magazine brands (People, Sports Illustrated, Health, etc.) including their sizable digital footprints. The company also has a slew of local television networks around the United States.
After its acquisition of Time Inc. in 2017, Meredith became the largest magazine publisher in the world.
When people have burning questions, they increasingly turn to the internet for answers, but the diversity of sources for those answers is shrinking.
Even as recently as 2013, we can see that About.com, Ask.com, and Answers.com were still among the biggest websites in America. Today though, Google appears to have cemented its status as a universal wellspring of answers.
As smart speakers and voice assistants continue penetrate the market and influence search behavior, Google is unlikely to face any near-term competition from any company not already in the top 20 list.
New Kids on the Block
Social media has long since outgrown its fad stage and is now a common digital thread connecting people across the world. While Facebook rapidly jumped into the top 20 by 2007, other social media infused brands took longer to grow into internet giants.
In 2018, Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook’s umbrella of platforms were are all in the top 20, with LinkedIn and Pinterest not far behind.
NOTE: This ranking uses ComScore data which is focused on the U.S. and looks at unique visitors/viewers.
Which U.S. Generation Wields the Most Cultural Power?
Visual Capitalist’s first-ever Generational Power Index looks at which U.S. generation holds the most cultural influence in American society.
Which U.S. Generation Wields the Most Cultural Power?
This year, our team put together Visual Capitalist’s inaugural Generational Power Index (GPI), which looks at power dynamics across generations in America.
We considered three categories in our quest to quantify power: economics, political, and cultural. And while it turns out Baby Boomers dominate when it comes to economics and political factors—cultural influence is a different story.
Here’s a look at which U.S. generation holds the most cultural power, and how this power dynamic is expected to shift in the coming years.
Generations and Power, Defined
Before we get started, it’s important to clarify which generations we’ve included in our research, along with their age and birth year ranges.
|Generation||Age range (years)||Birth year range|
|The Silent Generation||76 and over||1928-1945|
|Gen Alpha||8 and below||2013-present|
Using these age groups as a framework, we then calculated the Cultural Power category using these distinct equally-weighted variables:
With this methodology in mind, here’s how the Cultural Power category shakes out, using insights from the GPI.
Share of Cultural Power by Generation
Overall, we found that Gen X captures the largest share of cultural power, at 36%.
|Generation||Cultural Power Share|
|The Silent Generation||8.8%|
*Note: figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.
Gen X is particularly dominant in the film and TV industry, along with news media. For instance, over half of America’s largest news corporations have a Gen Xer as their CEO, and roughly 50% of Oscar winners in 2020 were members of Gen X.
Baby Boomers come in second place, capturing a 25% share of cultural power. They show particular dominance in traditional entertainment like books and art. For example, 42% of the authors on the NYT’s best-selling books list were Baby Boomers.
However, these older generations fall short in one critical category—digital platforms.
The Dominance of Digital
Why is digital so important when it comes to cultural power? Because digital media becoming increasingly more popular than traditional media sources (e.g. TV, radio).
In 2020, Americans spent nearly 8 hours per day consuming digital media, nearly two hours more per day than they spent with traditional media.
This divide is expected to grow even further over the next few years. With younger generations dominating the digital space, Gen X may soon lose its place as the top dog of the culture category.
Celebrity 2.0: The Social Influencer
As audiences flock to online channels, advertisers have followed suit—and they’re willing to spend good money to gain access to their target demographics.
In fact, spend on influencer marketing has steadily increased in the last five years, and it’s expected to reach $13.8 billion by the end of 2021.
This shift to social media advertising is redefining the notion of celebrity, and who reaps the financial benefits of content creation. For instance, six-year-old Vlogger Like Nastya made an estimated $7.7 million per month from her YouTube channel in 2020. And keep in mind, this estimate is purely based on YouTube revenue—it doesn’t even include corporate partnerships and/or merchandise sales.
With all these shifts occurring, culture as we know it is at a crossroads. And as we continue to move towards a digital dominant society, those who hold power in traditional realms will either adapt or pass along the torch.
Download the Generational Power Report (.pdf)
Ranked: The Most Popular Paid Subscription News Websites
Many consumers are reluctant to pay for their news, but those that do turn to trusted sources. Here’s a look at the most subscribed to news websites.
Ranked: The Most Popular Subscription News Websites
While paywalls are becoming increasingly more popular among news websites, most consumers still aren’t willing to pay for their online news.
In fact, a recent survey by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism reveals that only 20% of Americans pay for digital news, and of those that do, the majority subscribe to only one brand.
This begs the question—which news outlets are audiences willing to pay for?
Using data from FIPP and CeleraOne, this graphic looks at the most popular news websites across the globe, based on their total number of paid subscriptions.
*Note: This report relies on publicly available data, and should not be considered an exhaustive list.
The Full Breakdown
With 7.5 million subscriptions, The New York Times (NYT) takes the top spot on the list. 2020 was an exceptionally strong year for the outlet—by Q3 2020, the NYT had generated the same amount of revenue from digital subscriptions as it had for the entire year of 2019.
|1||🇺🇸 The New York Times||6,100,000|
|2||🇺🇸 The Washington Post||3,000,000|
|3||🇺🇸 The Wall Street Journal||2,400,000|
|4||🇺🇸 Game Informer||2,100,000|
|5||🇬🇧 Financial Times||1,100,000|
|6||🇺🇸 The Athletic||1,000,000|
|7||🇬🇧 The Guardian||790,000|
|9||🇬🇧 The Economist||516,000|
|12||🇬🇧 The Sunday Times||337,000|
|13||🇬🇧 The Telegraph||320,000|
|14||🇺🇸 The Atlantic||300,000|
|15||🇮🇹 Corriere Della Sera||300,000|
|16||🇫🇷 Le Monde||300,000|
|17||🇺🇸 The Boston Globe||270,000|
|18||🇦🇷 La Nacion||260,000|
|21||🇺🇸 Los Angeles Times||253,000|
|23||🇺🇸 The New Yorker||240,000|
|25||🇧🇷 Folha de S.Paulo||236,000|
|26||🇸🇪 Dagens Nyheter||208,000|
|27||🇺🇸 Business Insider||200,000|
|31||🇨🇦 The Globe and Mail||139,000|
|34||🇫🇷 Le Figaro||110,000|
|35||🇺🇸 Chicago Tribune||100,000|
|36||🇺🇸 Star Tribune||100,000|
|38||🇫🇮 Helsingin Sanomat||100,000|
The Times is the most popular by a landslide—it has over double the number of subscriptions than the second outlet on the list, The Washington Post. Yet, while WaPo is no match for NYT, it still boasts a strong following, with approximately 3 million paid subscriptions as of Q4 2020.
Japanese outlet Nikkei ranks number one among the non-English news websites. It’s the largest business newspaper in Japan, mainly focusing on markets and finance, but also covering politics, sports, and health.
Legacy Papers: Which Websites Come From Traditional Media?
Most of the websites on this list stem from traditional media. Because of this, they’ve had years to establish themselves as trusted sources, and win over loyal readers.
Interestingly, more than half of the outlets included in this ranking are at least 100 years old.
|Publication||Year Launched||Age (Years)|
|🇬🇧 The Guardian||1821||200|
|🇬🇧 The Sunday Times||1821||200|
|🇫🇷 Le Figaro||1826||195|
|🇬🇧 The Economist||1843||178|
|🇺🇸 Chicago Tribune||1847||173|
|🇬🇧 The Telegraph||1855||166|
|🇺🇸 The Atlantic||1857||164|
|🇸🇪 Dagens Nyheter||1864||157|
|🇺🇸 Star Tribune||1867||154|
|🇦🇷 La Nacion||1870||151|
|🇺🇸 The Boston Globe||1872||149|
|🇮🇹 Corriere Della Sera||1876||145|
|🇺🇸 Washington Post||1877||144|
|🇺🇸 LA Times||1881||140|
|🇬🇧 Financial Times||1888||133|
|🇺🇸 Wall Street Journal||1889||132|
|🇫🇮 Helsingin Sanomat||1889||132|
|🇧🇷 Folha de S.Paulo||1921||100|
|🇺🇸 The New Yorker||1925||96|
|🇨🇦 The Globe and Mail||1936||85|
|🇫🇷 Le Monde||1944||77|
|🇺🇸 Game Informer||1991||30|
|🇺🇸 Business Insider||2007||14|
|🇺🇸 The Athletic||2016||5|
Yet, undeterred by these well-established outlets, a few scrappy websites made the cut despite a shorter history. Four out of the 38 websites are less than 20 years old.
The Athletic is the newest outlet to make the ranking. Established in 2016, the outlet’s target demographic is die-hard sports fans who miss the days of in-depth, quality sports writing.
The Need For Trusted Sources
Amidst the global pandemic, issues involving misinformation and fake news have helped reaffirm the important role that trusted news sources play in the dissemination of public information.
With this in mind, it’ll be interesting to see what the future holds for digital media consumption. With paywalls becoming increasingly more common, will consumers jump on board and eventually be more willing to pay for their news?
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