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.
Visualizing Moore’s Law in Action (1971-2019)
Can the predictions from Moore’s Law keep up with technological innovation spanning almost 50 years? Watch this stunning animation to find out.
Animation: Visualizing Moore’s Law in Action (1971-2019)
The pace of technological progress keeps accelerating.
There are many ways to show this, but perhaps the simplest way is to create a visual representation of Moore’s Law in action.
Today’s animation comes to us from DataGrapha, and it compares the predictions of Moore’s Law with data from actual computer chip innovations occurring between 1971 to 2019.
Defining Moore’s Law
Moore’s Law was originally derived from an observation by Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and later the co-founder and CEO of Intel.
In 1965, Moore wrote that the number of components in a dense integrated circuit (i.e., transistors, resistors, diodes, or capacitors) had been doubling with every year of research, and he predicted that this would continue for another decade.
Later on in 1975, he revised his prediction to the doubling occurring every two years.
Like the animation, the following chart from Our World in Data helps plot out the predictions of Moore’s Law versus real world data — note that the Y Axis is logarithmic:
The prophetic prediction of Moore’s Law has led to exponential progress in computing — as well as for everything else touched by computers.
It’s no surprise then, especially given that the modern information age is largely driven by increasingly efficient computing, that this law has had a trickle down effect on nearly every significant aspect of global innovation.
An Accelerated Pace of Change
Moore’s Law has translated into a faster rate of change for society as a whole.
A new idea, like the smartphone, can get immediate traction because of instantaneous communication, increased global connectivity, and the ubiquity of information. New tech advancements can now change business or culture in a heartbeat:
Further, since software is a “layer” built upon the foundation of computing, it means that digital products can be replicated at almost no marginal cost. This is why a phenomenon like Pokémon Go was able to captivate 50 million users in just 19 days.
Imagine this kind of scalability, when applied to things like artificial intelligence or virtual reality.
Is Moore’s Law Dead or Alive?
As with any enduring prediction, there are always naysayers out there that will boldly forecast an imminent end to the trend.
Since the 2000s, there has been an ongoing debate within the semiconductor community on whether Moore’s Law will continue its reign, or if progress will ultimately sputter out as certain physical limitations catch up with the process of miniaturization.
Earlier in 2019, Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang declared that Moore’s Law is no longer possible. For what it’s worth, Intel still says technology in chipmaking always finds a way to advance — while TSMC has recently said the law is actually alive and well.
Regardless of who is right, Moore’s Law has held true for close to 50 years, and its repercussions will continue to be felt in almost every aspect of life and society going forward.
Wired World: 35 Years of Submarine Cables in One Map
Watch the explosive growth of the global submarine cable network, and learn who’s funding the next generation of cables.
You could be reading this article from nearly anywhere in the world and there’s a good chance it loaded in mere seconds.
Long gone are the days when images would load pixel row by pixel row. Now, even high-quality video is instantly accessible from almost everywhere. How did the internet get so fast? Because it’s moving at the speed of light.
The Information Superhighway
The miracle of modern fiber optics can be traced to a single man, Narinder Singh Kapany. The young physicist was skeptical when his professors asserted that light ‘always travels in a straight line’. His explorations into the behavior of light eventually led to the creation of fiber optics—essentially, beaming light through a thin glass tube.
The next step to using fiber optics as a means of communication was lowering the cable’s attenuation rate. Throughout the 1960-70s, companies made gains in manufacturing, reducing the number of impurities and allowing light to cross great distances without a dramatic decrease in signal intensity.
By the mid-1980s, long distance fiber optic cables had finally reached the feasibility stage.
Crossing the Pond
The first intercontinental fiber optic cable was strung across the floor of the Atlantic Ocean in 1988. The cable—known as TAT-8*—was spearheaded by three companies; AT&T, France Télécom, and British Telecom. The cable was able to carry the equivalent of 40,000 telephone channels, a ten-fold increase over its galvanic predecessor, TAT-7.
Once the kinks of the new cable were worked out, the floodgates were open. During the course of the 1990s, many more cables hit the ocean floor. By the dawn of the new millennium, every populated continent on Earth was connected by fiber optic cables. The physical network of the internet was beginning to take shape.
As today’s video from ESRI shows, the early 2000s saw a boom in undersea cable development, reflecting the uptick in internet usage around globe. In 2001 alone, eight new cables connected North America and Europe.
From 2016-2020, over 100 new cables were laid with an estimated value of $14 billion. Now, even the most remote Polynesian islands have access to high-speed internet thanks to undersea cables.
*TAT-8 does not appear in the video above as it was retired in 2002.
The Shifting Nature of Cable Construction
Even though nearly every corner of the globe is now physically connected, the rate of cable construction is not slowing down.
This is due to the increasing capacity of new cables and our appetite for high-quality video content. New cables are so efficient that the majority of potential capacity along major cable routes will come from cables that are less than five years old.
Traditionally, a consortium of telecom companies or governments would fund cable construction, but tech companies are increasingly funding their own submarine cable networks.
Amazon, Microsoft and Google own close to 65% market share in cloud data storage, so it’s understandable that they’d want to control the physical means of transporting that data as well.
These three companies now own 63,605 miles of submarine cable. While laying cable is a costly endeavor, it’s necessary to meet surging demand—content providers’ share of data transmission skyrocketed from around 8% to nearly 40% over the past decade.
A Bright Future for Dark Fiber
At the same time, more aging cables will be taken offline. Even though signals are no longer traveling through this network of “dark fiber”, it’s still being put to productive use. It turns out that undersea telecom cables make a very effective seismic network, helping researchers study offshore earthquakes and the geologic structures on the ocean floor.
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