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.
Ranked: The Top 50 Most Visited Websites in the World
In this visualization, we rank the top 50 websites that receive the most internet traffic, from Google to CNN.
Ranked: The Top 50 Most Visited Websites in the World
Estimates vary, but there are upwards of two billion websites in existence in 2023.
If we were to rank all of these websites according to their traffic numbers, we would see a classic power law distribution. At the low end, the vast majority of these websites would be inactive, receiving little to no traffic. On the upper end of the ranking though, a handful of websites receive the lion’s share of internet traffic.
This visualization, using data from SimilarWeb, takes a look at the 50 websites that currently sit at the top of the ranking.
Which Websites Get the Most Traffic?
Topping the list of most-visited websites in the world is, of course, Google. With over 3.5 billion searches per day, Google has cemented its position as the go-to source for information on the internet. But Google’s dominance doesn’t stop there. The company also owns YouTube, the second-most popular website in the world. Together, Google and YouTube have more traffic than the next 48 websites combined.
The power of YouTube, in particular, is sometimes not fully understood. The video platform is the second largest search engine in the world after Google. As well, YouTube has the second highest duration-of-visit numbers in this top 50 ranking. (First place goes to the Chinese video sharing website, Bilibili.)
But Google and YouTube aren’t the only big players on the internet. Other websites in the top 50 ranking include social media giants Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. In particular, TikTok has seen a surge in popularity in recent years and is now one of the most popular social media platforms in the world.
Here’s the full top 50 ranking table form:
|#1||google.com||85.1B||Search Engines||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#2||youtube.com||33.0B||Streaming & Online TV||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#3||facebook.com||17.8B||Social Media Networks||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#4||twitter.com||6.8B||Social Media Networks||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#5||instagram.com||6.1B||Social Media Networks||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#6||baidu.com||5.0B||Search Engines||🇨🇳 China|
|#7||wikipedia.org||4.8B||Dictionaries & Encyclopedias||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#8||yandex.ru||3.4B||Search Engines||🇷🇺 Russia|
|#9||yahoo.com||3.3B||News & Media Publishers||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#10||whatsapp.com||2.9B||Social Media Networks||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#16||yahoo.co.jp||2.1B||News & Media Publishers||🇯🇵 Japan|
|#17||netflix.com||2.0B||Streaming & Online TV||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#18||tiktok.com||1.8B||Social Media Networks||🇨🇳 China|
|#20||reddit.com||1.7B||Social Media Networks||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#21||office.com||1.6B||Prog. & Developer Software||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#22||linkedin.com||1.6B||Social Media Networks||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#23||dzen.ru||1.4B||Faith & Beliefs||🇷🇺 Russia|
|#24||samsung.com||1.4B||Consumer Electronics||🇰🇷 S. Korea|
|#25||vk.com||1.4B||Social Media Networks||🇷🇺 Russia|
|#27||turbopages.org||1.3B||News & Media Publishers||🇷🇺 Russia|
|#29||naver.com||1.2B||News & Media Publishers||🇰🇷 S. Korea|
|#30||bing.com||1.2B||Search Engines||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#31||microsoftonline.com||1.1B||Prog. & Developer Software||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#32||discord.com||1.1B||Social Media Networks||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#33||twitch.tv||1.1B||Gaming & Accessories||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#34||bilibili.com||1.0B||Animations & Comics||🇨🇳 China|
|#35||pinterest.com||1.0B||Social Media Networks||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#36||zoom.us||985.9M||Computers Electronics & Tech||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#38||qq.com||907.1M||News & Media Publishers||🇨🇳 China|
|#39||microsoft.com||902.3M||Prog. & Developer Software||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#40||msn.com||870.8M||News & Media Publishers||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#41||globo.com||840.1M||News & Media Publishers||🇧🇷 Brazil|
|#42||duckduckgo.com||839.0M||Search Engines||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#43||roblox.com||795.7M||Gaming & Accessories||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#44||quora.com||775.9M||Dictionaries & Encyclopedias||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#45||news.yahoo.co.jp||749.1M||News & Media Publishers||🇯🇵 Japan|
|#47||aajtak.in||724.1M||News & Media Publishers||🇮🇳 India|
|#48||nytimes.com||702.2M||News & Media Publishers||🇺🇸 U.S.|
|#50||cnn.com||684.9M||News & Media Publishers||🇺🇸 U.S.|
Notable companies that have fallen out of the top 50 since our last version of this visualization are Walmart and PayPal. Notable entrants into the top 50 are Samsung and the New York Times.
The Geography of the 50 Most-Visited Websites
The United States is still home base for many of the world’s biggest websites, taking up 30 spots on this ranking. Of these 30 websites, half are operated by Big Tech companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet, Meta, and Netflix.
Russia, China, Japan, and South Korea round out the top five.
Things get interesting in the “other” category, which includes six websites. Two spots are taken up by Aaj Tak and Globo, which are large media publications in India and Brazil, respectively.
The remaining four websites—XVideos, PornHub, XHamster, and XNXX—specialize in adult content, and are located in a variety of countries. These are often referred to as “tube sites” since they are built on the YouTube model.
Realsrv, the only adult-oriented site in the top 50 located in the U.S., is interesting to delve into as well, since it’s far from a household name. The website essentially supports advertising efforts by redirecting users away from the content they were viewing over to another page (generally premium adult content). This is one of the key ways that adult websites earn revenue.
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