Quiet Mumblings

Sunday, August 06, 2006

There are now 92,615,362 websites online

The above is a quote from the BBC's new interactive timeline of the world wide web, which has been created to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the web's creation. It is the type of figure that has begun to irritate me a bit, and typifies not just the BBC but much of the modern media: there is no indication of where that number comes from or what it defines. For example:

  • Where did the BBC get its information from? Is there a scientific paper where they read it, or a company they hired to find it out?
  • Is it just domains, or is it web pages? Its much smaller than the billions usually quoted for total page counts, and it says "web sites", so I'll assume something like domains.

  • Is it just domains? For example, do GeoCities accounts count as individual sites or not?

  • What about subdomains? Are sites like this blog counted under Blogspot or are they counted separately?

  • If its just domains, is there any account taken of the fact that some domains are actually the same site, or do redirects to another domain?

These may all seem like pretty fussy questions to ask - after all, the number is big, so what does it matter? But what matters is not how many web sites there are in the world, but that our media reports facts to us accurately. Without citations, explanations or references how can we ever be sure that a junior researcher at the BBC did not just pull that number out of the hat?

A quick search on the web finds that the data actually comes from the Netcraft August server usage survey, which rather disappointly doesn't give too many details of what it defines as "hosts" either.

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