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Just How Big Has the Internet Become?

It's not getting any smaller, that's for sure.
The internet is people. Image: James Cridland/Flickr

The web is a huge, bloated space with a serious problem. If it was a person, it would be on TLC's My 600-lb Life in desperate need of a life-changing transformation.

Wrap your mind around this: the average website today is now roughly 2.3MB—the size of the original Doom PC game, as noted in a study released in April by software engineer Ronan Cremi, CTO of DeviceAtlas. And the overall page size is "increasing inexorably," Cremin stated in his report. Now consider the fact there are over 1 billion of these websites and counting clogging up the net, an increase of over 1,000 percent in the last decade.


In other words, websites are getting bigger and bigger, and at the same time, more and more of them are being launched.

But when you take into account all of these websites and their text, photos, animated ads, videos, and everything else that goes into them, just how big is the internet as a whole? And does it really matter?

The first question is a tricky one to answer. One way of estimating the size of the internet is to look at the amount of information that's consume by web traffic. According to the latest Visual Networking Index report from Cisco, an annual forecast on the scale of internet traffic, annual global web traffic will exceed the zettabyte (ZB) this year. For those keeping score, a zettabyte is 1,000 exabytes; an exabyte is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes or one billion gigabytes. Let's put that in real world terms -- a single Blu-ray disc can store only 50GB of data, meaning a zettabyte of traffic would be the equivalent of downloading enough data to fill 20 billion Blu-ray discs.

Cisco estimates that by 2020 global IP traffic will climb to 2.3ZB as more than one billion new internet users get online, bringing the global internet community to 4.1 billion people. It also projects that internet video and virtual reality will see the biggest increases in traffic in the coming years.

On the surface, this all sounds great. The more information and content that's available, the better, right?


Not necessarily. The web today is incredibly inefficient. Because we have increasingly faster internet connections, developers have tended to place less focus on creating efficient websites and online experiences and more focus on delivering things like 4K video, high-resolution photos, and the like.

Here's the problem. Accessing this content uses more data, and at a time when most wireless providers have long ago ditched their unlimited data plans and ISPs like Comcast are instituting data caps to punish cordcutters and increase revenue, one could argue that a bloated internet could cost internet users more money.

But data usage isn't the only potential problem caused by web bloat. Huge, inefficient websites create a poor user experience because they take longer to load, don't function properly on certain devices, and can even negatively impact battery life for those using mobile devices.

Cremin told Motherboard: "The unavoidable reality is that, all other things being equal, bigger sites take longer to load. Unless your connectivity is perfect, waiting for website to load can be an exercise in frustration. Websites are getting bigger more quickly than connectivity is improving."

Now for the good news. The problem of web bloat isn't going unnoticed. Many of the top technology companies are doing their part to create a lighter, more efficient web.

Google has deployed multiple tactics to improve the speed of the web. First, it has been hitting owners of slow, bloated websites where it hurts worst by penalizing them in the search rankings. Google has also introduced the Accelerated Mobile Pages, or as it's more commonly called, AMP. This "open source initiative" is designed to ensure that web pages load "near instantly" on mobile devices to create a faster, more streamlined mobile web experience. AMP achieves this by "imposing strict limits on what's allowed to go into a page," according to Cremin.

And Google isn't the only one doing its part to speed up the web. From WordPress now supporting responsive images to improve load time across devices to Netflix unleashing new encoding technology for its streaming service that uses 20 percent less bandwidth, many are trying to reverse the trend of the increasingly growing web.

The question is, will everyone else follow their example?