How Wide is the Web?

The people at the OCLC Online Computer Library Center have taken on the nearly impossible task of measuring the scope of the World Wide Web and found it has approximately 2.2 million Web sites that offer publicly accessible content. These sites contain nearly 300 million Web pages.

OCLC’s results were obtained in June of 1999 through its Web Characterization Project, and found that significant portions of the Web are not publicly accessible or do not offer meaningful content. About 400,000 Web sites can be considered “private” in that they do not offer content that is accessible without a fee or prior authorization. According to OCLC, about 1 million sites are “provisional” — either in a transitory or unfinished state or have only content that from a general perspective is meaningless or trivial.

Adult content claims a small proportion of the Web, according to OCLC. Only about 2 percent of the public sites (42,000 of the 2.2 million) contain sexually explicit material.

The mean size of a public Web site is approximately 129 pages, according to the research, and a 13 percent increase over last year’s estimate of 114 pages. The Web is dominated by a relatively small collection of “megasites” — the largest 25,000 sites contain about 50 percent of all pages on public sites.

During the two-year period from June of 1997 to June of 1999, the number of public Web sites has approximately tripled from 800,000 to 2.2 million.

“The Web has achieved the status of being one of the foremost information resources available today,” said Ed O’Neill, manager of the Web Characterization Project. “Because of the Web’s importance to libraries around the world, OCLC is committed to providing timely information that will assist them in understanding the Web and using its content.”

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