Just how many people use the Internet? This is generally an early (and understandable) question asked by those seeking to get a handle on the enthusiasm of the Internet devotee. With it’s lack of formal ownership and flat-rate connections, hard-nosed business types can generally be seen “groping” for all and any points of familiar reference on which to start to take bearings.
Opinio ns on numbers differ, and depending on whether or not you include those who use it (unwittingly much of the time) for corporate email, the figure hovers between 20 and 40 million users. The number of those taking part in “net-surfing” via daily web browsing is probably of the order of 5 million or so.
To put this into some sort of context for the UK, Cambridge-based CityScape Internet Services had over 250,000 "visits" to their web presentation in the month of May.
How many of these are Academic users? Well, looking in on the various newsgroups, it feels like around 80%, but checking access to CityScape’s commercial web server shows that 60% of callers are from commercial addresses.
So you can take your pick: if you are trying to resist the tide of the Internet it’s still relatively easy to take comfort in the idea that the numbers storming along the information superhighway are exaggerated by the over enthusiastic. But however you eventually arrive at a number that you are comfortable with, the fact remains that it is still the fastest growing marketplace and communications phenomenon of all time. The combination of a critical mass of services, users and sites, coupled to the ever more reasonable costs of hardware (particular effective modems) means that there is still only one way for the phenomenon to go.
Those who choose to ignore or defer their exploration of the Internet, expecting to find a convenient slot to fill in a couple of years when the "pioneers" have hacked the trails for them, are looking increasingly likely to find that civilization has arrived and is thriving without their assistance; and that far from turning up to civilize the natives of the Internet with offerings of glass beads and white man’s magic in the shape of their traditional retailing and distribution experience, they are going to end up in the cooking pot.
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