The World Wide Web is exploding in size. From
a barely noticeable handful of websites 20 years
ago, it has mushroomed into a gigantic resource
In 2010 alone, around 21.4 million new websites
were added to the Web. And as huge countries
like China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil get more
and more of their population online, it’s only
set to get bigger and bigger.
Most visited websites
Google publishes a list of the number of
monthly unique visitors the world’s other
most popular websites receive. While the
exact number remains a mystery for Google
itself, it’s safe to assume that it would top
Access all areas
Imagine facing a 2-day trek
every time you wanted to check
your e-mail. That’s the prospect
facing many who live in rural
parts of mountainous Nepal.
Here, on the “Roof of the World
fewer than three percent of the
country’s 29 million people have
direct Internet access. Nepal
is far from alone. There is a
huge digital divide between the
Internet haves and have-nots
around the world. All kinds of
initiatives, both big and small,
are working to shrink the gap.
According to Internet World Stats
in 2010, more than three-quarters
of the U.S. population were Internet
users. By contrast, just 0.3 percent
of the population of the African
nation of Sierra Leone used
Many communities in rural Nepal are remote, at high
altitude, cut off by steep valleys, and poorly served by
roads or electricity. Building long-distance Wi-Fi
networks in this terrain has been a huge challenge.
Materials have been carried up by hand to construct
the relay towers that beam the signals through the
narrow valleys. The highest tower stands 11,800 ft
(3,600 m) above sea level and is manned by a yak
farmer, who must check the connections every day.
The Internet has brought
together isolated Nepalese
communities. School children
work online, farmers can buy
and sell on a local trading
website, and health workers use
webcams so patients can be
examined by hospital doctors in
the capital, Kathmandu.
In 2010, the Nepalese telecom
company Ncell brought
wireless 3G Internet and phone
coverage to Mount Everest—
its climbers, guides, and nearby
villages. Since there is no
electricity supply, the system’s
10 base stations are powered
by solar panels, with batteries
for backup. The highest of the
stations is 17,060 ft (5,200 m)
above sea level.
How the Web is run
The World Wide Web is huge and complex,
so who runs it all? Surely, someone must be in
charge? It’s not the Internet service providers
(ISPs) who connect you to the Internet, or the
telecom companies who supply phone lines and
infrastructure. Nor is it national governments or
the UN. The answer is that no single organization
administers all websites and the content that
flows between them.
“The Internet is
not a thing, a place,
a single technology,
or a mode of
governance. It is
John Gage, Director of Science,
Sun Microsystems, Inc.
Internet to splinternet?
The Internet has relied on
agreement between many parties
to survive and prosper worldwide.
Could a lack of future agreement,
censorship, and other restrictions
placed on websites by national
governments lead to a “splinternet,”
with different standards in different
nations? No one is certain, but
changes are likely as more and
more of the four billion people
currently without access get online.
The good side
of the Web
The founders of the World Wide Web made it freely
available because they thought it could be a
powerful force for good. In many ways, they were
right. In its relatively short life so far, the World
Wide Web has been an astonishing success,
helping to inform and transform millions of lives. It
provides a platform for new businesses, puts
people with shared interests in touch, and
provides a convenient, regularly updated source
of news and entertainment for millions every day.
The Web holds a growing collection of
computer programs that are free for anyone
with Internet access to download. People
often take these resources for granted, but it is
quite remarkable that the results of thousands
of hours of hard work are given away. The two
main kinds of free software are freeware and
open-source programs. Freeware is software
that is free for personal or non-commercial
use. Open-source programs go even further,
offering the entire program code and
background details so that fellow software
designers can alter or improve the program.
Interested in time travel? The Wayback
Machine is a gigantic archive of web pages
dating back to 1996. Users can see what a
website’s content was like at different points in
the past—for free. In 2007, the California-based
organization performed a massive web crawl
in order to take a global snapshot of the
World Wide Web. It cataloged and
archived two billion web pages.
Archives like this will be invaluable
to future Internet historians.
offers free lecture notes, exam
papers, and video tutorials for
2,000 different academic
courses. More than a million
students and educators visit
the site each month.
The Web is bursting with knowledge on a vast
range of subjects. Experts and enthusiasts give
up their time to offer insights and information
on personal websites or take part in collaborative
projects such as iFixit, which offers repair manuals
for hundreds of electrical devices. Surfers can
download sports rules and coaching tips from
governing bodies, identify wildlife they have spotted,
learn a language, or get advice on how to improve
their paintings, photography, or music, all for free.
On December 10, 2010,
Freerice.com users donated
more than 60 million grains
of rice to starving people
worldwide. All they had to do
was click on advertisers’
links on websites.
In 2003, recycling activist Deron Beal
sent out an email to about 40 friends
and local charities around Tucson,
Arizona. He wanted to set up a
system in which people offered
unwanted goods to others rather than
throw them away. The Freecycle
Network now operates in more than
85 countries and has more than seven
million members. Its online notice
boards advertise all kinds of gifted
items, from baby carriages to printers.
Michelle Miles, a 19-year-old
from Arkansas, began a
charitable cause on Facebook.
Her “Race to End Cancer”
has more than six million
members and has raised
more than $80,000.
Charities and campaign groups use the Web
to raise awareness of issues. Their websites
feature facts and ﬁgures, video case studies, and
interviews. Many provide helpful free resources,
such as advice on how to deal with bullying,
eating disorders, alcohol, drugs, or gang violence.
Charities can raise funds by running online
campaigns or organizing virtual volunteering, in
which people donate their time or skills over the
Internet to help a cause some distance away.
The bad side
of the Web
Most people build web pages in order to
educate, inform, or entertain. Some, however,
misuse the fabulous resource at their ﬁngertips,
and play pranks, start rumors, or build websites
full of lies. Some use the Web, email, and instant
messages to upset and intimidate people. Others
spread malicious computer code that can damage
computers or steal passwords, allowing criminals
to divert money from victims’ bank accounts.
Viruses and worms
Computer viruses are types of malware that make
copies of themselves and run automatically on a
computer, often destroying ﬁles or even erasing hard
disks. When a ﬁle containing a virus is sent to another
computer, it can become infected, too. Worms
are viruses that use network connections to spread
automatically. Identiﬁed in 2008, the Conﬁcker worm
has infected millions of machines, including computers
in the French navy and British police. It may have
caused more than $9.5 billion of damage.
Many websites display images or discuss
subjects, such as violence or sexual
content, that are unsuitable for children
and distasteful to many adults. Internet
ﬁlters, such as Net Nanny, Safe Eyes, and
Google’s SafeSearch, can prevent
these sites from being viewed by
people who do not want to
or should not see them.
Computer software that is sent
to your computer with mischievous
or criminal intent is called malware.
It includes viruses, worms, Trojans,
and spyware. Malware can be just
a harmless, if irritating, prank or
designed for more serious purposes,
such as stealing credit card and
bank account details or crippling
a victim’s computer. Malware is
a massive problem, with around
60,000 new malware threats
identiﬁed every day.
In 2009, 11 people in China
were found guilty of using
Trojans and other malware.
They had stolen more than
ﬁve million user names