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Wednesday, 6 June, 2001, 12:58 GMT 13:58 UK
Big four dominate web
Logos of AOL, Microsoft, Napster and Yahoo
By BBC News Online technology correspondent Mark Ward

The number of sites on the web may amount to hundreds of millions but surfers seem to be spending half of their time visiting just four of them.

Research out this week shows that four websites are beginning to dominate the online lives of many keen net users.

It reveals that sites run by AOL Time Warner, Microsoft, Napster and Yahoo are drawing users in increasing numbers.

AOL Time Warner alone accounted for almost a third of the amount of time people spend online in the US.

Shrinking majority

It has often been said that time on the internet moves faster than it does in the real world. In barely 18 months, many dot.coms have gone from being revolutionaries to bankrupts.

Now a survey by analyst firm Jupiter Media Metrix has found that old-fashioned business values, such as offline market muscle, are helping some companies dominate online.

Jupiter said that in March 1999 11 sites were accounting for 50% of the time people spent online. Now the figure is four. All by itself AOL Time Warner, which has over 23 million subscribers, is responsible for almost a third of the time American citizens are spending online.

Over the same time period the number of sites that attract 60% of web visits have dropped from 110 to 14.

'Irrefutable trend'

"The data show an irrefutable trend towards online media consolidation and indicate that the playing field is anything but even," said Jupiter Analyst Aram Sinnreich. "So far a major share of the market is being absorbed by a handful of companies, with those same companies continuing to direct traffic across their own network of sites."

Jupiter analysts say the closure of many dot.coms has reduced the options for people who regularly surf the web, and a spate of mergers and acquisitions have created single entities where once there were competitors with separate web presences.

The findings cast doubt on many expert predictions that the size of the web would mean that companies would find it hard to establish a dominance.

The survey adds that the marketing and advertising power of the largest companies will make it much harder for any new entrants to gain any significant market share.

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See also:

15 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Half the internet is going nowhere
12 Jan 01 | Business
Giant of the dot.com world
18 Apr 01 | Business
AOL Time Warner profits rise
30 May 01 | Business
Microsoft sets sights on AOL
26 Apr 01 | Business
Napster use slumps after court order
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