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Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 13:19 GMT
Internet starts to shrink
A briefcase full of cash, BBC
Domain name speculators are shutting up shop
The net has shrunk ever so slightly.

For only the second time ever, an authoritative monthly survey of the number of sites on the net has found fewer sites online than in the previous month.

The fall has been put down to a drop in the number of registered domains.

Despite the drop, the net remains hugely popular, and there are now over 36 million sites in cyberspace.

Fever pitch

The net has reached this huge figure in only five years. In August 1995, when Netcraft began regularly surveying the size of the internet, there were fewer than 20,000 websites.

But between November and December 2001, the number of sites on the web fell by 182,142.

Netcraft has put this down to a drop in the number of registered domain names.

During the closing months of 2001, the number of new domains registered was lower than the number that were not renewed.

Number of sites
December 2001 - 36,276,252
December 2000 - 25,675,581
December 1999 - 9,560,866
December 1998 - 3,689,227
December 1997 - 1,681,868
December 1996 - 603,367
August 1995 - 18,957
Source: Netcraft

The only other time that Netcraft has seen a drop in the number of sites was in August 2000.

That drop was the result of some organisations going bust, others swapping software and the effects of the Code Red virus.

In September 2000 the net resumed its steady upward climb - until its latest stumble. Experts say the latest change looks more long-lasting.

Typically, when someone buys a domain name, such as, they get the right to use it for two years.

Many speculators bought domains in late 1999 as the fever around dot.coms and the net in general was building. They hoped to sell the names for a profit to companies or individuals desperate for memorable or snappy net identities.

Novel names

However, the promise of those early days has not been fulfilled, and as the two-year ownership period on these names expires, many speculators are giving up the rights to the names.

Many speculators may also be abandoning domains because new net suffixes, such as .name, .info, .biz and .museum, are starting to be switched on and are reducing the pressure on the crowded .com domain.

Some of these are closed registries intended only for certain types of organisation and others have taken steps, not always successfully, to limit the attempts of speculators to snap up popular domains.

While Netcraft points out that the number of registered domains does not directly map to the number of sites reached by its survey, a drop on the number of domains is likely to have a knock-on effect on the number of sites set up and maintained online.

Since 2000 was a bumper year for domain registrations and a time when speculators were at their most rampant, Netcraft expects that the number of sites on the net will continue to fall over the opening months of 2002.

See also:

02 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Code Red threat tailing off
02 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Code Red 'was never a threat'
11 Feb 99 | Sci/Tech
Surfing on a matchbox
29 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Doing science by stealth
07 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
New domains taking hold
17 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
The net gets a new .name
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