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Wednesday, August 25, 1999 Published at 13:31 GMT 14:31 UK


Web is 'shrinking'

The World Wide Web, widely thought of as an endless myriad of choice, appears to be shrinking.

It is not shrinking in the total number of Websites being published - that is rising faster than ever - but in the number of Websites surfers visit and how long they spend there.

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Research by MediaMetrix for US newspaper LA Times shows that surfers now spend almost 20% of their time on the Web visiting only the top 10 sites. A year ago, the figure was 16%.

The amount of time spent at the top 50 and 100 sites has risen even more since 1998.

Mary Gorman, marketing director for Net analysts Nua, told BBC News Online that the change represents a maturing process for Web users.

"The Web is changing rapidly but the one thing that hasn't changed is that there is still only 24 hours in a day - so more people are streamlining what they are getting. They are going back to the sites where they know they will get the quality information they want."

Giants triumph

Most of the top sites are portal sites, which gather and classify information for their users. Ms Gorman says: "Only a few companies, such as Yahoo, can do this. They are big companies with deep pockets, the mass marketers."

"Other companies now have to work out how to rise to the top in their particular niches. Portals are OK for a while, but people don't always want to be guided and only have choices within fixed parameters."

Concerns that the top sites will become increasingly similar, reducing variety on the Web, may well be balanced by a second tier of sites with increasingly targeted content. In this way, says Ms Gorman, "As we become more global through the Web, we become more local as well."

Hide and seek

However, as more pages are published, being seen on the Web is becoming more difficult. Even the best search engines catalogue only 16% of the Web's 800 million pages.

The MediaMetrix research was done in the US, but most of the major Web brands in the US are now moving into Europe.

This means, says Ms Gorman, that Europe is "waking up faster" in terms of how its surfers use the Web, especially in the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia.

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