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A Half Billion New (And Mostly Mobile) Users – What’s Next For The Web

Depending on ones perspective, the creation of the World Wide Web could reasonably be celebrated in March, December or January – depending on what you think actually constitutes the “Web” being born. Twenty-six years ago this March (2015), Sir Tim Berners-Lee first circulated his “informational management proposal” at CERN, laying the foundation for the World Wide Web. Twenty-five Christmas days’ back, Berners-Lee first released the “world wide web” code to the public, and these are both strong contenders for when “the web” was born.

However, an equally strong case could also be made for celebrating the web’s birthday this month – since it was 24 years ago in January of 1991 the first Web servers outside of CERN itself were switched on.

This is the first website the wider world had access to.

Attendees at this year’s Innovation Project will have a chance to ask Berners-Lee himself which birthday he prefers, since he will be this year’s keynote speaker.

However, whether the “official” celebration is this month, two months from now or sort of rolled in with Christmas – the first connection across a distance of computers through the world wide web is an event worth noting.

Data recently compiled by social marketing site We Are Social reveals the degree to which Berners-Lee’s original tool for universal access has marched forward astonishingly quickly in the intervening 26 years, and also how much it has changed. How users are accessing the internet is changing, as is what they are doing there.

Here’s the scoop…

The Web : Getting More Universal By The Minute

Half a billion new users got online in 2014, expanding the connected world by about 20 percent. That brings the total number of interconnected web surfers worldwide to a little more than 3 billion.

internet-use-graph-1

Moreover, access to the web is increasing. Going into 2014, 35 percent of the world had access to the internet. As the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2015, that number had swelled to 42 percent. Moreover, We Are Social estimates that that connectivity will cross the 50 percent mark with in the next 18 to 24 months.

That distribution is rather unequal.

In the U.S. and Western Europe access is above 80 percent. In East Asia, South America and Eastern Europe –arguably the most successful blocs of the developing world – connectivity is in the 50 – 60 percent range.

In more unevenly developing South Asia, South East Asia, Africa and the Middle East, web access has only reached a fifth to a third of consumers.

The internet, according the figures is also getting faster.

Two years ago, the average speed was 3.8 Mbps – as of 2015 that has increased to 4.5 Mbps. However, that speed is variable depending where you are.

South Korea, with astonishingly average speeds in excess of 20 Mbps, leads for speed, followed by Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and the USA (each with speeds averaging ver 10 Mbps).

internet-time-spent-graph

On the other side of the coin, India is struggling to attain 2 Mbps, though that does still represent a 25 percent increase in connection speed locally over the last two years.

And users are spending more and more time on the web going into 2015.

Ten years ago, the average internet user worldwide spent less than two hours a day surfing the internet. At the end of 2014, the average internet user spent around 4 hours and 25 minutes actively using the net each day.

South East Asians spend the most time online – averaging around 6 hours per day, while Americans spend slightly more than the world average, at almost 5 hours per day online. Interesting, South Koreans, with their blindingly fast internet speeds – spend less time, on average, online than almost any other country – fewer than 3.5 hours a day. Japan bottoms out the list with just over 3 hours a day of web time.

The internet is clearly growing and expanding – both in terms of how much geographic reach it has and how much of our time it is occupying. However, the web is also changing as more are accessing it. While desktop computers are far from being a thing of the past, mobile has arrived and change the way people worldwide access the web. As a result, it’s exponentially speeding up its growth.

Mobile Marches Forward

share-web-traffic

The data reveals a clear pattern – much of the internet’s 500 million person growth last year was concentrated in emerging markets, where people are increasingly more likely to access the web via a mobile device.

According to the research presented, mobile accounts for 89 percent of all internet activity in Papua New Guinea, 76 percent in Nigeria and 72 percent in India. The number of mobile users worldwide has jumped as well – by about 5 percent. And while that does not sound like an amazing percentage, that does add up to a little under 200 million additional people across signing on to the web via mobile for the first time.

Mobile’s share of global web traffic is also on the rise. It jumped 39 percent since this time in 2014, and now one third of all web pages are displayed on mobile:

However, like web penetration, mobile’s share varies considerably around the world.

India’s web traffic is dominated by mobile devices, with phones alone accounting for 72 percent of all web pages served in the world’s second most populous nation. Given the low rate of internet connectivity and low penetration of computers, research indicates that India may be leading the way for developing economies where mobile emerges as the primary conduit for web-based activities, instead of evolving as a secondary access point to the personal computer.

mobile-users

The number of devices is also on the rise, as the number unique mobile users exceeded 50% of the world’s population in September 2014. Moreover, the current projected yearly growth rate is a little over 5 percent, meaning that analysts are forecasting roughly 200 million new mobile users over the next 12 months.

Smartphones account for the largest share of mobile use for an increasingly large proportion of mobile use, with 38 percent of the world’s active connections. Forty percent of the world’s mobile connections now count as broadband, with access to a 3G or better network.

E-Commerce: If You Build It, They Will Buy

While the original design of the web called for access to a universal array of documents, the internet did the world one better and also evolved to offer consumers an infinite array of goods through e-commerce.

The English are the world’s ecommerce leading enthusiasts, with data suggesting that almost two-thirds of the country’s population bought something online in the past month. Germans and South Koreans are in the number 2 and 3 spot, with 63 and 62 percent of their respective population shopping via web. Americans hold down the fourth space spot at 56 percent.

South and Southeast Asia lag when it comes to e-commerce though, which given the scarcity of high speed internet access is not surprising. What will be interesting however, is seeing how commerce picks up in Southeast Asia, particularly with Amazon, Alibaba and Flipkart vying to see who will crack this largely under tapped market.

ecommerce-graph

What path Mobile commerce will pull e-commerce also is up in the air, though shopping via phone is clearly picking up momentum around the world.

East Asia leads that trend, with data pointing to South Korean and Chinese consumers turned to their phones to shop one third of the time, on average.

Mobile is also expanding the definition of what “e-commerce” can mean. In Kenya – home of mPesa – users can tap mobile to buy consumers goods like groceries. However mobile is also the tool by which Kenyan consumer can arrange financing, purchase goods like solar panels and manage expenses like taxes.

Mobile is also changing what types of merchants can take cards and where in the world they can be taken.

Whenever you count the World Wide Web’s birthday, it seems clear that even for a relatively young innovation, it has already greatly exceeded the great expectations set before it.

While it may never quite be the universal lifeline it was touted to be on its first page – it seems to be getting close enough that the lives of billions are changed – mostly for the better – in its wake.

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