The best of the Net

By Himal Kotelawala

The 00 decade that just flew by saw the metamorphosis of the internet from a modest, slower-than-a-snail commodity “enjoyed” by corporates and the rich few into a global phenomenon that has reached unprecedented levels of speed and success truly enjoyed by the masses.

Over the past 10 years, dramatic advances in networking technology have brought about a rapid increase in bandwidth and download speed bringing the goliath that is the internet closer to a wide audience. And by wide, I mean really wide.

According to internetworldstats.com, there has been a massive growth of internet usage worldwide between 2000 and 2009 – a staggering 380.3%. As of September 30, 2009 there were over 1.7 billion internet users all over the world. That’s roughly 25% of the world’s population. One out of four people uses the internet on a daily basis. If that’s not an astounding figure, I don’t know what is.

With the development of hardware and infrastructure relating to the internet, came the development of content. In the beginning the World Wide Web consisted largely of ‘lite’ websites that were mostly composed of text and the occasional jpeg. Incorporating breathtaking animated content, streaming HD video and CD quality audio into the design of everyday webpages was a distant dream. However it didn’t take too long for that dream to come true. The world’s greatest minds collaborated to take the internet to the next level and thus Web 2.0 was born.

Web 2.0 is a term loosely used for a highly interactive version of the web that gradually evolved over the past decade. It offers the user a more personal online experience allowing greater control and, arguably, a great deal of privacy. Also, an increase in bandwidth meant a faster internet connection that made room for heavier content, thereby making things generally a whole lot of, well, fun.


If there is one thing that has truly revolutionised the way people interact with the internet, it’s social networking. No other web-based activity comes even close to the popularity enjoyed by this phenomenon. Social networking generously caters to the people’s seemingly insatiable desire to advertise their private lives on a public forum for the whole world to see. Countless such forums have popped up over the years but there’s only one that takes the cake, and that is Facebook.

Founded in 2004 by now world famous billionaire Mark Zuckerberg and some of his roommates, Facebook makes an annual revenue of 300 million big ones. What started off as a small web community for Zuckerberg’s Harvard buddies is now the world’s biggest social network and, according to Compete.com, has officially made it to the top of the list by worldwide monthly active users.

In addition to being a great tool for keeping in touch with friends, it is also a great way to waste time. A quick search on Google Internet Stats will reveal that 5% of all online time is spent browsing profiles, uploading photos, and leaving comments, etc., etc. on Facebook. And 5% is a LOT of time, and time = money. No wonder they have banned it at pretty much every single workplace on the planet.


As mentioned earlier, the advent of bigger and faster internet connections meant letting users upload and download heavier content such as high quality video was no longer a problem for web developers. So, in February 2005 three former employees of PayPal got together and setup a small video sharing site called YouTube. It was an instant hit. It became so popular that Internet giant Google just HAD to buy it over.

They did so in November 2006 for a cool $1.65 billion and the rest, as they say, is history. It is now the world’s biggest video sharing network where users from every corner of the world could and do upload video clips about basically anything under the sun.

It is also used by media giants such as CBS to share some of their programming and also by bathroom singers, celebrities and politicians who want to take their message to the masses.

A case in point was the 2008 Obama campaign which relied heavily on YouTube for propaganda, especially targeted at youth.

It is reported that 10 to 20 hours of video is uploaded to it every…. minute. It’s almost impossible to even comprehend the enormity of that. Let’s not even go there.


The internet, while bringing new meaning to the word distraction, has also managed to spring a few useful surprises on its 1.7 billion users. Wikipedia is very high up on that list. It is the poor man’s university, his guide to the galaxy, if you will. Home to over 8 million articles in 260 different languages (including our very own Sinhala and Tamil), Wikipedia can be edited by anyone with a user account.

There was a time when this could’ve spelt disaster. According to Webupon.com there is now a dedicated staff of over 1500 administrators and 75,000 “hot authors” who constantly monitor what’s going on the world’s biggest encyclopedia.

The hot authors are responsible for maintaining and adding to the site’s database while the admins scrutinize every single page for accuracy, etc. Gone are the days when you couldn’t “trust” Wikipedia. It really is a goldmine of information that covers everything from your favourite TV show to supermassive blackholes.

Approximately 684 million users visit Wikipedia every year to quench their thirst for informa tion. Does that mean the world becomes less foolish by 10% every year, though? Let me go Wiki that.

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