The Web has become an integral part of daily life for more than 150 million Americans. But back in 1996 -- when Media Metrix released the world’s first ranking of the most-visited Web sites -- only about 20 million U.S. households had a home Internet connection.
To celebrate its eight-years of online consumer measurement, comScore Media Metrix (the company was acquired by comScore Networks in June 2002) re-released its January 1996 Web site rankings alongside the January 2004 rankings.
“In the eight years since the Media Metrix service began tracking Internet use, the Web has grown from a novelty used by a minority of techno-savvy users to a mainstream medium used by the majority of the U.S. population,” says Peter Daboll, president and CEO of comScore Media Metrix. “Comparing this month’s ranking to that of January 1996 provides the numbers behind the fascinating story of how the Internet evolved to become an integral part of mainstream American life.”
The Internet has grown not only in size, but also in scope of application. In the mid-nineties, the Web was dominated by “Internet Service Provider” sites that offered a connection to the Internet (many of which evolved into “portals”), search engines and university sites. Since then, however, the Internet user base has expanded dramatically, high-speed connections have spread beyond corporate and academic campuses, and users have become increasingly dependent on the Internet’s many unique capabilities. As a result, the Internet has emerged as a uniquely powerful and holistic medium.
Below are rankings of the top ten properties in January 1996 versus January 2004. A full comparison of the top 50 properties is available at the end of this article:
While information and content delivery have surged in popularity, e-commerce properties such as eBay, Amazon, TicketMaster, Orbitz, Expedia and others now rank among the most popular destinations on the Web. In fact, online spending (excluding auctions) is on target to break the $100 billion threshold this year -- another spectacular growth story tracked by comScore Networks.
The Web has had a major impact on a broad range of industries, from retail to entertainment to travel. In January 2004, 83.5 million Americans, or 55 percent of the Internet population, visited either eBay or Amazon, making these sites among the most heavily trafficked retailers in the country -- online or offline. Major entertainment conglomerates, such as Time Warner, Viacom and Disney, have built vast Internet networks that reach tens of millions of Americans every month. Online travel agencies, such as Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity, have revolutionized the travel industry by giving more power to consumers and driving down prices of airfare, hotel rooms and car rentals. Consumers have responded positively and, as a result, the online travel industry has grown from a fledgling business in 1996 to $41 billion in consumer sales in 2003.
A comparison of site and property rankings from 1996 to today also highlights a tremendous amount of consolidation, both in terms of media ownership and audience reach. Time Warner, for example, now controls a number of 1996’s top sites, including AOL.com, Netscape.com, Compuserve.com and Pathfinder.com. While the top three sites of the mid-nineties each reached approximately 4 to 6 million people (representing 30 to 40 percent of total online users), the top three properties of today’s Internet are massive networks owned by Yahoo!, Microsoft and Time Warner, each of which reaches more than 70 percent of the Internet population with audiences exceeding 100 million people each month. Collectively, these three leading networks reach virtually every Internet user in the United States.
*Based on best available research at the time
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