The Network By the Numbers

By Sarah Sorensen
November 3, 2009 | Comments: 1

We all know the network is everywhere. It's pervasiveness is what makes it the most endearing platform we have to address many of the issues we face today.

Thanks to the convergence of increasingly affordable, powerful and mobile devices, access to the network has spread out and infiltrated parts of the globe that have typically remained impervious to previous technology advancements. And once present, the network has an uncanny ability to create opportunities, deliver efficiencies, and spur innnovations that leave us all craving more. It connects people, thoughts and things in new ways that, in turn, drive additional connections, uses and overall network adoption. It's a virtuous cycle that we witness every day as the network grows, morphs (and moves - given its increasingly mobility), and then grows some more.

There are some interesting numbers that I've heard recently that I wanted to highlight to articulate the scale and scope of today's network. (See Mary Meeker's Web 2.0 Presentation for a bevy of interesting stats.) Let's start with the fact there are close to 1.7 billion Internet users in the world (the actual number can be found here) - representing almost one quarter of the world's population.

Who are they and what are they doing? They could be one of the 445 million YouTube users, who watch one billion videos each day and publish more than 20 hours of video each minute. Or they could be one of the users responsible for the 5000 "tweets" sent every minute via Twitter to individuals, Web sites and news feeds across the network on anything and everything. Or they could be one of the 200,000 entrepreneurs around the world who have benefited from loans funded by more than 550,000 people that have logged into Kiva.org to make a difference through microfinancing (according to Kiva's Premal Shah at the Women's Conference). Or they may be one of the many that are going online to engage in political discussions (1 in five of American Internet users), ask a friend's advice on their next purchase, or search for health and medical information (61% of American adults). The possibilities are limitless.

Sarah Sorensen is the author of The Sustainable Network: The Accidental Answer for a Troubled Planet.

The Sustainable Network demonstrates how we can tackle challenges, ranging from energy conservation to economic and social innovation, using the global network -- of which the public Internet is just one piece. This book demystifies the power of the network, and issues a strong call to action.


The fact is that more and more individuals, businesses and governments rely on the network to facilitate more and more of their daily activities. A trend that will continue and likely accelerate, particularly as smartphones and mobile devices make it easier and easier to access the network from wherever you are, whenever you need it. Meeker laid out the prediction that global IP mobile traffic is likely to grow 66 times by 2013 and mobile data users will triple to 1 billion by 2013.

However, the rapid adoption of all the devices the network connects and all the applications (particularly video and rich-media services) the network supports has also caused some predictions of an inevitable crash - a "network driven" apocalypse as Juniper Networks CEO joked in the middle of his Web 2.0 presentation. But in all seriousness, this other side of the network equation can be worrying. In his presentation, Juniper's CEO asserted the economics of the Internet could break in 2015. Analyst firm Nemertes has predicted that network demand is on a path to outstrip capacity by 2012, if not sooner. We have already seen capacity strains on certain networks. Then the are the numbers surrounding malware and the increasingly sophisticated network attacks that can cripple individuals, businesses and governments (remember Georgia?).

Without appropriate investment in secure, infrastructure build outs the adoption, innovation and ability of the network to sustain change are threatened. The good news is that these are not new threats to the network - network providers have been dealing with a doubling of traffic every 18 -24 months (check out Cisco's Visual Networking Index) and security vendors have been focused on keeping hackers and at bay (see CERT) for the past decade. What's different today is the scale.

Due to it's pervasiveness, the possibilities and threats to the network are at a level we have never seen before. Will we be able to rise to the challenges and ensure the network's numbers equal ongoing opportunities? Only time will tell. But consider us all on notice.


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1 Comment

Maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree, but if you're using "The Network" to refer to people who use the internet then that's the snootiest neologism I've heard in months.

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