February 25, 2004, 12:00 AM

The difference eight years can make in web traffic

In less than a decade, Internet users have grown from a population of 20 million to more than 150 million Americans, says comScore Media Metrix. E-commerce sites now rank among the top 10 most visited sites.

From a medium used by a relatively small technologically oriented audience of perhaps 20 million Americans in 1996, the Internet has grown into an integral part of daily life for more than 150 million Americans today, according to comScore Media Metrix. The audience measurement company is releasing data comparing Internet use in January 1996 to its use in January 2004, demonstrating the web’s enormous growth since Media Metrix first started gathering data on web sites eight years ago.

“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 a majority of the U.S. population,” says Peter Daboll, president and CEO of comScore Media Metrix.

Broadband Internet connections today have grown to represent about 35% of home users from virtually no home broadband use eight years ago, and the web, whose function was earlier centered more around academic centers, has become a major commerce and marketing platform, comScore notes. While information and content delivery sites still are the most-visited sites today, as they were in 1996, e-commerce sites such as eBay and Amazon now rank in the top 10. In January, eBay, with more than 58 million unique visitors, reached 47.6% of all U.S. Internet users. With nearly 50 million unique visitors in January, Amazon, eighth on the list, reached 25% of Internet users.

The change over eight years as to which sites rank highest among top-visited sites demonstrates consolidation among media companies over the past several years. In 1996, the top sites were AOL.com, Webcrawler.com and Netscape.com, respectively. In January, the most visited properties were the Yahoo sites, MSN-Microsoft sites, and the Time Warner Network, which now controls both AOL and Netscape. Together, the Yahoo, MSN-Microsoft and Time-Warner networks reach virtually every Internet user in the U.S.

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