For most web users, Google isn’t so much a ‘website’ as the gateway to the internet itself. So let’s get it out of the way: 40,000 search queries per second, 3.5 billion searches per day, and 1.2 trillion searches per year.
The most popular searches tend to be for websites on this list, representing some of the biggest names in ecommerce, entertainment, social media, and general reference.
Here are the statistics behind them.
Craigslist is roughly a decade older than Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube and predates even Google, having launched all the way back in the Netscape/Windows 95 days. And it looks it too. Unlike every other site on this list, its appearance hasn’t really changed a bit.
But that’s not all that sets it apart. Despite its global reach and popularity—with more than 700 local sites across 70 countries, comprising 100 million ads and 50 billion page views per month—the company only has 50 employees.
Since its launch, Craigslist has managed to retain a charitable, almost anti-capitalist ethos that extends far beyond its .org domain name and “Ban the Bomb” logo. Apparently, it only started charging for ads as a way to root out spam from competitive categories (e.g. Bay Area jobs, New York City apartments, sex workers, etc.). Most other categories remain free-to-post as per the original mission. But the site was soon pulling in $40,000 a day from these fees, a profit Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, says was purely accidental. Indeed, he invests most of it in charity organizations and causes like the Wikimedia Foundation (for free knowledge) and the Poynter Institute (for trustworthy journalism).
And while analysts say that Craigslist could easily increase its yearly revenue to $6 billion overnight, without even alienating its users, simply by upping its fees, there are no plans to sell out or even sell up. As the idealistic Newmark puts it: “Death is my exit strategy.”
Originally launched in 1998 for mail order DVD rentals, it wasn’t until 2007 that Netflix branched into streaming. Since then, it’s become a movie studio and television network in its own right, and a major one at that, drawing criticism from industry rivals. FX CEO John Landgraf, for example, calls the Netflix boom “Peak TV” and says there’s just too much story to keep up with—a bubble that will eventually burst.
Industry concerns aside, there’s definitely something dubious about Netflix. Not only has it successfully transformed “bingeing” on TV and all that goes with it into a socially acceptable pastime, it actually encourages and celebrates this addiction by shamelessly parading the stats. In 2017, for instance, Netflix proudly announced that January 1, traditionally a day for giving up vices, was their most popular day for a “comfort binge.”
As of July 2018, the site had more than 130 million subscribers, together watching more than a billion hours per week. And the year before, more than 5 million sat through at least one whole series on the site—sometimes for 12 hours or more—in a single 24-hour period, a phenomenon the ‘pushers’ at Netflix cynically refer to as “binge-racing.” And this is almost certainly underplaying the true number, since Netflix counts only individual subscribers and not the number of people in the room—or others on the same account.
Acquired by Amazon back in 1998, IMDb had already been around for almost eight years, or 10 if you count its days as a Usenet group. Amazon wanted to integrate the site into its own to drive up their sales of new movies, and paid $55 million for the database—all before Google existed. So apparently Col Needham “sold out” long before 2017 when he dropped the site’s bustling message boards.
Nowadays, IMDb claims to attract more than 250 million visits a month and has roughly the same number of pages, including 5 million titles. But only 10% of them are movies; the majority of titles (more than 3 million of them) are actually just TV episodes—leaving some to wonder why it isn’t the “ITVDb” instead. The site also boasts more than 20 million actor pages, less than 12.5 million actress pages, 6.7 million images, 3.4 million videos, and 3.5 million reviews.
Many people check IMDb before deciding to watch a film and reject any with less than six stars. However, the voting system isn’t nearly as straightforward as it seems. The site actually rigs the ratings in a number of different, mostly secretive ways—like making new users’ votes count for less. IMDb also has a disproportionately high number of male voters and a bias for movies aimed at men. At the time of writing, the top five movies of all time, apparently, are The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II, The Dark Knight, and 12 Angry Men.
Although Reddit bills itself as “the front page of the internet,” it actually has a fairly niche audience: 58% aged 18-29 years old and 69% male. As of mid-2015, only 7% were 50-64 years old and a mere 1% were 65+.
It was founded in 2005 by a pair of college roommates who ran fake accounts to make it look busy. But it wasn’t until 2008 that users could make their own subreddits—a feature for which Reddit is best known. Today, there are nearly 1.2 million of them, 140,000 of which are active, and, as early as 2015, there were more than 1.7 billion comments.
Another key feature of Reddit is the Reddit AMA, which stands for “Ask Me Anything,” a special type of thread allowing direct question and answer sessions between users and interesting people, including scientists and politicians. The most popular AMA ever was Barack Obama’s on August 29, 2012, attracting 3 million page views on the day and many more millions since. By the time it was archived, it had accumulated 216,000 upvotes and more than 23,000 comments.
In many ways Amazon represents the brave new world of internet-driven civilization—its growth often described as a hostile takeover or an ambush of physical stores. But it’s actually much older than you might think. Having launched in 1994, it’s one of the oldest continuously operating websites out there. It launched its affiliate program all the way back in 1996, the same year that it sold its first shares. And this was a time when less than a fifth of Americans were on the internet and only a third even had computers—so it showed extraordinary foresight (or very clever planning) from Jeff Bezos.
By 1999, Amazon added music, DVDs, video games, software, and home improvement products to its initial offering of books. The following year, it launched its marketplace for third-party sellers and by 2003 was selling pretty much anything we searched for. So Amazon can hardly be thought of as new; in fact, it’s older than 40% of mankind.
In America, more than 43% of online retail sales are processed through the site, which means 43 cents of every single dollar spent online—all 385 billion of them—passes through Amazon’s hands. It should come as no surprise, then, that it’s worth billions of dollars more than Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Macy’s, Kohl’s, Nordstrom, JCPenney, and Sears combined.
Shipping something like 3.3 million orders in a day, it mails enough cardboard packaging to bury all 50 states in just under five normal months. And it takes more than 125,000 bullied employees (and tens of thousands of robots) to fulfill that many orders across 75 centers in the US. As it rolls out delivery by drone, Amazon now has plans to take some of these warehouses to the sky, constructing huge floating airships that will somehow cut down on costs.
Wikipedia is huge. The English version alone has more than 5.6 million articles—3.2 billion words—and continues to grow at a rate of 497 articles a day. Of course, the strength of Wikipedia is its continual, open-source refinement over time, and it currently averages around 2 edits per second. Since it launched in 2001, it’s had well over 848 million.
Yet despite its noble aims and meticulous attention to detail, the internet’s most popular general reference website is still widely seen as unreliable. A 2014 study looked at ten of Wikipedia’s medical articles and found that nine were full of inaccuracies—an especially worrying statistic given that up to 70% of doctors and medical students admit to using the site. However, that study itself may have been flawed, since it called out at least one mistake (against peer-reviewed journals) that Wikipedia actually had right.
In fact, Wikipedia has a dedicated team (and special guidelines) just for their medical pages. Unlike many peer-reviewed journals, it works proactively to eliminate bias. And it’s not just in medicine; Wikipedia works to ensure the utmost reliability right across the board—which you can read about in its very own, almost 15,000-word article on the “Reliability of Wikipedia” itself (locked, at the time of writing, to avoid vandalism and unreliable edits). That said, it does note one major drawback of its open-source approach right at the top of the page: In 2008, a 17-year-old student edited the “South American coati” page to include a nickname he’d simply made up (“Brazilian aardvark”), and it was left there for six whole years. During this time, the nickname found its way onto hundreds of other websites, into several newspapers (one of which was later cited by the Wikipedia page as a source), and even books from university presses.
Other articles become battlegrounds for opposing ideological edits. The page on George W. Bush, for instance, has received almost 47,000 edits, 2,520 times the average of 18.65. Even so, studies have found Wikipedia to be roughly as reliable as the Encyclopedia Britannica, one of its most vocal detractors.
Google launched Gmail on April 1, 2004, and because it was April Fools’ Day people assumed it was a joke. For one thing, it was only made available (allegedly) to a handful of “email aficionados.” For another, it pledged an unprecedented 1GB of storage space—“up to eight billion bits of information, … 500,000 pages of email,” and 100 times more than Hotmail—to every single user, free of charge, forever. It all seemed too good to be true.
But it soon became clear how they paid for it—by scanning personal emails for keywords and selling targeted ad space. As it gained traction, it sparked a privacy debate that rages to this day.
For precisely this reason, TIME magazine called the launch of Gmail “the beginning of the modern era of the web.” The service was also the “first major cloud-based app that was capable of replacing conventional PC software, not just complementing it.”
Nowadays, it has more than 1.2 billion users and, according to Google, no longer scans emails for data, having apparently gathered enough. But most users were happy to sacrifice their privacy for convenience anyway. Gmail is widely seen as the most user-friendly service available, known for its clear and dependable interface, massive storage space (now up to 15GB), and a legendary spam filter that catches 99.9% of all unwanted mail (although it does misidentify up to 0.05% of emails as spam).
YouTube has come a long, long way since its very first video was uploaded. Acquired by Google in 2006 for $1.65 billion, it rolled out its ads the next year. Today the majority of Americans—80% of 18- to 49-year-olds and a massive 94% of 18- to 24-year-olds—regularly use the site. In 2015, we spent 74% more time watching YouTube than we did in the year before—although it’s not clear where all that time came from considering we only spent 4% less time watching TV.
It’s not just Americans, either. Available in 76 languages across more than 88 countries, YouTube now reaches 95% of internet users worldwide. Together they watch around a billion hours—114,155 years or so—of video every day. But that’s just a fraction of the video on there. More than 400 hours of video are uploaded to the site every minute—or 24 millennia’s worth every year.
Understandably, YouTube has long been seen as a threat to media moguls, who’ve thrown all kinds of obstacles in its way—particularly copyright lawsuits. No biggie, though. Having paid out $2 billion between 2007 and 2016, the site has developed an advanced automatic scanning system to cross-reference all video uploads against more than 600 years’ worth of copyright-protected material.
As of 12:50 PM on March 21, 2006, the whole of Twitter had just one solitary tweet online. Three years later, it reached its first billion and nowadays gets that many tweets in two days, at an average of 6,000 tweets per second.
In 2010, Twitter gave the Library of Congress an archive of every single tweet ever sent, and continued to archive every tweet from then on—right up until the end of 2017 when privacy concerns forced them to stop. These days, since January 1, 2018, they only archive tweets they deem to be “of ongoing national interest.”
And it’s probably just as well; the backlog is huge and only getting huger by the second. As Twitter has pointed out, 200 million tweets alone is the equivalent of 8,163 copies of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which, stacked, would reach 1,470 feet high and take roughly 31 years to read through. And that’s just a morning’s tweets at the current rate of expansion.
As for who’s writing them all, it appears to be a minority of users—perhaps as few as 335 million of the 1.3 billion people signed up. Journalists represent a quarter of all Twitter accounts and evidently rely on the platform—hence so many “news” stories today essentially being off-Twitter retweets. It’s not a terrible source, though, considering most of the world’s leaders are on there. The most popular, with 53.5 million followers, is of course Donald Trump. He tweets on average 13 times a day and, according to expert Jaron Lanier, is clearly addicted to the platform—“nervous, paranoid, cranky … sort of itching for a fight … striking out every morning, fishing for somebody to harass or seeing who’s harassing him”—all of which makes him worryingly easy to manipulate.
Mark Zuckerberg essentially copied HotOrNot.com when he came up with the idea for “Facesmash,” a platform for Harvard students to rate each other’s appearances, or in his case compare them to farm animals. The only real difference was that people didn’t upload their own photos; Zuckerberg simply gathered and used their college ID pics without first getting permission or even letting them know.
He narrowly avoided expulsion for the scandal and was forced to take the site down. But its celebrated successor is anything but squeaky clean, facing criticism not only over privacy concerns, but for its influence and addictiveness as well. (It may be telling that he majored in psychology.)
Today, Facebook has around 2.23 billion monthly users, of which more than half—1.47 billion—use the site every day. The majority of Americans (68%) are now on there and 74% check it daily, with 51% of 18- to 24-year-olds believing it’s hard to quit.
A worrying 63% rely on it for news, despite 270 million accounts making it up. And that’s a lot of trolls—more than the population of Indonesia, the fourth most populous nation, and as many users as there are Russians and Mexicans combined.