An End in Sight for Internet Growth?

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Science  15 Jan 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5400, pp. 295
DOI: 10.1126/science.283.5400.295b

Nearly every country in the world now has an Internet domain name, according to the latest version of a history of the Net. The dizzying rise in computers linked to the Net continued last year, but at least one observer predicts that the spurt has peaked, and growth may level off by 2003.

Hobbes' Internet Timeline v4.0, written by Robert Zakon of the MITRE Corp. in McLean, Virginia, in his spare time and posted on the Internet Society Web site, charts everything from the genesis of ARPAnet (the Internet's predecessor, started in 1969) to an e-mail sent by Queen Elizabeth II in 1976 and the launch of the Java programming language in 1995. Among 1998 highlights are a hack that replaced The New York Times home page, the trial in China of a man who gave e-mail addresses to a U.S. magazine, and the debut of domain names for two small island nations, Nauru and Comoros. That leaves just three countries still unregistered: Western Sahara, North Korea, and Bangladesh. Zakon also charts the Net's growth, up to more than 35 million hosts, or computers connected to the Internet.

Mario Hilgemeier, a physicist and programmer in Bremen, Germany, has tried to estimate where the Net is headed by fitting an S-shaped curve to the host data, by now linear rather than exponential.∼mhi/inetgrow.htm He finds the Net grew fastest in 1997, and after 1999 may taper off, reaching around 42 million hosts in 2002. Hilgemeier, however, cautions against putting too much faith in any predictions. For one thing, adds Zakon, electronic devices like Palm Pilots and cell phones may soon have their own host names, adding a new growth spurt.

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