Today, the internet remains one of the best indicators we have of where we have arrived and where we will be heading in our digital evolution. A year-end review of the most popular domains along with the areas of growth in 2021 is therefore worth examining.
Cloudflare is an American web infrastructure and website security company founded in 2009 with headquarters in San Francisco, Calif. For the last few years its Radar Service has published year-end charts of the most popular domains with comparisons with the previous year. The Radar blog explains, “Our global and country-level domain ranking is calculated using aggregated data that Cloudflare has about global Internet traffic patterns.”
In what might be seen as a significant shift away from the traditional role of the internet as a primary source of information over to an entertainment platform, perennial number one, Google.com, was nudged aside at the end of the year by TikTok, the video-focused social networking service owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. Wikipedia describes TikTok content as “a variety of short-form user videos, from genres like pranks, stunts, tricks, jokes, dance, and entertainment with durations from 15 seconds to three minutes.” It seems a polar opposite of Google, which offers maps, photos, flights, books, news, and answers of all kinds that can be translated into a wide variety of languages.
According to the recent Cloudflare blog report, Google ended 2020 as the undefeated leader in the Cloudfare ranking. At that time, TikTok was only ranked number seven or eight in the top ten. Then, in 2021, as other major sites struggled up or down by single numbers, TikTok hopped six spots from the bottom of the top ten to the top, first on February 17, 2021, for a day, and then for several days in March, and again in May. After August 10, 2021, TikTok took the lead on most days. There were some days that Google moved back into first, but by the end of the year, the entertainment site had fixed a lasting grip on number one, for the time being, at least. Here are the top 15 domains from the Cloudflare survey of 2021.
The leading subject areas include technology (5), society and lifestyle (4), entertainment (3), internet communication (1), shopping and auctions (1), and business and economy (1). Draw your own conclusions about the latest preferences for different domain types and what that might suggest regarding changes in our culture here and around the world.
Of the many charts generated by Cloudflare, two others are also worth noting. The list of internet browsers is interesting because of the dominance of just two companies in a field that once served as a major battlefield for Microsoft and Netscape. Today, Google Chrome (58.21%) and Apple’s Safari (23.79%) hold an overwhelming 82% of the browser market.
A second interesting list (from late 2021) from Cloudflare ranks the businesses online. These seem to line up in a more predictable arrangement.
If you’re looking to traffic online to measure possible cultural changes, the question of how many users you’re counting compared to overall populations becomes important. Over the years, the online community worldwide has shown significant and steady growth. Six years ago, the International Telecommunications Union estimated that almost one-half of the world’s population would be online by the end of 2015. Its estimate included 3.2 billion people, with about two billion from developing countries including 89 million from the least-developed countries. Vancouver-based Hootsuite Inc. updated the number of global internet users to almost five billion in 2021. That number is about 53% of the global population. Another data aggregator, Statista in Hamburg, Germany, agreed, putting the international community in 2021 at a more specific 4.901 billion users.
One of the more significant drivers for internet growth has been the increase of download speeds worldwide and within the United States. In the U.S., according to highspeedinternet.com, in 2021 “most of the states with the fastest download speeds were in the East, along with the tech hubs of Texas and California…. Rhode Island ranked first for fastest average internet speeds (129 Mbps) in the US, Montana ranked last with average speeds of 54.4 Mbps, and Alaska made huge internet speed gains. Alaska had been the slowest state in 2020, with average speeds of 20.6 Mbps. However, The Last Frontier’s average speeds improved to 61.5 Mbps in 2021.”
The improvement nationwide was noteworthy. In 2020, the average download speed was 42.86 Mbps, and in 2021 that number had more than doubled to 99.3 Mbps. But there’s work to be done. The Visual Capitalist website showed a number of much smaller countries and a Channel Island well ahead of the U.S. average on September 29, 2021, with the following internet speeds: Iceland 191.8 Mbps, Liechtenstein 211.3 Mbps, Andorra 164.7 Mbps, and the English Channel Isle of Jersey 274.3. You can view the complete article Mapped: The Fastest (and Slowest) Internet Speeds in the World, which includes the map below along with the reasons for the differences between countries.
5G and new fiber installations will continue to accelerate traffic around the world, but there’s a tectonic change coming with the technology that will usher in a new quantum internet running alongside the current world network. Short-distance test runs of the future network are already operational in the U.S. between Brookhaven National Laboratory and Stony Brook University and in China, connecting four networks in Beijing, Jinan, Hefei, and Shanghai.