IT 'key to productivity'

Three government reports can't be wrong - UK firms need to embrace technology if they want to keep pace with their rivals overseas

If the size of the World Wide Web was measured by the number of domain names then it is growing faster than at any time in its history, according to figures released by research and analysis firm Netcraft last week.

Netcraft reported that 17.5 million new hosts, or distinct Web sites, appeared online in the last year. This is the most ever detected in a 12-month period, beating the previous high of 16 million in the 12 months to October 2000.

It means there are now almost 75 million Web sites worldwide, at least according to Netcraft's statistics. Many of these will include domains that have been registered but not used, meaning they only have a basic holding page. The stats may also struggle to accurately count instances where multiple sites use the same Web address. Despite these drawbacks, Netcraft's figures — which have been published quarterly since 1995 — are still a handy guide to the development of the Web.

Netcraft believes that this boom in Web sites is partly driven by more small businesses getting online. Blogging has also played a part; Many blogs are hosted within a single domain and thus not counted as separate sites, while others are hosted on separate servers. But the boom is not purely attributed to positive forces.

Rich Miller, a Netcraft analyst, told the BBC that some spammers are buying up domain names in an attempt to manipulate search engine rankings, and buying up sites that had fallen out of use but still attracted traffic.

"There's a lot of innovative projects going on out there and very clearly folks are making money now rather than just buying Superbowl commercials," Miller said.

Quantifying the exact size of the Web is a near-impossible task. In September Google, which had previously said it catalogued over eight billion Web pages, removed the claim from its home page. "People don't necessarily agree on how to count it," admitted chief executive Eric Schmidt.