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0 comments | Thursday, November 30, 2006

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AMD's 4x4 platform is finally available to reviewers, and the reactions are pretty positive

4x4 is basically two dual core Athlon 64 FX-70 CPUs, working on a Socket 1207 n680 motherboard, which is seemingly a reworked version of an Opteron workstation motherboard.

Without further ado, go read the review here. Personally, I like the results, but I don't like the fact that it's a powerhungry, extremely hot beast. Sorry, AMD - I'm still looking at n680i motherboard + Core 2 Quad combination as my dream computer.

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Ewidi is an interesting Web 2.0 service that has just been brought to my attention. It brings together the features of a search engine and an ad service, and enables users to connect and interact with each other using simple text messages

Ewidi basically consists of searching and publishing. You need to buy a used car in San Francisco, you either search for it, or browse tags/categories/locations for text messages corresponding with the subject. On the other hand, if you're an unemployed coder in need of work in Amsterdam, you'll post a message saying just that.

It is an internationally-oriented (the whole service is translated to 27 languages), service, and many users might find it odd that ads are not all in English. But why should they be? You can filter only the ones that you're interested in, and if someone needs to post information that will be of interest to anyone, no matter at which location' they're based, they'll probably post in English.

Ewidi also allows for creation of sub-domains, which correspond with tags/certain interest groups. Some of the ones that are available at the moment are film.ewidi.com, macedonia.ewidi.com, and osijek.ewidi.com (Osijek is a city in Croatia; it's no wonder they chose it because one of the authors of the service, Marko Kova─Ź, is from Croatia.).

After you register, you are able to publish your own messages and to interact with other users. The registration doesn't even require an email, so it's really simple to try, but I personally like when at least an email is required to register for a service, because it keeps spammers at bay.

Unfortunately, currently by far the best way to use the service is by using search - the categories and tags aren't really well established yet. But, judging from the swarm of Spaniards which are currently overwhelming the service (the story about Ewidi has been published in the Spanish magazine El Mundo), the idea is working well in its current state. Looking forward to see how this one will develop.


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Among the hundreds of Vista reviews I've read, I don't recall seeing one that actually mentions real features that are new in Windows Vista. That means OS-specific features, not bundled applications such as Internet Explorer 7 or Windows Media Player 11

The problem is, Microsoft has been pushing their bundled apps as features for so long people have probably forgot what an OS-specific feature is. IE7, WMP11, Windows Photo Gallery, Windows DVD maker...hell, even Windows Aero GUI, those are all nice and dandy, but I for example use Firefox, Media Player Classic, ACDSEE Classic, Nero and BBlean as shell. Not much there in Vista for me, eh?

Wrong. Contrary to the popular belief, Vista does carry a significant number of new, important features. Here's a rundown of some of the interesting ones:

- User Account Control - asks for the admin password whenever some app or part of the OS requires administrative privileges. The idea isn't new - all Linux variants have something similar. At the moment it's relatively poorly implemented - it will be annoying to the end user who will want to turn it off at all cost.

- Various security measures, including ASLR (Address Space Layout Randomization) which prevents exploits, Windows Service Hardening which prevents services to edit registry or the file system, Data Execution Prevention (DEP), and PatchGuard, which prevents third-party software from modifying the kernel. Most of these sound good, but we'll have to wait and see how they really work.

- Hard drive encryption. Hopefully Microsoft wasn't forced to include backdoors in there.

- DRM measures. One of the bad ones. One is Protected User Mode Audio (PUMA) which restricts the copying of copyrighted audio. Protected Video Path - Output Protection Management (PVP-OPM) and Protected Video Path - User-Accessible Bus (PVP-UAB) do the same thing for video. Finally, there's Rights Management Services (RMS) support, which allows setting DRM restrictions to documents and email. Not much to say about these, except that we can all hope that someone will be able to reverse engineer them.

- Desktop Window Manager - handles drawing of all content to the screen. Uses more video memory than the previous one, enables all those fancy Aero effects. Lets hope we'll never see the dreaded 'dying window' effect when the system is low on memory, which was a common occurence in WinXP.

- DirectX10. This one was covered well in the media, probabyl because people actually care about playing games.

- Windows Color System - should make color calibration easier. Nice for designers.

- Audio stack completely rewritten - basically, it should make all things audio faster and more stable under Windows. Audio professionals should be able to get lower latencies. Oh yeah, and if anyone ever used speech synthesis under Windows, there's a new voice doing it, and it should sound less robotic.

- Network stack completely rewritten - native support for IPv6, better performance, better encryption, better support for P2P networking, and *much* better support for wireless networking which is good, because the old one sucked

- Stand by and Hibernate are now combined into a single 'Sleep' function, which basically does both: writes all the data from memory to the hard disk, and then goes to stand by mode, waits for a specified amount of time, and then shuts of completely (goes to hibernation).

- ReadyBoost - the ability to use memory from USB flash devices as RAM memory. You can also use RAM from other networked PCs running Vista as your RAM. The idea seems nice, until you remember that the idea of RAM memory is to be fast, and USB drives aren't fast enough, nor is ethernet. A USB 2.0 flash drive is better at sending small chunks of data than the hard drive, which is obviously better when it comes to accessing and copying big amounts of data. Microsoft says that this works in combination with SuperFetch, which is a new and improved version of Prefetch, and that we should expect 'impressive improvements in system responsiveness'. I think it all boils down to: if you need more memory, buy more RAM. If you're desperate, stick a USB drive and hope for some minor improvements.

- Improved memory manager and processes scheduler - these, together with other Kernel and core OS changes, are IMO the most important features of Vista. These will actually determine the real performance of Vista. When you switch all the fluff for third party apps, and when you start doing some real work, this is what you will care about. Although I don't explicitly see it in any lists, Vista should also be better at using multicore processor power.

This is just a short rundown, the most complete list of features new to Windows Vista, (but also possibly tiresome to read), see the Wikipedia article under the same name.

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Vista is officially out today for business costumers, and the local Microsoft office decided to do the presentation in the air. I passed on the flight (hey, I'm not scared, it's a foggy day), but I sure hope they'll still give me my test copy

Last version of Vista I had installed was Beta 1, and I was quite unhappy with it (unfortunately, I don't have a review in English), so I decided to skip RC1 and wait for the real thing. Expect lots of 'how to remove this or that' kind of tutorials here once I install it.

In the meantime, in the next post I'm going to write a short overview of really important Vista features which reviewers seem to skip in favor of non-features like IE7.

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0 comments | Wednesday, November 29, 2006

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Google is shutting down one of its services for a change, and - lo and behold - it's one of their rare services that's not free, Google Answers

At this time Google Answers is still operational, however according to the official Google blog, it's not receiving any new questions, and new answers will be accepted until the end of the year. The answers to old questions will stay online though.

Although it's weird to see Google shut down one of their services, it's not a big surprise - they've tried so many different things over the years that some of them were bound to ultimately fail.

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The Russian government signed an agreement with the US government to close down the Russian half-pirate/half-legal online music store AllOfMp3.com

AllOfMp3.com fell into a weird category of 'we actually pirate MP3's but sell them through a supposedly legit online store and still claim it's a legitimate business', so I guess noone will be really sorry about this.

According to this document, in which allofmp3.com is explicitly named as a bad example, Russia has agreed to 'fight Internet piracy' and 'fight optical disc piracy' (yay for magnetic disc piracy - ed.).

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For years, manufacturers have been pushing Intel's subpar integrated graphics chips in their 'business notebook' categories. Now, with the coming of Vista, business users will also want better graphics, if they plan to use (and why shouldn't they) Vista on them

Checking the hardware prices as usual, I still notice tons of laptops for sale with old integrated 945G (or even older 900) Intel chips which supposedly fall under the 'business' category. Well, these can only be called 'business notebooks' if the manufacturers and retailers think that business users don't plan on using Vista, because using Vista on Intel's 945g is not a really good idea (although it will work in lite mode).

The age of "business notebook = crappy graphics" is over, and we can thank Vista for that. Either Intel's widely used integrated graphics chips will become more capable in the future (See under: GMA X3000), or manufacturers will switch to other graphics solutions.

Bottom line is: if you're a business user looking for a laptop, and have even a remote desire to maybe sometime run Vista on it, think twice before you buy a 'business laptop', because you might be disappointed. If you're not a tech expert, don't believe the 224 MB of VRAM claims or similar nonsense; in fact, you should probably only go with a laptop that has ATI or nVidia slapped on it.

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In the battle between Xbox and PS3, Nintendo's Wii seems to be winning. 600.000 of them have been sold in 8 days, and the buzz around the console seems to be huge. And to think that some thought that 'Wii' was a dumb name

First 8 days of sales in the USA = 600.000 sold. Those are the number Nintendo guys are currently looking at, and I can imagine them sipping martinis with little umbrellas. That's over 80.000 per day, folks.

Sure, maybe the PS3 would also sell that many - IF they were actually able to make them. However, the brass at Sony can only ponder what may have been as they watch people spend their money happily on the competitor's product.

And, the more videos I see of it in action, the more fun it seems.

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0 comments | Tuesday, November 28, 2006

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Since it's an incredibly slow tech news day today, I'm going to go back to the stories I did over the years and try to count in which countries lawsuits have been filed and won against individuals for pirating music.


I know it's of little comfort to US citizens, but there are still some countries where people haven't been receiving lawsuits for a little Emule or Soulseek downloading. And by this I don't mean people who earn thousands or millions by selling pirated stuff - I mean users who don't do this for profit. However, the plague is spreading. Let's see which countries have been struck so far (feel free to comment and add to the list, I'm sure I missed some).

1. USA - the obvious one. It's basically RIAA's playground, as they can do their "john doe" lawsuits here without bullying other countries into changing their laws, and in the USA they've been happily pursuing their tactic of "lots of stick and an old withered carrot", arresting people left and right and advocating DRM-laden crappy formats in exchange. First wave of lawsuits were launched back in 2003 (263 people were sued), and to my knowledge this number is near 20.000 American individuals at this moment.
2. Germany - as far as I know, over 7000 German citizens have been sued for pirating music by the IFPI (International Federation of Phonographic Industry). As a result, these people mostly had to pay a fine of 2500 Euros.
3. United Kingdom - At August 2005, first lawsuits were handed to some unlucky individuals in the UK. The fines were hefty - up to 6500 pounds.
4. Ireland
5. The Netherlands
6. Finland
7. Iceland
8. Japan - the above 4 countries and Japan got hit in April 2005, in a wave of 963 lawsuits. This brought the total number of worldwide lawsuits to 11.000 (it's now well over 20.000).
9. China - according to this news item, a year ago there have been over 1000 lawsuits over music piracy in China. They weren't filed by the IFPI, and by the look of it it seems that the people targetted were sellers, not regular users, but people got sued nevertheless.
10. France - Oh yes, they have been preparing it for a long time, and the first lawsuit, against a teacher who did some p2p-ing, was filed at the beginning of 2005.
11. Norway
12. Belgium - well, for these two I haven't yet seen any "John Doe" style lawsuits, but people have been sued and/or arrested, that's for sure. Read here, and here.
13. Austria
14. Denmark
15. Italy
16. Portugal
17. Sweden
18. Switzerland
- the latest big wave, or, as our friends in the IFPI like to call it, "fresh wave" of lawsuits, covered some of the aforementioned as well as these 6 countries. Networks affected were FastTrack (Kazaa), Gnutella (BearShare), eDonkey, DirectConnect, BitTorrent, Limewire, WinMX, and SoulSeek (I use eMule, suckers - ed.)(oh, wait... - ed.). This fun little exercise in righteousness brought the number of international lawsuits (USA excluded) to 5.500). Average legal settlement - 2600 Euros.

If you think that it would have been an easier task to simply count the countries with no lawsuits, you're almost right, but there are still a few good examples. Australia is getting really close, but there have been no lawsuits against individuals yet. In most Eastern European countries there has been no talk of such lawsuits, yet. I guess most of the former SSSR territory is also still lawsuit-free, as well as Africa and a large portion of South America. Well, if you plan on moving to another country, choose wisely...

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I love Netvibes, and I also love and use many Google free services, so I was troubled when I had to make the choice between the two as they basically offer the same functionality. After some tinkering with both, I've easily switched to Netvibes because it's, simply, better. Here's why

1. Nicer looking interface

Possibly not the most important of features to some u, but just look at beautiful Netvibes boxes compared to Google's bland ones. Also, you can change their color (you have 6 colors to choose from) by clicking "edit" in the upper right corner.

2. Visual Customization


Google Homepage is designed to simply work without much hassle. However, if you're a customization freak like me, you'll love Netvibes' advanced options. First, get the Netvibes Customize module here. You can now set a background wallpaper for your page, set opacity options for your modules, plus some other minor options. Better yet, you can change this stuff all at once, using themes (there are a few available under Settings).

3. Number of Columns

In Google Homepage you're doomed to use a maximum three columns. However, in Netvibes you can change the number of columns from 1 to 4. Personally, I use 4 columns and I certainly think people with bigger screens and resolutions will appreciate the extra column. Better yet, you can change the number of columns for each tab, which is explained in...

4. Tabs

Yes, Google Homepage also supports tabs. However, in Netvibes they're much more advanced. Click the little arrow on the tab, and you get tab options. You can change the number of columns, add a little icon (you can even add your own icon by pointing to its URL), and you can publish this entire tab on the Netvibes Ecosystem. That means, if you create a super-duper tab showing all possible info on, for example, upcoming movies, you can simply share it with your friends and everyone else.

5. Netvibes ecosystem

And this brings us to the Netvibes Ecosystem, which really is more than a fancy name for a bunch of feeds. The Ecosystem consists of modules, feeds, podcasts, events and tabs. We've explained what tabs are, and you probably know what feeds and podcasts are. Modules are advanced little programs which can do almost anything - from showing the weather to displaying your bookmarks. Events are little calendar apps which show certain dates - basically, they're public Google calendars, but a nice thing to have. On top of all this, the Ecosystem is well organized, easy to browse and search, and from it you can add modules to your page with a single click.

6. Filtering


One of the new Netvibes features is filtering. It works simple - you have a little text box on the top of your screen. Type a keyword, and all modules not containing the keyword will shrink, while those that do contain the word will have it highlighted. Nice, fast, and handy.

7. Digital Life Assistants

Recently the Netvibes crew created a couple of new, advanced modules called Digital Life Assistants. Basically, these are search modules but with many convenient options - for example, video search with full screen viewing. Find more about these here.

8. Keyboard controls

I don't personally use this (I find it hard to get used to keyboard shortcuts in general), but it might be handy for some users.
For this to work you need to enable it in Settings. Your focus also must be in the right place - click somewhere inside the Netvibes window before using keyboard shortcuts. You can find the list of all available shortcuts here.


9. Calendar

This calendar module is just one module, but it's so much better done for Netvibes than the Gcal for Google. It has several views and generally looks much nicer, as you can see in the picture. It also supports everything in iCal format.




10. Name for your page

Not really a dealbreaker, but it's nice to be able to see TechShrine or something cool like that above your page (it also appears in the page title). You guessed it - Netvibes can do it, Google can't.

*By the way, if you're interested in an alternative to Netvibes, you can always try Pageflakes, also a very nice service of the same kind.

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0 comments | Monday, November 27, 2006

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What, the good old traditional tube is slowly dying because of Youtube and similar services? Don't worry, TV execs, I'm sure the dinosaurs also gave a good fight before they became extinct

It really doesn't come as a suprise that a Great Britain study shows that 20% of users watch a lot less traditional TV because they spend their time watching mobile and online video, and additional 23% say that they watch a bit less normal TV for the same reason.

This is because old-fashioned TV is boring, folks. And it keeps hammering commercials in your brain at least 10% of the time. On YouTube and similar services, I can watch what I want, when I want it. God help the traditional TV and media houses when online video quality improves.

Full results of the study here.

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We already know that the best nVidia has to offer in the motherboard area, n680i chipset based mobos, cost around $270. Reports say that motherboards which support AMD's 4x4 technology will be even more expensive at $300.

The $300 number comes from Inquirer, so you might want to take it with a grain (pinch, bucket?) of salt. The number is considerably lower than some predicted, but it's still a hefty sum to give away just for the motherboard.

To think that you also need to cash out for two dual core chips and four video cards...well, it makes my wallet hurt. I still remember when I bought my DFI nForce4 SLI motherboard, and gave over $170 for it, which seemed like a fortune at the time...

Of course, these products are aimed at hardcore enthusiasts, but it somehow it seems it's always the highend motherboards which have the best support and stability, so everyone ends up using them anyway.

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If you must bet on one technology that will win the TV market in the following years, bet on LCD
According to this report by Reuters LCD TV prices will fall at least 30 percent in 2007, while Plasma TVs will fall 15 - 20 % in the same period. LCDs have better resolutions, so given the same price, costumers choose them over plasma TVs, and TV makers tend to focus on one technology only to reduce costs. Guess which one is it? LCD.

According to the study, the plasma TV market will reach a maximum od $24 billion in 2009, and it's downwards from there, while LCD TVs should bet at $75 billion and rising in that same period.

Yes, big screen (over 40 inch) plasma TVs have certain advantages over LCD panels, but the LCD camp is getting bigger and bigger, and when it gets big enough, it usually means game over in the IT world.

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0 comments | Sunday, November 26, 2006

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Another one of those 30'' monsters for us to drool over, this time with response time as low as 6ms, 2560x1600 resolution, contrast of 1000:1 and 400 cd/m2 brightness


Looks like CX305T puts Samsung ahead of the pack, as far as 30'' screens are considered. Dell's 3007WFP has the same resolution but the response time is 8 ms. Same goes for HP's LP3065.

The price for the CX305T, if you believe the good folks over at Akihabaranews, is 1,267.00 Euros.

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I never really bought into the SLI hype. It's a nice technology, but I was never really sure it makes sense financially. Recently I began considering adding another video card to my (a bit aging) setup, so I did some research about whether an SLI is worth it. The answer = mostly not, unless you have a big monitor.

First, lets cover the one possibility where SLI does make sense (although I wouldn't call it a good choice). If you're building a new system, and money is no problem, and you want the absolute high end, then by all means go and buy the best two graphics cards and use them in SLI mode.

Why I don't think it's good choice? Well, game developers usually want as many people to play their games as possible, not just the wealthy. So, new games always work perfectly on high-end single (and, in most cases, midrange) video cards. By paying 1300$ bucks for two cards you have a clear case of overkill. Yes, you are futureproofing your rig for a few months, but it's not too good an investment. You can always buy a top-notch card, and then buy a better one in a few months, and it will always be good enough for even the most demanding games. However, some people like their FPS in the hundreds, so let them have their fun.

In all other cases, SLI doesn't really fare so well.

First, let's establish a few facts about SLI in general.

- SLI motherboards are more expensive
- Two cards draw more power, hence you might need a more expensive PSU, and you pay a bigger electricity bill
- Two cards make more noise and generate more heat
- Two cards take more space in your case
- One card is usually easier to overclock than two cards in SLI mode
- SLI can compromise the stability of your system (although it doesn't have to be the case)
- SLI setups seem to perform better at high resolutions

Now, let's look at two possible SLI scenarios.

1. You're buying a new computer.

Let's check out some lowrange cards. (The prices are taken from Newegg) An XFX 6800XT costs $129. Two cost $258. Also, 7600GS is $119 (x2 = $238).

And what are the single card options for that kind of money? Well, for $185 you can get an 7900GS, 7900GT is $209 and 7950 costs $289.

Now, observe the following comparison. Or switch to any other benchmark, it's pretty much the same.

7900 GS beats all 6800SLI setups easily in all tests. It's also very near to 7600GS SLI setups, although it's about 50 bucks cheaper. 7950GT costs a bit more, but it easily wins against all mentioned setups by a fair margin.

OK, let's see what are the options among the midrange cards. An XFX 7900GS costs $185. Two of these = $370. XFX 8800GTS currently is $479, and bear in mind that that's a very bad price, because this card is very new. It will probably go down a fair amount in a matter of weeks. Also, a 7950GT is 289$, and it performs pretty similar to two 7900GS in SLI.

I can't find a benchmark where two 7900GTs or 7900GSs beat one 8800GTS; in fact, 8800 GTS beats all 7xxx SLI setups quite easily. The price difference here is $100, but when you consider the fact that 8800GTS supports DirectX10, and not only equals the performance of 7xxx SLI solutions but beats them by a fair margin, I'd say that a single card is, even here, a better option.

2. Second scenario: you have a SLI compatible motherboard, a computer with one nVidia card and you are considering buying another identical card for SLI.

Answer: don't. Whatever card you have, you're better off with buying a new, better, single card, and selling your old card.

Let's examine my case. I have a 7600 GT card. If I bought another, it would set me down for $139. However, a 7900 GT costs $209, and it performs nearly identical as two 7600 GTs. I can sell my 7600 GT for at least 80$, which means that I'm getting a 7900 GT for $130, and i get less noise, less heat, and less power consumption (and a new card, which means new warranty). (BTW, if you don't believe Tom's Hardware's charts, which don't always make sense, here's another benchmark. In it, you can see the (only?) positive side of SLI - it performs well only if you go to crazy resolutions, so if you have a 24'' or bigger monitor, it just might be a viable solution.

If you like, you can do your own math with other cards as much as you like: you can always find a single card solution that's better than an SLI one. Even if it's not, you can probably overclock one card more than two cards, bringing the gap closer.

Don't get me wrong: SLI is nice for hardcore overclockers, benchmark maniacs, showing off, high-end setups, and hardware review sites. My point is that it's rarely a good solution for the end user. I can only recommend it to users with really big screens, because here is where SLI shines, but taking into account the additional noise, heat, and power consumption, I'd think twice before buying a second card.

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0 comments | Saturday, November 25, 2006

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I'm pretty new to Blogger, so I'm - as usual - already tweaking everything in sight. I was dissapointed with the fact that there is no support for categories, but I was delighted to see that there are at least 30 hacks that show how to do them anyway

In the end, I chose to do it the old fashioned way - by hand. I created a bunch of articles named "Category: something", and I update them manually, adding links to new articles by hand. Then I simply create links to them - in this case in the top menu.

Why I chose to do this manually, you ask? Well, this way I don't have to use any external services like del.icio.us for it, so I rely only on Blogger, and users never navigate off my blog. Also, I choose not to use extra javascript on this page if it's not absolutely necessary. If you overdo javascript, especially on a blogging platform like this, where you have no absolute control of the code of your webpage, things can get messy.

Since this is not really my idea, I won't go into details, but there's a really nice and long list of all possible category hacks for Blogger here at Freshblog. Enjoy.

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2 comments | Friday, November 24, 2006

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Unique hits and other statistics are often seen for websites, however I was interested in how many unique hits does the Internet get every day. That's right: how many people connect to any web site daily.

This turned out to be a trickier question that I imagined. After an hour of Googling, I was able to find out what are the Internet usage stats per country, how fast do servers respond in various parts of the world, and even (though this data is pretty old) how much data the entire Internet contains.

The closest I got to the answer was at the sites of the big analysts - Nielsen/Netratings and comScore, which has the approximation of world internet usage of people over 15 years of age (why the age restricion, I don't know - I guess they're marketing oriented so they're interested in buying power more than anything else).

This number, cited from comScore's site, which I reckon represents the number of people who use the internet regularly, is 712,976,000. Yes, that's a big number, but it's not exactly what I was looking for. Besides, www.internetworldstats.com says the number is 1,086,250,903. On the other hand, Nielsen/Netratings seems to be more conservative, citing their "Current Digital Media Universe Estimate" at 482,821,770.

What I (mostly) don't know is the methodology behind this data - do these people use the internet daily, once every week, or, for example, once every month?
Things get more complex if you want to count the unique hits the internet gets, because one person can connect, disconnect and reconnect several times per day, and every time they do that it would technically be a unique visit. To complicate matters further, it would be interesting to know the sum of daily unique hits on all websites in existence.

However, with the help of this little chart, I can at least approximate these numbers.

Bear in mind that I used data from different sources, obtained with different methodologies and from different samples, and I did some huge simplifications to make my life easier. The numbers in this final paragraph are very rough and possibly very wrong.

So, if the average person has approximately 33 internet sessions per month, that would mean approx. 1.1 every day, which would mean that the internet gets somewhere between 531,103,947, 784,273,600 and 1,194,875,993 visits every day, depending on whose numbers you trust.

According to Nielsen/Netratings, an average person visits 1446 websites per month. (1446/30) = 48.2*482,821,770= 23,272,009,314 (if you trust Nielsen/Netratings) or 48.2*
1,086,250,903 = 52,357,293,525. (if you trust internetworldstats.com). This is the number of webpages visited daily.

Looking at these numbers I can't help the feeling that I might have screwed them up for a billion or two. Looking forward to constructive criticism (;.



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| Wednesday, November 15, 2006

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