What If You Tried to Print the Entire Internet?

by - 8 years ago


The internet, a whopping network of networks, spanning the entire globe and even some of outerspace. More than 3 billion users are online and by 2016 internet traffic could be at a massive rate of one zettabyte per year. Stuff.co.nz did some amazing mathematics to work out, just how many pages we would need to print the internet; it’s a lot!

How many web pages are there?

In 2007, as part of his master’s thesis at Tilburg University, the Dutch Web consultant Maurice de Kunder developed a statistical method for tracking the number of pages indexed by major search engines. The math and technology behind this tool are pretty complicated – his thesis ran 68 pages, in Dutch – but eight years later, it’s still constantly updating the number of pages in Google and Bing search.

A couple caveats here: Even this figure is an estimate, and it doesn’t capture anything outside the reach of search engines. But for our purposes, de Kunder said, we can assume there are roughly 47 billion pages on the indexed, searchable web.

How many printed pages is the average web page?

Meanwhile, to find how many printed pages each of those 47 billion would be, I needed to visit a representative sample of websites and try to print out each. To arrive at a fair average – one with a 5 per cent margin of error, and a 95 per cent certainty – I’d have to test 385 random sites, as chosen by the so-called Random Website Machine.

This is a fun game you can play at home (!), if you have absolutely nothing else to do: click the “random website” button; hit CTRL+A and CTRL+P; and record the resulting “pages” number in a separate spreadsheet.

There was the site for a Taiwanese Little League (two pages); online stores selling Orthodox icons and horses’ hoof grease (1); the homepage for the Czech national lacrosse league (4). I learned that West Virginia only has one business newspaper, and that Bulgaria’s constitution was adopted in 1991. Also that, in 2000, the BBC called Britney Spears a “teenage pop phenomenon.”

A few of these sites would, of course, take up many printed pages: say, Wikipedia articles or the homepages of chatty personal blogs. But the vast, mundane majority of the websites I visited – the pages of Polish municipal governments, say, or a recipe for “cattle drive chili” – only took up one or two. (We forget that our modern Internet sits atop strata of Geocities pages and long-forgotten forums and sites for dentists offices in, who knows, Kalamazoo.)

The average site came out to 6.5 printed pages – slightly longer than the Wikipedia page on Lithuania’s performance at the ’92 Olympics. In other words, there’s a 95 percent chance that the average length of all web pages in the world is somewhere between 6.2 and 6.8 printed pages.

The number of pages it would take to print the internet = 305.5 billion.

From here, of course, the experiment gets pretty easy. Multiplying 47 billion by 6.5 gives you 305,500,000,000 pages, approximately. This is, to be clear, just an estimate: There’s some room for error in my page-length average, and the internet’s changing all the time. But it’s still difficult to even contemplate how much material that comes out to: It’s like 212 million copies of Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”

That is a lot of copies of War and Peace,

Thank you to Stuff for providing us with this information

Image courtesy of Huffingtonpost

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