FACT CATCHES UP TO FICTION: INTERNET USERS TOP 20 MILLION MATRIX COUNTS INTERACTIVE ACCESS

FACT CATCHES UP TO FICTION: INTERNET USERS TOP 20 MILLION MATRIX COUNTS INTERACTIVE ACCESS

The Internet may finally be as big as its hype.

Although figures of as high as 30 million users have been bandied about for the last couple of years, it appears that the actual number of people on the net has reached 20 million to 30 million, depending on who is being counted.Basing their figures on a survey of Internet hosts done last October and projecting forward, Internet demographers at Matrix Information Services of Austin, Texas, have arrived at a figure of 20 million interactive users for July 1995.

SURFING THE WEB

Interactive here means not just logging in to America Online or Prodigy, but jumping out onto the Worldwide Web or using another, Internet- wide resource.

"They now all permit their users Web access, but how many actually use it? If you say it's 25 percent of their users, we get 22.6 million Internet users. If you're real generous and say 'Let's count them all,' you get 29 - and that's 20 (million) to 30 million Internet users," Matrix's John Quarterman said.

The Internet is actually only a piece of the global network of computer networks that can exchange electronic mail, Mr. Quarterman is quick to point out.

The number of people worldwide who can E-mail to each other - what Mr. Quarterman calls "the Matrix" - is 35 million. People who are part of the Matrix but not the Internet don't have live interactive access to the rest of the net, but they can send mail.

However you count them, it's a lot of people.

Now that the net's gotten as big as everyone's been saying it was, it's also becoming a little congested in places. One "totally cool thing" (in the parlance of the net) that MIDS has put up on the Web is a way to see what's happening to all those packets that make up traffic on the net.

KIND OF RADAR SCAN

The MIDS Internet Weather Report is a kind of radar scan of the Internet as traffic ebbs and flows over the course of a day. Think of those time-lapse satellite weather maps they show on the news at night and you'll get the idea.

It's available at http://www.mids.org/mids/weather.html

The weather report "pings" about 5,000 Internet sites around the world six times a day. Ping is a UNIX command that stands for "Packet Internet Groper," though it probably really got named for the sound a submarine's radar makes. The command checks a network host to make sure it's online and responding.

MIDS then boils all that information down into little movies, which show round-trip times from their Austin office to the rest of the online word.

The Web page shows three maps, for Europe, the United States and California (the most plugged in of the states). Even without viewing them through the MPEG movie viewer, you can still see how long it took packets to get to each place (by size) and how many host computers are in a given area (by color).

"You can see the latencies (times) changing with the time of day. In other words, you can see the Internet weather going off," Mr. Quarterman said.

SEEING USAGE PATTERNS

The European map shows the most amazing amount of detail. It's possible to clearly see usage patterns cross the Continent from east to west, time zone to time zone.

"I'm almost convinced that I can see lunch hour in Madrid. The circle gets bigger, which means usage is going down - they've all gone home for lunch," he said.

The weather report also showed a distinct surge of activity in Moscow in the middle of the night.

The reason for the middle night, according to Russian internet users, is that most systems run batches of file transfers late at night because the antiquated phone system is less stressed since no one is calling, making it more likely that the messages will get through.

MIDS also posts what they call "theme" presentations, based on interesting tidbits of data, like a look at Internet traffic before and during the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Southern California.

In the future, they plan maps of individual Internet backbone system, something like looking at an up-to-the-minute traffic map for the entire Interstate highway system, as well as adding interpretation and analysis as they go along.