Twenty-five years ago today, Symbolics.com was registered as the world's first .com domain. The growth since then has been staggering. The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a Washington think tank, on Monday issued a report on the .com's impact, arguing that the birth of the commercial Web was a breakthrough with few rivals throughout history.
The report also has some important context for the relative newcomers who might think the Internet revolution started with Facebook, Twitter and other Web 2.0 services. By ITIF's reckoning, the first 25 years will be a hard act to follow if you consider this summation of progress:
The Internet economy has "unleashed entirely new business models, spurred the creation of new products and services, changed how consumers shop, transformed how corporations sell their products and procure their inputs, boosted economic growth and fundamentally [changed] how individuals interact, build communities and socialize."
Of roughly 250 million Web sites about 80 million are .coms. Even after the collapse of the dot-com bubble, the number of domain names has grown by an average of 668,000 a month.
These .coms alone account for some $400 million in economic benefits to businesses and consumers, a figure ITIF expects to double in the next 10 years.
While the big dot-com bust saw plenty of "spectacular failures," ITIF noted that many firms have since come along and made successful businesses selling the same services that those early flame-outs had offered.
Although Internet use may seem pervasive, ITIF said only about 25 percent of the world's 6.7 billion people participate in the .com economy, though adoption is on a clear upswing. ITIF said, for example, that 73 million Chinese became Internet users in 2007 alone.
ITIF estimates that the commercial Internet provides annual global economic benefits totaling some $1.5 trillion, more than the combined global sales of medicine, investment in renewable energy and government investment in research and development combined. If online retail grows at even half the rate that it did between 2005 and 2010, ITIF predicts that by 2020 global e-commerce will add $3.8 trillion annually to the global economy.
The report's authors urged several steps to ensure that the Internet economy continues to flourish, including government policies designed to bring wider access to broadband and mobile payment platforms, health IT and the creation of incentives for companies to invest in Internet-enabled business practices.
The full report is available in PDF format here.