Deep Web: An Introduction

The World Wide Web (the web) is the familiar face of the Internet that we interact with through a browser like Chrome, Internet Explorer or Firefox. Its where billions of people turn for entertainment, information, interaction, engagement, commerce, answers, gratification or distraction. Whether you use it, avoid it, like it, need it, fear it, love it, hate it or “meh” it, the web is here to stay and it will continue to evolve and expand – with or without you – until everything and everyone is interconnected. Or until something gives. There is no denying that the Internet’s global expansion has brought the world closer to an open, free society. But, as with most things, the Internet has a darker side. A darker, more sinister, and considerably larger side. It is called the Deep Web.

The Interwebs

For most people, the Internet is the web, and the web is the Internet. Well, its not, technically speaking (even though the terms are used interchangeably in common language). The Internet is a global network of networks (of networks) linking electronic devices from computers, mobile phones and smart televisions, to heart pacemakers, cruise missiles and traffic lights. It is a physical interconnected communication network that enables data to be exchanged across great distances at the speed of light. It is the backbone of the world wide web, but it isn’t the world wide web. In fact, the web was invented by English scientist Tim Berners-Lee in 1989, almost 20 years after the first nodes of ARPANET, the original Internet, were connected. The web, according to Wikipedia, “is an open source information space where documents and other web resources are identified by URLs, interlinked by hypertext links, and can be accessed via the Internet”. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, lets dive into the web.

How wide is the web?

If you’ve ever searched for something online you’ll know that the Web is a vast place… an almost unending vault of information on virtually any subject. Google Search found almost a million web pages for “pink garden gnomes” and around a quarter of a million for “Marmite flavored toothpaste” – and these are niche search terms. Searching for “Nelson Mandela” returns over 52 Million web pages while a term like “Facebook” will get you over 15 Billion pages.

Here’s the kicker: 15 Billion pages, as huge a number as it is, is really just a drop in the ocean. Let’s stick with the maritime metaphor for a moment. Ok, so let’s think of the entire web as the ocean. Your web browser would be like a ship that navigates the waters, taking you from port to port (web page to web page). Everything you experience on that ship will be above, on, or just below the surface. Likewise, on the web, everything you’re likely to experience will take place near the surface. That part of the web is known as the “surface web”. Here’s where our metaphor breaks down a little: the ocean’s surface is vast, there’s no denying that. Regardless of how frequently you sail, you will never be able to see it all – not even most of it. In fact, the fastest super-yacht in the world (A Millennium 140 named ‘World is Not Enough’) would take over 1000 years to sail non-stop over every square kilometer of ocean. If the surface web stopped growing today it would take a person over 30,000 years to visit just the first trillion web pages (if they spent no more than one second between web pages).

But the fact is that the surface web is growing at an unbelievable rate, doubling in size every 5.32 years. You get the point… the surface Web is mind-bogglingly vast and makes the ocean seem like a puddle. The truly mind-boggling part, for me at least, is that in all these metaphors and calculations, we’ve only dealt with the surface area of the web. That’s just the top sheet of paper on a stack of paper. What lurks beneath the surface is the Deep Web. The darker, colder, more dangerous web.

How fast is the web growing?

Deep Web. How deep exactly?

In 2006 the Deep Web was estimated to be around 400 times the size of the regular web, and in 2008 it was estimated to be no less than 550 times the size. That was seven years ago. There doesn’t seem to be any consensus as to how large the entire Internet is right now, and this doesn’t appear to be because the web is just too large to measure, it just that the Internet is growing at such an accelerated rate that any calculation would be incorrect by the time it was completed. Did you know that more information was generated in the last two days than in the history of mankind before that?

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