There’s a really neat web page on which you can, literally, watch the internet grow. As the numbers roll up towards 4.2 billion users, you see that 55% of the world’s 7.7 billion citizens are now online.

The fastest growth has been in Africa, where the number of users has grown fivefold since 2009. A quarter of all Africans now have access to the internet, much of the growth coming from the use of smartphones.

Former Soviet republics, including Russia, have seen a threefold growth in users while internet usage in Asia Pacific and the Middle East has more than doubled over the same period. Progress in Europe is more sedate, growing from two thirds to four fifths of the population in the last decade.

Close to seven in 10 people in the Americas are online, up from half a decade ago. If this number seems low when considering the US, remember that this data covers Latin America where rural infrastructure is less developed.

Usage of the web is growing so fast that the statisticians struggle to keep up. The last year for which verified by-country figures are available is 2016. Unsurprisingly perhaps, China had the greatest number of users (721 million people) followed by India (462 million) and the USA (287 million).

Iceland had 100% of its 332,000 citizens online. In all, 17 nations and territories had more than 90% of their citizens online ranging from the Faroe Islands (98.5%) to Japan (91%). But it’s the counter on the Internet Live Stats site which is mesmerising, tracking everything from users to Google searches.

The vastness of the web

The sheer scale of the online world is staggering. The counter shows we are close to having 1.7 billion websites which are found by over 5 billion Google searches every day. More than 45,000 sites are hacked each day.

So far this year, we have collectively sent nearly 19 trillion emails and 53 billion tweets. We have watched almost 500 billion YouTube videos and made nearly 450 million blog posts, including this one. Internet traffic has generated almost 450 billion gigabytes of data consuming close to 285 million kilowatt hours of electricity. All of which has produced more than 230 million tons of CO2.

The internet has come a long way in the 30 years since Sir Tim Berners-Lee proposed the concept while working at CERN, the European particle research centre. In a blog post for the Forum, Berners-Lee urged governments and companies to “respect the web as a global community with citizens at its heart.” At nearly 4.2 billion people, that’s quite a community.