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Matthew Prince (US) - A Drive Through the Internet Traffic of 2011

A look back at 2011 brings infamous events, people and places to mind – the royal wedding, the death of Osama Bin Laden and the Occupy Wall Street protests – all soon-to-be events in history text books. But, where did we go when we wanted more information at that moment or how did we even learn about them at that moment? We surfed the web, and while we surfed the web, it grew, transformed and came under attack. Here are some of the tops trends on the web from 2011:

The ABCs of Internet Traffic

While every country in the world contributes to Internet traffic, three countries lead the pack: the United States (America), Brazil, and China. We think of them as the ABCs of the Internet with the United States generating the most traffic to Internet sites, followed by China, then Brazil. While the United States was number one for generating traffic, 2011 was the year China passed the U.S. in terms of the total number of web users.

Other hot traffic countries that gained significant traffic in 2011 were Turkey and Egypt. Considering the current unrest in that part of the world and the role social media has played, it’s an interesting trend that we noticed as we also saw many publishers in 2011 use tools like Smartling to translate their sites into multiple languages in order to improve their regional search rankings and get more traffic outside their home geography. There definitely was a breakthrough in the promise of the Internet in 2011 – your web site can reach a global audience.

The Rise of the Hack Attack

While people attacking the web have been around almost as long as websites themselves, over the last year there was a dramatic rise in the number and size of attacks. In 2011, CloudFlare and other security organizations reported an approximately 700% rise in denial of service attacks. These attacks are the cyber equivalent of someone picketing a physical store. They plug up the connection to a website so legitimate visitors can't get through.

The attacks in 2011 came in two primary flavors: political or economic. Well-known groups like Anonymous launched attacks to make a political point, at times in 2011 knocking offline websites for Mastercard (due to their lack of support for Wikileaks), Sony (for their stance on copyright), and even the CIA (for being the CIA).

More quietly, an even more disturbing type of attack took place: those launched for financial reasons. Like old extortion rackets where the mafia would threaten to burn down a store unless the owner paid up, web extortionists threaten to knock an ecommerce site offline unless they pay a fee. The fees are typically around $10,000 and the hackers aren't kidding. Sites that didn’t pay often found themselves vanishing from the web.

Mobile, Mobile, Mobile, and more Mobile

Last year was the year that everyone you know got a smart phone. At least 25% of the traffic to CloudFlare’s network came from mobile devices. In certain regions, the percentage of traffic coming from mobile devices was well over 80%. It's a surprise to few that mobile is on the rise, but the speed with which it has become a dominant force online has been stunning to watch.

Ecommerce Hit Its Stride

While online shopping has been around for years, 2011 saw more people than ever turning to the Internet to make purchases. There was a 45% increase in traffic to retail sites on cyber Monday (according to CloudFlare’s network data), making it the busiest online shopping day of the year. The last year also saw the beginning of separation between the haves and have-nots of ecommerce.

It's no longer enough just to have a website, now the hundreds of millions of Internet users who have been trained by Facebook and Google on how fast the web can be are growing increasingly impatient when pages are slow to load. Amazon and other major ecommerce sites, have found that every 1/10th of a second they shave off their page loading times means an extra 1% of revenue. There was an exponential increase in customer engagement as sites loaded faster.

We’re looking forward to watching the Internet’s evolution in 2012 as more and more web surfers around the world jump on and expect a quick, simple ride every time. It will be an interesting journey to watch in 2012.

By Matthew Prince, co-founder and CEO of CloudFlare. This is part one in a two-part series of articles on Internet traffic trends. Read part two here.

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