Surf It Again, Sam

Remember that classic moment in “Casablanca,” when an angst-ridden, shot-drinking Humphrey Bogart turned to Ingrid Bergman and said, “Of all the gin joints in town, you had to walk into mine”? Well, a similar affliction seems to be plaguing Web surfers these days as a new report indicates that of the myriad sites available on the Web, many users wind up visiting properties belonging to just a handful of different companies.

According to New York-based Jupiter Media Metrix, the number of companies responsible for roughly half the time (50.4 percent) users spend on the Internet has shrunk from eleven in March 1999 to four in March 2001. And, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, the leading company capturing user minutes is AOL Time Warner, with more than four times the number of its nearest competitor, Microsoft.

Analysts at JMM note that one factor leading to online traffic consolidation is the consolidation of media companies. AOL and Time Warner properties, for example, in March ’99, were among the eleven companies responsible for 50 percent of all user minutes (AOL was rated number one; Time Warner was eleven). But the AOL/Time Warner merger created a new media giant, whose ranking in March 2001 is at the top of the list. So now AOL TW, like Rick’s–Bogart’s restaurant/casino–can sometimes feel like the only game in town.

Data Points
–In March 1999, 110 companies were responsible for how 60.1 percent of users spent their time online. In March 2001, only 14 companies were responsible–an 87 percent drop.

–AOL TW was the March 2001 leader in percentage share of user minutes*, weighing in with 32 percent of user traffic; followed by Microsoft (7.5 percent), Yahoo (7.2), and Napster Digital (3.6). Juno and eBay secured 1.9 percent shares.

Source: Jupiter Media Metrix
*Two thirds of AOL Time Warner’s minutes come from communications services (e.g., e-mail, instant messaging, e-greetings).