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51% of the World’s Population Is Now Online, But Growth Is Slowing, Says Mary Meeker’s 2019 Internet Trends Report

It’s taken several decades, but half of the world’s population is now on the Internet, an annual report on internet trends by venture capitalist Mary Meeker said Tuesday.

But along with the vast scale of the Internet’s reach comes a slowdown in its growth. The number of people active online last year grew by 6% to about $3.8 billion, or 51% of the world’s total population. In 2017, there were 3.6 billion people online, or 49% of the population.

Meeker, who spun out from Kleiner Perkins last fall after eight years at the VC firm, raised this spring $1.25 billion in capital commitments for a growth fund at Bond Cap LLC. Since 1995, when she was an analyst at Morgan Stanley, Meeker has issued an exhaustive annual report on tech trends that tracked key growth benchmarks.

In her first annual report, Meeker estimated that only 10 million of the 150 million owners of personal computers were active Internet users. “In short, there’s lots of upside,” she wrote then.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, tech giants are finding it hard to maintain the growth rates that helped spur on the Internet’s early growth. Smartphones, which brought online access to many countries, saw unit shipments fall 4% last year after being flat in 2018, Meeker’s report said.

Other areas saw growth that remained strong if below the growth pace of recent years. E-commerce sales, which now make up 15% of total retail sales, rose 12.4% in the first quarter of 2019, down from the 15%-to-20% rate of previous years. Nonetheless, it’s several times faster than the 2% growth for traditional retail sales.

Meanwhile, Internet ad revenue for the leading U.S. platforms decelerated to 20% growth in the first quarter of 2019, down from a 37% growth rate on year ago. Most of that ad revenue is going to online-ad giants Facebook and Google, although other companies like Amazon, Twitter, Snap and Pinterest are seeing strong growth as well.

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