"The Top 10 sites have been pulling away from the rest of the pack and they have been for awhile now," said Allen Weiner, an analyst with Nielsen/NetRatings. "We're truly looking at a 90/10 split, that is, 90% of the Web traffic goes to 10% of the sites not only in the U.S. but in other countries as well."
In Mr. Weiner's view, the rapidly maturing Web is following the "natural law of media stratification."
"In every market, in every media, as that medium matures, there will be at most three properties that rule," he said. "Then, there's a small next group of companies that are trying hard to make the grade, and then there's a big gap until you get to the rest of the pack."
"There's a handful of dominant companies-America Online, Yahoo!, [Microsoft Corp.'s] MSN-then a couple of portals on the fringe of dominance. And these are the sites that week after week are ahead of the rest" (see charts).
Those dominant sites will continue to put more distance between themselves and the rest, Mr. Weiner said. "The top sites continue adding applications to their mix, whether it's free e-mail, picture saving and sharing, address books, calendars."
That in turn attracts more traffic, which attracts more advertisers. The sites then have more money to buy more applications and the cycle snowballs.
The Top 10 sites are "becoming a microcosm of the Web itself in that you can go to one site and do the tasks you used to have to visit 20 sites to accomplish. It's like TV in many ways in that you can get news, information, traffic, weather, entertainment, sports, all in [one] site."
So, if your site isn't in the Top 10, are you toast? "No, and that's one way the Web is different [from other media] because site No. 100 still has a significant growth opportunity," Mr. Weiner asserted. "Site No. 100 still has a sizable market to go after; maybe they're getting a million page views. In theory, there's a business opportunity there because there's tremendous opportunity in every minute segmentation and niche."
One business opportunity may be to sell out to one of the Top 10. "The top companies are always looking for more and more applications, and they're looking for those ideas and innovations from the lower-ranked sites, sites that may fall below the radar screen of competitors," he said.
"Still, you can expect the Top 10 sites are going to continue to pull away," Mr. Weiner said. "Now, who's in the Top 10 is going to depend on how they differentiate themselves from one another."