The total number of websites on the internet is shrinking as domains registered during the internet boom of late 1999 are dropped, according to web server information firm Netcraft.

Netcraft's Web Server Survey, released this week, found that the number of websites fell by 182,142 from November to December last year to 36,276,252. The decline is only the second recorded by the survey, which started in August 1995, Netcraft said.

The first drop was a blip caused by failures and changes at several large hosting companies, according to Netcraft. This time, however, the number of domains not renewed exceeds the number of new registrations, resulting in fewer websites. Netcraft figures show the number of dotcom domains fell by about 130,000 in the last quarter of 2001.

Domains are typically registered for two-year periods. Web addresses claimed in late 1999, a period described by Netcraft as one of rampant domain name speculation, are coming up for renewal.

Many more domains will be up for renewal in the coming months, as domain name speculation accelerated in early 2000, Netcraft said.

The drop in domains on the internet could be offset by the recent introduction of new top-level domains (TLDs) such as .biz and .info, says Netcraft.