In the offline world, geography is everything. You can only buy what you have in front of you, only talk to someone who is in the same room. On the Internet, however, physical distance is trivial. What matters in online communication is not where you are, but what platforms and services you are using.
Here’s what xkcd’s Randall Munroe wanted to do with his 2007 and 2010 tries to map online communities around the world. The Economist last year it attempted to incorporate hardware and e-commerce giants into a game of thrones in the tech world. But perhaps the most meticulously detailed diagram comes from a Slovak artist named Martin Vargic, who posted what he calls the first map of its kind on such a scale on deviantart.com. Here you are, “the net. “
Double click to enlarge the interactive map above. Click and hold to drag.
No single map, of course, can do justice to the complexity of relationships between sites, services and entities as diverse as Google, Cisco, QQ and BitTorrent. But for tech nerds, the map presents an infinitely fascinating pattern for comparing and plotting connections between the various entities that make up the online world. And while the potential quibbles are many, the number of things this map manages to do is impressive.
An immediate insight is that there is enough pornographic material on the web to fill its entire continent. On some level we know this, but the media tends to ignore it, to the point where it’s pretty jarring to see names like Xhamster and LiveJasmin realistically stamped on countries just across the sea by Google and YouTube.
The nation-states of the Internet map are not accurately represented to scale, but it does take into account their Alexa rank, so that you can easily see which kingdoms are the United States and the Internet Chinas and which are Tuvalus and Luxembourg. A real-world dichotomy that is reflected in the map of the Internet is the concept of the Old and New World, with AOL, Microsoft, HP and IBM making up a kind of online Europe, while Google, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest form a virtual of the North. America. And while it’s hard to tell if that’s on purpose, it seems fitting that Google Plus doesn’t have any noteworthy cities, even if it looks like it’s attempting to annex Google Hangouts from neighboring Gmail. (Hold on, Gmail! Let’s cheer for you!)
One mistake that should be corrected immediately is the apparent omission of Slate, which I could not find on the map despite the presence of some smaller media sites like the Daily beast. Fortunately, a note at the bottom assures us that this map is a work in progress, and will be updated and improved over time. (The creator invites supporters to donate through Indiegogo or purchase a print of the map at Zazzle.com.) A more important and less provincial complaint is that the map still does not reflect the rapidly growing size and influence of sites and platforms based in the non-English-speaking world, except for QQ and a few others. Still, it’s a great way to waste time, which, if I’m not mistaken, is a big part of why we all built this online world in the first place.