In the offline world, geography is everything. You can only buy what’s in front of you, only speak with someone who’s in the same room. On the Internet, though, physical distance is trivial. What matters in online communication is not where you are but what platforms and services you’re using.
That’s what xkcd’s Randall Munroe was getting at with his 2007 and 2010 attempts to map the world’s online communities. The Economist last year took a crack at incorporating hardware and e-commerce giants into a tech-world game of thrones. But perhaps the most painstakingly detailed schema yet comes from a Slovakian artist named Martin Vargic, who has posted on deviantart.com what he bills as the first map of its kind on such a scale. Behold, “the Internet.”
Double-click to zoom in the interactive map above. Click and hold to drag.
No single map, of course, can do justice to the complexity of the relationships between sites, services, and entities as diverse as Google, Cisco, QQ, and BitTorrent. But for tech nerds, the map presents an endlessly fascinating schema for comparing and drawing connections between the various entities that constitute the online world. And while the potential quibbles are many, it’s impressive the number of things that this map gets right.
One immediate insight is that there’s enough pornographic material on the Web to fill its own entire continent. On one level we know this, but the media tends to ignore it, to the point that it’s rather jarring to see names like Xhamster and LiveJasmin etched matter-of-factly onto countries just across the sea from Google and YouTube.
The Internet map's nation-states aren’t represented precisely to scale, but it does take their Alexa rank into account, so that one can easily see which kingdoms are the United Stateses and Chinas of the Internet and which are the Tuvalus and Luxembourgs. One real-world dichotomy that’s reflected in the Internet map is the concept of an Old World and a New World, with AOL, Microsoft, HP, and IBM composing a sort of online Europe, while Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest form a virtual North America. And while it’s hard to say whether it’s on purpose, it feels appropriate that Google Plus appears to have no cities of note, though it does appear to be in the process of trying to annex Google Hangouts from neighboring Gmail. (Hold strong, Gmail! We’re rooting for you!)
One error that ought to be corrected immediately is the apparent omission of Slate, which I was unable to 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 via Indiegogo or buy a print of the map on Zazzle.com.) A more important—and less provincial—complaint is that the map does not yet reflect the rapidly growing size and influence of sites and platforms based in the non-English-speaking world, save for QQ and a few others. Still, it’s a great way to waste some time—which, if I’m not mistaken, is a big part of the reason we all built this online world in the first place.
Previously in Slate: