Map of Internet. What is the Internet and how do you map it? This is not a simple question. Although it is sometimes, though increasingly rarely, referred to as “cyberspace,” suggesting some sort of geography, it is not entirely clear what a map of the Internet should actually look like. Will it be a map showing the Internet, as former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens once put it, as a “series of pipes” through which hot information spreads around the world at 300,000,000 meters per second? Is it a map similar to the opening credits of the movie “Silicon Valley,” showing the luxury headquarters of those companies that rule the online sphere: the Googles, Facebooks, Amazons and Baidus of this world?
Not so for Martin Wargick: It’s an 18th-century-style map that looks like something from the golden age of cartography, only instead of countries and cities, it shows 3,000 of the world’s most visited Web sites.
“The sites that look like each other are grouped by continent and region,” Vargic, a 23-year-old self-taught graphic designer from Bratislava, Slovakia, told Digital Trends. “It’s pretty accurate. I use Alexa’s annual average ranking, which ranks sites by number of visitors and popularity. The higher the ranking, [the bigger the country]. So, Google is No. 1, which means it’s the biggest. YouTube is No. 2, meaning it’s the second largest. And so on.”
The results, which took Vargick about 1,000 hours (“Presumably you didn’t do this for 12 hours at a time?”). “Sometimes I had to,” he replied), are pretty impressive.
There are dozens of individual regions and continents grouped into categories such as “news sites,” “search engines,” “social media,” “e-commerce” and “adult entertainment.” Then there are more than 10,000 “cities” and “townships” representing subcategories of these broader nations. Even mountains, seas, hills and valleys refer to individual aspects of individual Web sites. Some major sites have hundreds of subcategory tags. Vargic said he drew it all in Photoshop, and the file ended up with “about 5 GB of data.”
Vargic began creating maps at age 11. “But I didn’t publish them online until I was 12 or 13,” he said. Over the years, he has created a number of maps on topics ranging from the potential effects of nuclear war on the United States to the locations of famous animated films, as well as a map of literature, “a truly gigantic visualization of 5,000 years of history of literary masters and their works, showing how different literary genres germinated, branched out and eventually evolved to the modern state.”
He sells their prints on his Web site and has even collected them in several books under different titles, Vargic’s Miscellany of Curious Maps and Vargic’s Curious Cosmic Compendium.
Evolution of the Internet
One of the fascinating aspects of maps, of course, is that they capture everything in time. Throughout history, world borders and nation-states have existed in various states of contested variability. Yet when they are represented on a map, they appear fixed and constant, something that never happens in real life. Such is also the history of the Internet. No, Reddit is not at war with Quora or Facebook with Amazon (at least not in the same way as, say, England and France), but the fortunes and prominent sites have certainly fluctuated and waned over a relatively short period of history.
“I mostly focused on the development of the Internet only from 2013-2014, when I created the first proto-version of the map, [though] of much smaller size and quality, so I missed the rise and fall of MySpace, Geocities, Orkut and other ‘ancient’ sites,” Vargic noted.
Nevertheless, there is something by definition impossible about mapping the Internet. It’s as impossible as trying to view all the videos on YouTube or keeping a paper record of what happens on Twitter. A map of the Internet – even based on data from 2020 and 2021 – is already outdated in small and insignificant detail. In just a few years it will seem downright anachronistic. Think that TikTok, Zoom and Discord wouldn’t have been on any technology map even a decade ago.
“Overall, the popularity of non-English-language websites has increased significantly since 2014,” he said. “About a third of the world’s 50 most visited websites are based in China, with Tmall, QQ, Baidu or Sohu surpassing Amazon, Yahoo and even Facebook. Popular Indonesian, Indian, Iranian, Brazilian and other sites are also far more popular than they were seven years ago.”
This international shift is visualized on Vargic’s map, thereby demonstrating a key change in the development of the Internet: it may finally justify that World Wide Web moniker that no one uses today.
In other words, consider this Internet map more as a historical artifact than as a guide to the roads of cyberspace in the future. Come to think of it, maybe it really does deserve the vintage aesthetic Vargic has chosen for it!