Mapping the Internet is an unforgiving task. While many attempts exist to map out the complex interconnections of information that makes out the Internet, most of these result in a mishmash of overlapping links in various colours. They give an idea of complexity, but offer little in the way of actually navigating that complexity – essentially, they aren’t very good as maps.
My favorite visualisation of the Internet is Russian data scientist Ruslan Enikeev’s The Internet Map (www.internet-map.net) from 2012. In this interactive network graph, a set of 350 000 websites are represented as dots, where the sites popularity is given by a dot’s size, and the nation where it is most used is represented by its colour. You can either search for a given website or browse the entire map by scrolling and zooming across its various continents. Just like with a geographical map you can get lost tracing its paths, borders and intersections, going country-by-country or website-by-website.
The first thing you notice when looking at the Internet Map are the major coloured continents. In the centre you find the Anglosphere, a vast continent that takes up a good third of the map itself. It is closely flanked by a rainbow-mix of European websites to the East, while a green India partially overlaps it in the West. Three major continents are isolated from it, existing in spheres of their own: China in yellow in the South-West; purple Japan in the South-East; and the Runet, the Russian language internet, in the North, appropriately coloured red. Smack down in the centre of the map you will see google.com, next to other giants such as Yahoo, Facebook and YouTube.
The centre of most national clusters can be found by looking up the nation-specific google site; for example, the UK, Australian and Nigerian clusters can be located inside the Anglosphere by looking up google.co.uk, google.com.au, or google.com.ng respectively. This is not true for all, however. The Chinese cluster is dominated by the search engines Baidu and qq.com; in the Runet, google is superseded by both the search engine Yandex and the social media site vkontakte; and in Japan, yahoo.com.jp still rules supreme.
Looking at the distributions of the internet clusters can often be an enlightening experience. If you look at the Runet cluster, for example, you will find Belarusian sites clustered in the centre of the Russophone continent, between vkontakte and Yandex.
Ukraine is also central in the Runet, though a bit closer to the western site google.ru, while Azerbaijan can be found at the margin of the continent, surrounded by major Russian money transfer sites. Interestingly, certain web services have been adopted by national clusters – livejournal. com can be found on the outskirts of the Runet, with Russians as the most important user base. Blogspot.com is surrounded by a massive cluster of Iranian blogging sites; blogging became an important news source in the country after a state crack-down on official media outlets in the early 2000’s.
Meanwhile, the Scandinavian countries all cluster around Wikipedia, together with Poland, Germany and the Netherlands, the popularity of the platform probably due its combination of English and native language content in these largely bilingual countries. Youtube.com is closely flanked by a series of Greek news sites, a testament to Greek online news media’s affinity for the platform.
In the South of the map, you can find a large Anglophone peninsula about the size of the Runet shooting off from the rest of the Anglosphere. This is the pornography continent, surrounded and overlapping with European, South-American and Asian sites of all colours. It is also the only part of the Anglosphere that borders directly with Japan, the border itself populated by a series of Japanese and American porn sites. Meanwhile, the pornography peninsula is separated from the mainstream Anglosphere by a series of video streaming sites of questionable legal status. Border areas can be interesting objects of investigation in their own right – the Runet, for example, is separated from the Anglosphere by a series of English language dictionaries and translation sites. Oftentimes border areas are populated by web hosting services that span several national markets.
In the North-western corner of the map, two major websites are floating freely in the void, in splendid isolation from the rest of the Internet. The larger of the two is wordpress. com, a major provider of website design and management services. The other is Go.com, Disney’s official web portal, where children can go to play games and find other Disneyrelated entertainment. What the two sites have in common is that they are both usually accessed directly and in isolation, as opposed to in a surfing session across several sites.
The true value of Ruslan’s Internet Map is that it allows us to explore and discover. Whether we want to look at the particular position and connection of a certain site, or if we are looking to see how different countries and languages interact in cyberspace, a well-designed map such as this can be an invaluable resource to internet ethnographers and big data scientists alike when doing exploratory research. Like when perusing a geographical world map, it lets us discover connections and details that changes our view of the world in an instant. And if nothing else, it certainly is a good way to waste an afternoon.