How do you picture the internet? As a series of links? As countless servers sitting on racks? As the Google search box? As your Facebook feed?
Designer Martin Vargic sees the internet as something different. He imagines it to look like Earth’s own globe from a vintage atlas, full of continents dedicated to topics like news, e-commerce, social media, and pornography. Then inside these continents live countries like CNN and Breitbart, Amazon and Alibaba, Facebook and Twitter, and Pornhub and Xvideos. Their borders are painted boldly in their brand colors, depicting an internet that is going more international by the day.
Vargic released his first Map of the Internet in 2014. But nearly a decade later, he felt it was time for an update. “The landscape of the internet has changed considerably and the old map became more and more outdated,” he says. “At the same time, I improved considerably as an artist and designer, and thought that the Map of the Internet deserved to be revisited, and the concept further explored and realized on an even more ambitious and comprehensive scale.”
What’s most remarkable is how few of these sites you can actually make out from space, if you will. Google, YouTube, Baidu, QQ (the messaging service owned by Tencent), and Tmall (a retailer run by Alibaba) are legible when you have the map zoomed out. These are some of the biggest superpowers in an increasingly monopolistic internet. Almost nothing else is legible until you zoom in—which even includes companies like Microsoft.
The scale of these “countries” doesn’t track with actual company size by revenue or reach. Instead, this map is based purely on web traffic (measured by the service Alexa). So Apple isn’t measurably much larger than Adobe, and Amazon is smaller than Reddit.
“Many of the world’s largest companies are not shown on the map, as they have a minimal web presence and their websites have way too little traffic to put them even in the top 5,000,” Vargic says. These missing giants include oil companies (Shell, Exxon Mobil, and Saudi Aramco), car companies (GM, Volkswagen, and Honda), and electronics companies (Foxconn, Fujitsu, and Taiwan Semiconductor).
That means you need to explore the map considering web traffic alone; but when you do, it’s a fascinating artifact. I was surprised at how little I recognized on the international scale. JD.com, for instance, is the 10th-most visited site on the web. But can you say what it is or does? (Spoiler: It’s a Chinese e-commerce company.)
“As internet access has spread rapidly throughout developing countries in the last decade, the popularity of non-English websites has increased considerably—about a third of the world’s most visited 50 websites are based in China, with Tmall, QQ, Baidu, or Sohu surpassing Amazon, Yahoo, and even Facebook in terms of traffic,” Vargic says. “There is also a much larger [number] of popular Indonesian, Indian, Iranian, Brazilian, and other sites than even [a few] years ago.”
For Vargic, the map was more than a design project; it was a research project that required him to dig, translate, and wade his way through cultures and companies that he knew very little about. The task took him an estimated 1,000 hours over the course of six months. But the resulting map of the web he’s created really does feel worthy of the classic atlas treatment. It’s a tool to chart your course through the unknown.
“I hope the map will give people a better overview of the internet as a whole and allow them to explore it from a brand-new angle, bringing more order and condensing the sheer complexity and chaos of the World Wide Web into a more manageable package,” Vargic says.
The best way to see this map is not on a website at all, because its finite details are lost to compression. To get a higher-resolution version to explore at your leisure, your best option is to order the giant, 5-foot-wide print for a mere $78.