If you want a printed Internet map, you're in luck, because two exist: a 1996 MacUser fold-out and a Wired Magazine 1998 illustration. Ah, the glorious 90s. In 1996, Bill Clinton was President and the Dallas Cowboys won the Super Bowl. Trainspotting, The Rock, Fargo, and Mission Impossible were box office hits according to IMDb. General Motors released the EV1 electric car. The FCC announced the Telecommunications Act of 1996, "to let anyone enter any communications business" (via fcc.gov). And the Internet Wayback Machine began to archive websites. Website design was much simpler compared to now, with animated GIFs being the popular choice for giving a site bells and whistles.
MacUser's 1996 Internet Road Map showcased Internet "points of interest" and major sites during the days when 28.8 Kbps (kilobits per second) or slower modems were standard. A 1,024 kilobyte file (1 megabyte) would take nearly 6 minutes to download over a 28.8 Kbps connection, whereas it takes 1 minute 20 seconds or less over today's cable connections (calculated with the HP file download calculator). Those were the days when it was common for computer users to have two telephone lines: one for landline use only and one for dial-up computer use. This way, you wouldn't miss any important phone calls because the modem was connected to a separate line.
Published by Ziff-Davis, the Internet Road Map was a supplement to MacUser magazine and edited by Jason Snell and Shelly Brisbin. Geoff Duncan crawled the web to identify the featured links. Unfolded, the 37-inch by 24.75-inch map equipped with Legend and Index, educated readers about the intricacies of mailing lists and LISTSERVs, FTP (file-transfer protocol), and ISPs (Internet Service Providers). The map itself included topic zones grouped into Business and Commerce, Arts and Humanities, Internet Reference, Education and Reference, Government Information, and Macintosh Resources. MacUser sat in the near-center of the map, with a URL pointing readers to its website. The entire layout delivered a treasure trove of links, showcasing places to read about your favorite science-fiction books, learn about frog dissection, look up zip codes, get Apple Newton information, among others. For those born long after 1992, the Newton was Apple's first handheld computer; see it in action on YouTube.
By 1997, another Internet map, known simply as the Internet Mapping Project, was getting off the ground, created by William Cheswick and Hal Burch. It showed routes from one network to another in a topology that came together like a fractal. Wired magazine published the map in their December 1998 issue, with 100,000 nodes and strands of color creating what looks more like an abstract expressionist painting than information design. Today, the project continues at Lumeta, a Bell Labs spin out. The Lumeta map can visualize global visibility, routers, slow and quick connections, and connection efficiency.
The notion of mapping the Internet not only amazes me, but also stupefies me. Even doing it in 1996 seems ambitious when approximately 603,367 sites were online (via Netcraft, as reported by BBC). And it's not just the sheer volume of domain names, because expansion comes into play. In today's interconnected world, doing a map today, means updating it tomorrow. DomainTools indicates that close to 150,000 new top-level domains (.com, .net, .org, .info, .biz, .us) are registered each day. In their September 2012 web server survey Netcraft identified 620,132,319 active hostnames.
Whether printed or digitized, then or now, having a map of the Internet has always evoked images of Time Bandits travelling forwards and backwards through history and space. Surfing the web has never been about finding the path to the Most Fabulous Link in the World but many users do take pride in discovering the latest and greatest LOLs, keyboard cats, design blogs, or Tumblr feeds on their own. Search engines like Google and Bing can sometimes help us find those sites, and we have friends and followers directing us to their own treasures that we can "Like" or "RT."
What makes an Internet map somewhat futile for today's users is the fact that we are the mapmakers. One look at our Tumblr feeds, Pinterest boards, Instagram galleries, Twitter streams, Facebook timelines, and other curatorial tools says, "We know what we like and where we want to go." An array of sorting, linking, ranking, and diagrammatic devices let us put inbound and outbound links within our own mapmaking system, for the rest of the Internet to see. And all of our maps are out there, freely available as digital road maps of links and bookmarks, favorites and photos. Now wouldn't that be nifty: an Internet map made entirely of mapmakers' maps.