1996 map of what lay beyond the World Wide Web

By Neil Randall / Illustration by Timothy Edward Downs, PC Computing[:] Beyond the Web. New York: Ziff-Davis, 1996.
Two-sided poster printed in color halftone, 25”h x 37 ¼”w at sheet edge. Never folded, and signed by artist Downs. Bit of wear, but about excellent.

A 1996 map of the Internet, providing a curated guide to content available “beyond” the multi-media interface of the world wide web. Designed by legendary technical artist Timothy Edward Downs as a bonus for purchasers of PC Computing magazine.

PC Computing and Timothy Edward Downs
Back in the early nineties PC Magazine, PC World and PC Computing were in a three-way race for subscribers and newsstand sales. PC Computing viewed itself as the edgiest of the three—in retrospect, not dissimilar to Wired—and it ventured well beyond dry technical matter to include thought pieces, feature Penn Gillette as the back-page columnist, and generally “talk about what was really cool culturally.” (Timothy Edward Downs, YouTube interview) In 1994 it tried a new marketing tactic, with its designers producing a groundbreaking series of posters providing a graphic introduction to the rapidly-developing world of the Internet. The posters were “folded just like road maps, like you would get from AAA” (Downs) and shrink wrapped along with each copy of the magazine. Ultimately “about 13” such posters were produced over the next two years. “This was a serial kind of a project, so every month with your new issue you’d get a different way of slicing and dicing places on the Internet…. and you could take this map, open it up, and start going to each of those sites…” (Downs)

Artist Timothy Edward Downs was, and is, a graphic designer, photographer and information technology expert, best known for his illustrated guide How Computers Work, now in its 10th edition. By his own account, he developed an interest in art and electronics at the age of 10. His distinctive, innovative approach to technical illustration later developed out of his frustration with the genre: 

“Technical illustration… was all so boring…. at the end I never liked any of the things I did because they were all too perfect. All the angles were right, the perspective was perfect, everything was shaded in a way that was realistic but still very dry and very non-human, and ultimately you were showing what it was but you weren’t saying how it worked….


“As I was starting to draw and starting to work in the industry, I realized that I could draw technical things in a very accurate way, but it didn’t have life, and it didn’t excite, and ultimately it didn’t feel like it was alive and moving…. I wanted to invite people into the information as opposed to just showing them what all the things did.” (Downs)

“Beyond the Web”
Offered here is one of Downs’ early PC Computing posters, produced in collaboration with technical writer Neil Randall. Unlike Downs’ earlier posters, which tended to draw on terrestrial iconography such as subway maps, this one adopts the metaphor of the solar system to turn the viewer on to interesting content available “beyond” the multimedia interface of the World Wide Web. At the time primitive design and limited bandwidth slowed web sites to a crawl, giving Gopher, FTP and other text-based services a huge speed advantage:

“The truth is out there. But the truth is you may have to get off the World Wide Web to find it. Sure, the Internet feels like uncharted territory at first. To explore beyond the http:// addresses everyone else is clicking on, you’ll forgo the multimedia interface. But you won’t waste as much time in suspended animation. You’ll find amazing content incredibly faster and more efficiently than your Web-bound colleagues.”

On this poster Downs depicts the World Wide Web as the Earth, “beyond” which are rings each representing different types of content available on no-Web Internet sites, including business & government, computers & the internet, education and research, and home & family. Within each ring are several dozen sites, with an address and capsule summary of content for each site and occasionally a bit of editorial comment. Even at this early stage of the Internet’s development the range of content is striking, including for example ice biking, food labeling, Java applets, hydrocephalus, NAFTA and a comic strip about slugs. Printed on the back of the poster are explanations of the different types of internet sites (Gopher, FTP, Telnet, &c) as well as adverts for a number of tech firms.

Though presumably printed in large numbers, this map and others issued by PC Computing all seem to be rare on the market. As of August 2018 I find no others listed for sale on line. For examples of other Downs maps offered by this firm, see here, here and here.

In all, a rare and unusual image of the internet in its earliest days of development. 

Not in OCLC. Much background from “Timothy Edward Downs – Mapping the Internet” at YouTube.