Timothy Edward Downs maps the World Wide Web

Timothy Edward Downs, Road Map to the World Wide Web [and on verso:] PC Computing The World Wide Web Business and Beyond. New York: Ziff-Davis, 1995.
Two-sided poster printed in color halftone, 24 ¾”h x 37”w at sheet edge. Folds as issued, minor soiling to verso upper right, ownership inscription in pencil on title panel. Very good.

A rare and striking 1995 map of the World Wide Web capturing the excitement of the earliest days of the new technology. 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)

Downs’ map of the World Wide Web
Offered here is Downs’ 1995 Road Map to the World Wide Web, stylistically very similar to a Road Map of the Internet he drew the previous year. Inspired by subway maps and the innovative posters of A.M. Cassandre, he applied a spatial hub-and-spoke metaphor to depict the content and connections that constituted the World Wide Web in its earliest days. Here subway stations and lines are replaced by subject areas and web sites:

“Points of interest along the information highway are organized around major subject categories. Radiating from each category are descriptions of key sites and their addresses.”

Thus, whereas the Road Map of the Internet was organized around servers, the present map is organized around categories of content. This reflects the underlying difference between the Internet, a global network of computers linked by telecommunications, and the World Wide Web, a global collection of content linked by URLs and shared and accessed via the Internet.

The map helpfully provides URLs for each site and capsule summaries of content, occasionally with some editorializing. Of the “Mario Cuomo Victory ‘94” site Downs writes “The title of this page is Victory ’94, suggesting that it was posted either early or naively. Really nice stuff, though—maybe he should have won on this alone.” The hub for “Government” observes that “business and government don’t always see eye to eye (maybe never, in fact), but on the We3b they’re congenial neighbors. The U.S. government is getting into the Web hot and heavy, and the offerings are getting more useful all the time.”

Though presumably printed in large numbers, the map was ephemeral and must have had a low survival rate.  It is scarce on the market, as are other related maps issued by PC Computing in 1995-96, and few institutional holdings are recorded.

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

As of June 2022 OCLC 313653348 gives three institutional holdings (Carleton University, Texas A&M, University of Michigan).  Much background from “Timothy Edward Downs – Mapping the Internet” at YouTube.