One of the earliest maps of the Internet, providing a curated guide to the “best” free content available on line as of 1995. 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 “Free Stuff on the Internet”
Offered here is one of the earliest of the PC Computing posters, depicting “Best Free Stuff on the Internet.” Inspired by subway maps and the innovative posters of A.M. Cassandre, artist Timothy Downs applied a spatial hub-and-spoke metaphor to organize free content available on the Internet. Here subway lines are replaced by four color-coded lines representing major content categories—Internet Software (green), Resources (red), Applications & Utilities (purple), and Entertainment & Games (blue). Each line is dotted by circular “stations” representing different subcategories, from which radiate a network of lines and circles depicting hundreds of individual sites.
The map helpfully provides URLs and capsule summaries of content for each site, occasionally with a bit of editorial opinion. Even at this early stage of the Internet’s development the range of free content is striking: from the long-lost Mosaic web browser and WordPerfect add-ons, to “Steve Allen’s Musical Homeboy Page” (“not the real Steve Allen”), to a site dedicated to Star Wars (“one of the most colorful and interesting pages on the web”), to one hosted by the Society for Creative Anachronism.
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.
In all, a rare and unusual image of the internet in its earliest days of development.