Randall Munroe’s innovative Map of Online Communities

[Randall Munroe], MAP OF ONLINE COMMUNITIES AND RELATED POINTS OF INTEREST. NP, 2007.

Map printed in three colors, 24”h x 25”w at sheet edge. Tiny tack holes at corners and just a hint of edge wear, better than very good.
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Randall Munroe’s innovative imaginary map of online communities, from the early days of social media.

For this map Munroe rendered an entire region of the internet as an imaginary world, depicting major and minor “online communities” as landmasses, their “geographic area representing[ing] estimated size of membership.” Per “the compass-rose-shaped island” at lower center, communities in the north tend to be “Practicals”, those to the West “focus on real life”, those to the East “on [the] web”, and those to the south tend to be populated by “intellectuals”.

Best as I can tell, the primary criteria for inclusion are a certain (unspecified) number of users and an emphasis on crowdsourced content. Thus we find social media sites (Friendster, may it rest in peace, a vast MySpace, and just to its south a mountainous Facebook, looking a bit like North Korea); content aggregators, both curated (Wikipedia) and not (Flickr); and special-purpose networking sites such as Classmates and E-Harmony.  I’ve never thought of the Huffington Post and AOL as “online communities”, but they make the cut as well.

The map was conceived by engineer, author and cartoonist Munroe (1982-), publisher since 2006b of xkcd.com, “a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language”. Munroe offers a short autobiography on the site:

“I’m just this guy, you know? I’m a CNU graduate with a degree in physics. Before starting xkcd, I worked on robots at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. As of June 2007 I live in Massachusetts. In my spare time I climb things, open strange doors, and go to goth clubs dressed as a frat guy so I can stand around and look terribly uncomfortable. At frat parties I do the same thing, but the other way around.”

Munroe’s was hardly the first attempt to map some or all of the internet: I think the earliest map of the ArpaNet appeared in 1969, and already by 1994-1996 Timothy Edward Downs produced a number of maps of the Internet and World Wide Web for PC Computing. Munroe’s innovations were to correlate geographic extent to size of user base and the injection of humor.

A few years later Munroe updated his map based on data gathered in the Summer of 2010. Demonstrating just how fluid the social media space has always been, on this new map Facebook has grown exponentially to occupy much of a northern continent; YouTube (created 2005) and Twitter (2006), which didn’t merit inclusion on the 2007 map, are rendered as major islands; MySpace has contracted to near-irrelevance; and Yahoo and AOL are nowhere to be seen.

A striking map, capturing with cleverness and good humor a pivotal moment in American (and world) culture.

References
OCLC 696046116 and 1045429823, giving three institutional holdings as of March 2023. Catharine Smith, “Updated Map of Online Communities”, published Oct. 8, 2010 at Huffpost.com, updated Dec. 6, 2017 (accessed March 2023). Bio of Munroe at Wikipedia.com.