Possibly the first map of the Internet for popular consumption, 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 – Mapping the Internet” at YouTube) 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 Internet
Offered here is one of the earliest of the PC Computing posters. Inspired by subway maps and the innovative posters of A.M. Cassandre, artist Timothy Downs applied, maybe for the first time, a spatial hub-and-spoke metaphor to depiction of the content and connections that made up the Internet. Here subway stations and lines are replaced by servers and sites: “Points of interest are organized around major Internet servers. Radiating from each server are descriptions of key locations and their addresses. Each listing was confirmed online. Just rev up your modem and pick your destination.”
The map helpfully provides URLs for each servers and capsule summaries of content, occasionally with a bit of editorial opinion. Of the Dun & Bradstreet site, for example, Downs writes “Not as interesting as this site promises to be, right now we get a few screens about D&B’s services” whereas the Mother Jones site is “as informative and interesting as the print version.”
Two features of the map are striking above all: The first is the near absence of the private sector and the dominance of government agencies and educational institutions as both hosts and content providers. The second is the “emptiness” of the “landscape,” which features perhaps 30 servers and maybe a couple of hundred sites (According to Internet Live Stats, as of today, August 8, 2022, there are nearly 1.974 billion web sites.)
Though presumably printed in large numbers, the map was ephemeral and must have had a very low survival rate. It is rare on the market, as are other related maps issued by PC Computing in 1995-96, and few institutional holdings are recorded.
Not in OCLC. Much background from “Timothy Edward Downs – Mapping the Internet” at YouTube.