A map of the internet.

Eoin McMillan
Jan 28, 2013 · 3 min read

Zoom out.

Press the “map” button on your browser and take a look at all the content arranged before you. Websites, authors and topics, clustered by relevance and displayed in a neat visual format so you can digest it all at once. Each element is displayed as a tile so you can play with it, adding and subtracting as you go; the landscape changing fluidly with each change in input.

A cartographic layer built atop the traditional webview, this “meta map” is the ontological equivalent of Google maps. The good news is that we don’t need any satellites for it to work, just a healthy imagination and a passionate community.

Now that you are zoomed out and looking at this map layer, get ready to go exploring. Don’t worry, your bag is already packed with everything you need: the map, curation tools and a compass. I even invited some friends who will follow you about (it’s not nearly as creepy as it sounds). If you get lost along the way just use the compass to trace your steps back.

With this web page as the start point we can see there is plenty of related content from medium.com, clustered neatly under the category “Products I Wish Existed”. The next cluster over has some interesting external URLs so you decide to explore it a little further. Vannevar Bush’s as we may think and Ted Nelson’s Project Xanadu both come to the fore, as does a Wikipedia disambiguation page, which seems a little abstract at first glance but you figure it must be related since somebody took the time connect it to the others.

Realizing that a visual metaphor might be useful you decide to connect a force directed graph to the cluster. By adding to the map you have progressed from being a passive explore to becoming an active participant: part-cartographer and part-curator. You’re not sure what the benefits of this are yet but know you’ll be relying on this meta map for a research project at a later date so it couldn’t hurt to contribute.

You have other work to do so it’s time to jump back onto email, but before leaving you place a marker so you can find this collection again at a later date and watch it grow and evolve over time - perhaps you’ll even contribute again as you find more URLs that are similar.

Reflecting, you think to yourself that the whole process is not unlike collecting posts on Medium. The weaving of posts and topics connects each as part of a greater whole, more relevant and discoverable than might otherwise have been the case.

Zoom in.

So what do we need to make this a reality?

Technology: A tool to create two-way public hyperlinks. These are the cornerstone through which each point on the map becomes interwoven. Standard hyperlinks are awesome, but they only do half the job (they are unidirectional and private until publicly shared).

Community: Curators are the path finders, and without them we are lost. The wikipedia community is a great model to follow.

Design: The critical element, it has to be simple and intuitive.

Tactile: iPad seems the way to go. The sheer ability to pinch, pull and swipe through thumbnails makes the whole process intuitive.

The good news: different groups are tackling versions of this product right now. It’s an old one but a good one and sooner or later someone will crack it.

[Postscript: while I believe that the natural progression of such a map will be tactile and visual and involve zooming functions, the first and most basic version would be squarely in the realm of a user interface that is familiar today. Categories, lists and search tools as per usual, with the distinctive feature being the weaving of information and a community of cartographers.]

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