The Grand New Visualization That Represents Some (Not All) of the Web

We can represent the massive scale of the web's companies, but not their interconnections.
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Designly.com

The Internet is a big place. We all know this. And we all hear numbers about this central bigness, too, nearly everywhere. There are now this many tweets per day, this many phones on Facebook, this many hours spent on email.

Rarely do we get to compare them, though. A new visualization on Designly.com stacks up what various website users produce in an average second. In small, monochromatic icons, you can compare the number of search terms googled per second, the number of posts Tumbl'd, the number of files Dropbox'd (box-dropped?).

It's fun to see how different services stack up against each other, and it reminds me of previous efforts at depicting the web's buzz. Listen to Wikipedia, which debuted earlier this summer, converts the activity of article edits and new users into a data auralization. Edits become twanging strings; new users, a swell of strings.

Both data depictions spring from simultaneity. X many things happen in a short period of time, and from these X many things the encyclopedia -- or the Twitter, or the Facebook -- we know emerges. But numbers (or histograms) tell a very small part of the story, and I wonder if the next round of visualizations might respect the web as a whole, the web that emerges from many sites. Twitter connects to Wikipedia connects to Flickr connects to Reddit: What sounds, connections, and relations do these disparate sites have? Is it possible, using the data we have, to represent those connections? Beyond the piles of content-loot which each site rakes in per second, what kind of ecology have we made?

(Or perhaps visualizations like this simply aren't possible any more, as the largest sites and social networks have closed or limited access to their data. In that case, we stumble along, individual companies in control of their own data, all of us unsure of the fantastic web we've strung together. Then -- or, should I say, now -- there will be some information sharing among insiders, but little knowledge slipping to the rest of us.

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Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

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