Cyberspace geography visualization

1. Introduction

The World-Wide Web [Hughes, 1994] is actually the incarnation of the concept of cyberspace[1][Gibson, 1984][Benedikt, 1991], a theatre of complex interactions. Cyberspace can be seen as the latest stage in the evolution of Popper's World 3 [Popper, 1979], the world of objective, real, and public structures. The World-Wide Web project, an Internet-based hypermedia initiative for global information sharing, has been inaugurated at CERN (European Laboratory for Particle Physics) in 1989 by Tim-Berner Lee and has become increasingly popular.

As we can move in our real world, we can wander in cyberspace. In this virtual world, people are able to navigate through "a common mental geography", "a nowhere space" or "a consensual hallucination". This space is multidimensional and therefore seems considerably different from the notions of physical space that many of us have. This multidimensionality makes it very difficult to determine the overall structure of the World-Wide Web. Since information about the orientation is globally poor, the so-called lost-in-cyberspace syndrome has become an important problem, limiting the cyberspace navigability.

Through its maps and more recently satellite imaging, geography,[2] has played a major role in the analysis of human activity. People are easily able to explore cities and navigate through countries they have never visited before thanks to geographic tools. Although the physical earth has been completely mapped, no such maps exist for cyberspace.

Visualization[3] creates the possibility of communicating large amounts of information to the human visual system. If information about an emergent topology of the World-Wide Web can be found, an approximate representation can be built in a dimension appropriate for visualization.

The project presented here describes how the geographical features of cyberspace can be extracted and visualized. To this end, the following chapters develop a mapping of the World-Wide Web in a medium of low dimension in order to help people have visual information about virtual locations.

[1] William Gibson coined the term cyberspace when he sought a name to describe his vision of a global computer network, linking all people, machines, and sources of information in the world through which one could navigate as through a virtual space. The original definition from his futuristic novel Neuromancer is:"Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts... A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights receding...." [Gibson, 1984]
[2] The general definition of geography is the topographical features of any complex entity.
[3] Visualization is the process of transforming information into a visual form, enabling users to observe the information.
Cyberspace geography visualization - 15 October 1995

Luc Girardin, The Graduate Institute of International Studies