A Trippy Visualization Charts the Internet’s Growth Since 1997

In November 2003, Security researcher Barrett Lyons was finishing up in college at California State University, Sacramento, while working full-time as a penetration tester – a hacker companies hire to find vulnerabilities in their digital systems. At the beginning of each job, Lyon will do some basic reconnaissance of the customer’s infrastructure; “In the case of United,” as he says. They felt that they were essentially refining and repeating a formula to look like the new target network. Lyon says, “It has ended up being an easy piece of software to write threads, so I just started doing this software.”

One day at lunch with his colleagues, Lyon suggested that he could use his network mapper to sketch the entire Internet. “They thought it was very funny, so they bet me 50 rupees. I couldn’t do it,” he says.

All that was done later was branches in thin, overlapping lines, starbursts and a static image, reflecting the global Internet of the early 2000s. Lyon called the piece Opte, and when his betting colleagues suspected the nesting of visual mice he had produced earlier, the final product immediately began to draw. Fans on To slashdot And Beyond.

Lyon’s original Opte Internet map since 2003.

Illustration: Barrett Leon / The Opte Project

Now Opte is fully back New and updated look. The original version uses “tracerouts”, diagnostic commands that scout different paths through a network, to visualize the Internet in all its vast complexity. But the tracer may be blocked, corroded, or have other impurities. So in a 2010 performance The original opté at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Leon explored an alternative. Instead of basing the map on traceroutes, Lyon used the Border Gateway protocol routing table in the Internet’s subway maps to get a more accurate view. Now he has reached this next generation.

The original Opte was a static image, but the 2021 version is a 10K video with extensive companion stills, using BGP data from the University of Oregon Street view Project to map the global Internet from 1997 to date. Lyon worked on visualization for months and relied on many applications, tools and scripts to build it. There is a software package called Large Graph Layout, originally designed to render images of proteins, that try hundreds and hundreds of different visual layouts until it finds the most efficient, representative solution is. Think of it as a kind of web of best fit depicting the spread of the Internet, interconnected data routes. The closer to the center of a network, the larger and more interconnected it is.

From the present day, Opt the Internet: 1997 – 2021.

Video: Barrett Leon / The Opte Project

While the concept – to map and visualize the entire Internet – remains the same, animating its development and expansion over nearly 25 years allows the new version of Opte to be more interactive. Content All are free For unprofessional use and Lyon hopes the piece will be particularly valuable to teachers and attractive to students. Viewers can see details about various network areas, and Lyon has created some diagrams and videos that state specific points of interest. For example, one shows China’s network location, with two of its heavily controlled connections inside and out. Lyon has also highlighted the United States military’s Internet presence, including NIPRNet, the Department of Defense’s Unclassified Internet Protocol Network, and CIPRNet, the Secret Internet Protocol Network.

Currently zooming into China’s Internet.

Illustration: Barrett Leon / The Opte Project