For nearly four years (May 2004 to March 2008) this website was a digital experiment how people find content on the internet. By withholding the contents of this website from search engines I was able to create my own digital island that could be found only by those who knew me or when I would selectively release specific content. Last month, exactly one year after an internationally syndicated article was published about me and my website, I concluded the experiment by lifting the electronic Berlin Wall that prevented search engines from accessing the content on this website. For the last month or so, I’ve begun to watch how people are able to find my content through search engines, and frankly its been nothing short of amazing. In the not-so-distant future I will have a more detailed pre & post search engine analysis posted here.
While this website was unlisted and before the article was published, I used to look at my website IP logs every morning. I would manually trace the IP addresses of every visitor to this website and obtain a decent guesstimate of how the person found my website. This IP analysis would give the location and hosting provider of the visitor, but what it did not give is the digital path that my content traveled.
Data does not travel through the internet in a geographic path of least resistance (like as the crow flies), rather data bounces around the world from server to router to user in a path that can go in multiple directions and routed through multiple servers before finally reaching your computer. A trace route is a means to see what servers the content passes through before reaching you. By clicking on the image above you can explore how content travels to your computer using the Google Maps interface to see exactly where the content travels. For example, data from www.Google.com makes 42 unique hops before finally reaching my computer. A fun experiment would be to trace how content from this website arrives on your computer screen.
Watching the route trace itself looks much like a sped up version of “The 21 Steps by Charles Cumming,” which is a cartographically interactive story told through the Google Maps interface. Each stop becomes a new chapter in the information’s delivery. How many stops did this blog entry take to get to you?