The Internet is a series of tubes. A series of stunningly beautiful ones at that, as a new art project called Data Portraits shows us.
The work, which the creator calls a new form of art, shows the amazing complexity and interconnectedness of the ever-changing architecture of the web as a snapshot in time and place.
Each "portrait" captures and visualizes one website frozen at a point in time. It includes the navigational links that a person can see, but also the links to code, images, videos, and the layer of external links which comprise all but the most bare bones pages.
Data Portraits was created by Newcastle University researcher and architecture lecturer Martyn Dade Robertson: "I wanted to take the web, which is something that we see every day and really just take for granted, and show a different side to it," he writes.
To fund further research and experimentation, he is taking commissions of web "portraits" from businesses. Organizations like Google, NASA, and Qantas Airlines have commissioned portraits of their own sites, as has Wired magazine. Anyone can request a portrait for a fee.
The project took 10 years to get this far. The first stage involved building a web crawler to track and map all links related to a specific URL. The researchers then developed software, called Web Cartographer, that creates the drawings. The nodes represent web site components, like images and scripts, and lines represent links between them. The drawing is plotted so that nodes that relate to each other gravitate together, so that unique patterns are formed. There is a bit of randomness too, depending on where the first nodes are placed.
"The research," the site says, "revealed some startling complexity in websites that had appeared to be very simple." Or, in other words, "If Google were an artist, what would it paint?"