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Mapping the Internet

The introductory lecture of INFO-2040 began with a discussion of a time circa 1970 when the entirety of the Internet could be mapped out between University of California, Santa Barbara and MIT. While the goal of mapping the internet today may seem more unattainable, the physical network that we, as a society, so often overlook and take for granted is still there and accessible, just a bit harder to see. It can be easy to forget when you’re skyping with your family in Europe or ordering some obscure product from Alibaba that your family is actually in Europe and you just ordered something from a small startup in China thousands of miles away. Underlying the virtual world we log into everyday is an expansive physical network of submarine cables that allows for that world to function — and that physical framework is still growing.

Hundreds of new cables have been laid out over the past decade. A map of these additions can be viewed at: http://submarine-cable-map-2013.telegeography.com/.

An interesting concept that we discussed in class is that when you consider a graph generally too big to draw, it is likely not connected (since it only takes 1 node to be not connected for the whole graph to follow). While it make sense that the Internet is connected, the submarine cable network on which the Internet stands follows the empirical prediction.  Whether the disconnection arises from isolated incidents such as earthquakes severing cables (http://submarinenetworks.com/news/cables-cut-after-taiwan-earthquake-2006) or physically isolated components of the submarine network connecting Finland and Sweden, the graph theory holds up. Another actual implication of the theory we’ve addressed is the idea of triadic closure. While there are many different reasons why new cables are laid out (some economic, others political…etc), one of the main reasons has to do with a concept of latency. Latency is roughly a measure of whether network traffic has taken the shortest possible route. With the goal of decreasing global latency and thus increasing connection speed, triadic closure is often the means to that end in laying submarine cable; as a result, many of the new connections made address latency through closure.

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