If you think about it, the Internet is sort of like outer space. It’s seemingly endless, full of dark matter, and impossible to fully see or know. You’d also think that it would be impossible to 3D print either of them — after all, how can you make something so intangible into a physical, three-dimensional model? As it turns out, it’s not impossible. We’ve already seen that outer space can be 3D printed, and now a British company is about to 3D print the Internet — from space.
Majestic knows the Internet about as well as anyone. The search engine/web crawler analyzes the links and connections that make up the net, providing data to businesses about their websites’ traffic and influence. Now, Majestic has teamed up with Made In Space, who, you may recall, was responsible for the first 3D printer ever to be launched into outer space. The 3D printer, which was installed at the International Space Station, was the precursor to what will eventually be a permanent additive manufacturing facility (AMF) — the first ever to be installed off Earth.
The purpose of having a 3D printer permanently set up on the ISS is to make it possible for replacement parts and other necessities to be manufactured onsite, rather than having to wait months for supplies to be sent from Earth. So far, the printer has successfully printed a variety of parts, and has even been used to create celestial art. Now the zero-gravity 3D printer is on its way to the ISS aboard Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft, which launched late last night. Once the printer reaches the ISS and is installed, it will utilize one of Majestic’s data maps to 3D print a visual representation of the Internet.
“There are many ways to ‘visualize’ the Internet…The Internet has hundreds of millions of websites…like Galaxies, they gather in clusters,” says Dixon Jones of Majestic. “Galaxies are connected by gravity. Websites are connected by topics. Every website…and every page on every website…can be measured – based on the quality and quantity on those connections. This is what Majestic.com does, we’re a specialist search engine that measures the strength of those connections. If you map them all together, you can create a 3D visualisation of the entire Internet.”
One visualization Majestic has already created is a map of every web server on the planet, as they would be viewed from space. The servers, represented by luminous blue dots, actually carve out an image of the continents. Some are much more solid than others, but it’s still a clear map of the world created without any drawing or alterations by a human hand. It’s a startling visual that makes you realize just how connected we all are.
So what does a 3D printed Internet look like? Something like an iceberg, apparently. Last year, the company commissioned data artist Brendan Dawes to help them create visual images of the link data they gather and send to clients. Those images, which Dawes created using a special program he designed, have been 3D printed on Earth as representations of single websites, and they are, well, majestic-looking. I can’t even imagine what a 3D printed representation of the entire Internet is going to look like.
“Space has a huge symbolic significance for our team at Majestic,” says Jones. “Like the Internet, space is vast – possibly infinite. Like the Internet, we are able to see and experience some of space, but much of it awaits to be discovered. This #MajesticInSpace project puts into perspective, not just the huge potential for Majestic to help businesses understand how to be more successful online, but sets in motion that idea that space is far from the final frontier of human and business potential.”
The rocket carrying the printer will reach the International Space Station sometime in the next few days, and while it’s uncertain exactly when printing will start, it will be soon, and you can follow the project’s progress here. And just imagine — every time you click on a link, every time you hop from website to website, you’re adding your presence to the vast network that will soon be made tangible from 250 miles above the Earth, and thus slightly altering the final work of art that’s about to make history. What do you think of this plan? Discuss in the 3D Printing the Internet forum over at 3DPB.com.