Yes, there really is a map of the Internet. Actually, there are several different kinds, shapes and sizes. Currently, they are pretty much relegated to interesting art work, looking much like spiral galaxies in the Milky Way.
The maps usually show the addresses of the hosting sites and their connections to other hosts. It is not a street address, but a server’s address – much like a telephone number.
For all those people who are as old as I am and remember when everyone had a land-line telephone, and there were no cell phones, (Hey-it wasn’t that long ago!), You will be happy to know that the Internet is presently operating the same way as your tethered telephone used to. If you think about the Internet Just like “Ma Bell”, it helps explain a lot. Of course, the Internet is not run by a giant corporation, but is very close to everyone around the world talking on the phone at the same time, on the same line.
Your computer has an address (read that as a telephone number). It is 12 digits long, and they are introducing a colon to add more numbers to this string.
So, you have all seen pictures of switchboard operators plugging connections at a giant terminal – some of you may have worked there. It is just the same for the Internet, minus the humans. The advancements in routing and switching technology make this all possible.
In the very early days of the Internet, all of this communication was done by the numbers, literally. The Internet came from the scientific community and the military, so communicating by entering the other computer’s address (phone number) came naturally. The real miracle of the Internet came by the ability to translate names into those numbers. When you type into your browser: www.purpletreefarms.com, you are saying: “I want to make a call on the World Wide Web to the main page of Purple Tree Farms which is at the commercial extension”. Your browser translates that addresses into that telephone number and finds the quickest path to that number (hence the map).
The paths, just like the old phone system, are very complex, touching every place (address) that is on the Internet. Routers and switches try to find the quickest route to the location you requested. If I don’t know the path, I look it up in the ‘phone book’ – Google, or another search engine. The phone company metaphor really does translate well, except when you have trouble – there is no phone company to call.
Now, for your map of the Internet, dial up Google, type in “Map of the Internet”, and view the images, or better yet, call Wikipedia.com and read about the Internet.