256: Online Communities

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Online Communities
I'm waiting for the day when, if you tell someone 'I'm from the internet', instead of laughing they just ask 'oh, what part?'
Title text: I'm waiting for the day when, if you tell someone 'I'm from the internet', instead of laughing they just ask 'oh, what part?'

  • A larger version of the image is available here.


This is Randall's first map of online communities, with a successor (showing some zoomed-in highlights of the map) at 802: Online Communities 2. As Randall says on the map, the area of each "country" is roughly proportional to its membership, at least in 2007. Geographic location means a bit more, however, as the Compass-Rose-Shaped Island points out. North-south corresponds to a spectrum from practical to intellectual, and east-west corresponds to one from web-focused to real-life-focused. The map also bears a slight resemblance to South East Asia. Randall likes to draw maps in a manner like this. Each "country" is represented by size and related points of interest. We also have a "Sea of Memes" and a small "Straits of WEB 2.0."

Compass Rose-shaped Island[edit]

This is a joke located near the middle of the map, that nonetheless serves to organize the illustration. A Compass Rose —the name for the multi-pointed star that shows where North is on the map— appears on most maps; however, here, it's actually land that just coincidentally looks like a compass rose.

The "points" of the island do, however, roughly organize the map. Left is "Focus on Real Life," labelled "IRL," an abbreviation for "In Real Life." Right is "Focus on Web," labelled ".com." Up is "Practicals," labelled "N," as in "North," but with small letters making it spell "Noob," slang for a "Newbie" or "New user" — a person less experienced with the internet, as many of the sites to the top of the map are ones infamous for having large numbers of largely computer-illiterate people. Down is "Intellectuals," labelled "π," an important constant in mathematics approximately equal to 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937511.

The Icy North[edit]

These are communities that were once major players, but now in a much reduced role. While some are still fairly large, they're somewhat relics of older times, hence the "Mountains of Web 1.0" that run through them — Web 1.0 is the first major generation of websites.

  • Yahoo! was the most popular search engine around 1998, but lost out to Google. It remains in business due to diversification (it now owns Tumblr, for instance).
  • Windows Live, particularly Windows Live Messenger, used to be a particularly major way for friends to communicate, now taken over by Skype and the like. Once a more-or-less ubiquitous branding, now used much less. https://home.live.com/ ‎is one remnant.
  • AOL was once a huge player in the internet service provider market, noted for sending out millions of floppy disks and CD-ROMs in the 1980s and '90s offering a month or so free internet service (followed by high fees and difficult cancellation). Notably, AOL was the first company to sign up large numbers of people to internet access throughout the year, whereas before then internet was mainly provided by colleges and universities, fundamentally changing internet culture (see Eternal September). This influx of new users or "Noobs" (short for "newbies") names the Noob Sea south of AOL. The Chat Rooms nearby were a selling feature of early ISPs — ways to communicate with other people from that ISP. They are largely dying now, but were a major selling point in the early days.
  • Classmates.com and Reunion.com are early sites that offered to help you find your former classmates from school, a role largely taken over by the big, more generalized social media sites. Classmates.com is probably best known by its memetic advertisement that said "She married him??!! And they've got 7 kids??"
  • Friendster was the first big social media site. It was later outpaced by Myspace and Facebook (see Social Media below). It has survived by rebranding itself as a social gaming site, now used primarily in Southeast Asia.
  • Qwghlm: A reference to The Baroque Cycle, a series of science fiction books by Neal Stephenson. In them, Qwghlm is a group of islands in the icy north. See http://baroquecycle.wikia.com/wiki/Qwghlm.
  • Chasm: A barely-readable note just below the "O" of "NORTH." This may simply be a reference to a lot of fantasy series containing a chasm. (For example, the One Ring is destroyed by flinging it into a fiery chasm in The Lord of the Rings.)

Dating sites (Northwest coastal regions)[edit]

  • E-Harmony and OkCupid are dating sites; the other, larger sites near them are mostly social media sites.
  • The Lonely Island label appears to be a joke: Surrounded by, but separate from dating sites and social media sites, it would be a rather lonely place. Possibly named after "Tol Eressëa" (Translation: The Lonely Island), a somewhat obscure location in J. R. R. Tolkien's books, but there are other possibilities.

Social Media (West)[edit]

These are sites mainly used to communicate with friends, such as Facebook and Myspace. The first large one was Friendster, but this has largely become a social gaming site primarily used in Southeast Asia, as discussed in The Icy North, above. Other social media sites listed are:

  • Faceparty: A UK social media site started in 1999.
  • Myspace: A social media site partially owned by, of all people, Justin Timberlake. Started in 2003, and peaking around the time this comic was made, it nonetheless still remains popular for bands (hence "Myspace Bands" in the southwest). It was never known for having a particularly attractive web design (partly because users could extensively customize the look and feel of their profile pages), hence only a very small part of it labelled "Attractive Myspace Pages."
    • The Series of Tubes: A reference to an internet meme. In 2006, U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, while arguing for the end of "Network neutrality," a concept that keeps ISPs from favouring or charging more for high-speed access to sites, claimed that such regulation was needed because the Internet was "not a truck" you could just load up with as much as you want, but a "series of tubes." This was fairly accurate, but his arguments were poor and badly phrased, and his speech subsequently received widespread derision (originally from Jon Stewart's The Daily Show), and it became a running gag on the internet.
  • Facebook: Generally considered (at least in the West) the "modern" social media network, and the most popular. However, this comic is from 2007, and Facebook did not catch up to Myspace until 2008-2009. [Source: Myspace]
  • Orkut: A social media network launched in 2004 by Google, it became hugely popular in Brazil, India, and, to a lesser extent, Japan.
  • Xanga: A blogging and social media site launched in 1998.
  • LJ: LiveJournal, a blogging site, more or less, but one that allows an internet forum-like structure where anyone, or selected people, can all start new posts on a community. Noted for a large number of teenagers, fanfic authors, and the like in its heyday, hence the "Bay of Angst" to its south.
  • Blurty: LiveJournal's software is Open Access, meaning anyone can use it to set up a site. Blurty is, according to Wikipedia, an 18+ general community using this software.
  • Cyworld: A South Korean social media site featuring avatars and "mini-rooms."

The Blogipelago (Southwest)[edit]

This is a portmanteau of blog and archipelago. Sulawesi is a real island in the Indonesian archipelago, implying that this region's similarity to Indonesia is probably intentional.

  • Huffington Post: The Huffington Post is a web-only news site, named after its founder, Arianna Huffington. It's noted for attracting notable people to do very good write-ups of politics and news, generally with a liberal slant, but also for having a medicine section that supports every sort of quackery and nonsense, including a regular column by Dana Ullman promoting homeopathy (see 765: Dilution).
  • Shipwreck of the SS Howard Dean: In the 2004 U.S. Presidential election, Howard Dean raised funds mainly over the internet, and was doing very well, until a gaffe caused him to crash and burn just before the primaries began. See Howard Dean presidential campaign, 2004.
  • Cory Doctrow's Balloon: Reference to 239: Blagofaire.
  • Boing Boing: An occasional trend is for a smallish magazine to get a website, have the website become vastly more popular than its print edition, and become a successful website. Examples include Cracked.com, The Onion, and the subject of this label, Boing Boing. Boing Boing is a group blog covering technology, intellectual property, science fiction, and futurism.
  • Technorati: A site for searching blogs.
  • Sulawesi: As mentioned above, a real island that is part of the Indonesian archipelago.
  • Xu Jinglei: A Chinese actress. According to Wikipedia: "In mid-2006, her Chinese-language blog had the most incoming links of any blog in any language on the Internet, according to Technorati."
  • PostSecret: A website that people send postcards to, describing their secrets. Some are little secrets (like swigging milk directly from the jug or carton), some are old, deep-seated traumas, and some are just things that they could never admit to anyone publicly. Worth a look.
  • The Wet Sea: Perhaps a reference to a West Sea, but not sure what that would be. Maybe just a simple joke, as what else would a sea be but wet?
  • TWB or TMZ: A very-hard-to-read label, south of Technorati.
    • TWB is short for "Translators Without Borders," a charitable project that tries to translate necessary texts into the languages of the people who need them for free. This might be it, if it's meant to relate to Wikipedia, to the east of it. On the other hand,
    • TMZ is a major celebrity gossip blog, rated #15 in the "World's 50 most powerful blogs" by The Guardian, and, at time of writing, rating #11 in the Technorati top 100.

Sea of Culture (Central region)[edit]

Sites for sharing and showing off music and images, most focusing on self-created content.

  • Gulf of YouTube: YouTube is the definitive video website where people can upload videos with the purpose of public viewing, ranging from home movies through official music videos through Let's Plays of people playing video games to questionably-legal uploads of cartoons and films. Google has since purchased YouTube.
  • Piczo: Teen-oriented website that allowed one to make a profile and put up pictures. The site has been dead since late 2012, due to the rise of Facebook. See Piczo.
  • Broadcaster: Another dead site, almost lost to the web. Only a few scraps of information remain on the web. One of the rare scraps of remaining information indicates that it was a webcam broadcasting service that also allowed YouTube-like sharing of videos.
  • The Bit Torrent and the P2P Shoals: Reference to file sharing (passing around often copyright-infringing files, such as movies, CDs, and the like), often done with the BitTorrent protocol. A "Torrent" can also be a flood of water, hence it being used to name a river. "P2P" stands for "Peer-to-peer", the basis for the BitTorrent protocol.
  • Flickr: a website where people can upload and share photographs they took.
  • LastFM: a music website that is notable of its "scrobbling" feature.
  • DeviantArt: the largest art website, where people can upload, sell, and buy not only art itself, but also video, audio, Flash-work, and even skins (the original purpose of deviantArt). While many big-name/professional people and organizations have their works in deviantArt, the site is more infamous for the large amount of people who upload low-quality fan-art and fan-characters, most notably of media from Japan. Another point of infamy is the large amount of drama that can happen in the website.

Straits of Web 2.0: A strait is a narrow passage between two outcroppings. Web 2.0 is a term used to describe new internet architectures, which these programs and Wikipedia (the other side of the strait) are examples of. Gays of Web 2.0 is a pun: The opposite of a gay person (homosexual) is a straight person (heterosexual).

User-created content and discussions (Southeast)[edit]

Sites such as Wikipedia and chat programs such as IRC.

  • Wikipedia: The world's largest encyclopedia, collaboratively edited by its users. It's labelled as "The Wikipedia Project" (actually called Wikimedia), since Wikipedia has generalised to cover a number of separate web sites, though, at the time of this comic, none near the size of Wikipedia (excepting, possibly, Wikimedia Commons, which is partly an image repository for Wikipedia), perhaps explaining the small size of all the other vertexes of the "web."
  • Usenet: The predecessor of most modern forums. A set of discussion groups that dominated the early internet. It also predates the standard web architecture to some extent — there's no standard weblink for it, for instance. See Usenet.
  • IRC isles: IRC stands for Internet Relay Chat, a simple, low-bandwidth program for chatting. Common uses include Dungeons and Dragons games and other geeky pursuits.
  • SourceForge: A code repository. Basically, a place for programmers to meet up and work together on a variety of free and open source projects. See sourceforge. Has become less respectable since this comic was created in 2007, due to allowing misleading advertisements intended to trick people into installing questionable software.
  • MIT: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the most respected universities for Engineering, Robotics, and other such fields.
  • Engadget: A blog/online magazine, in multiple languages, reviewing tech products and commenting on technology news.
  • Gizmodo: A blog about technology and design.
  • MakeBlog: A blog highlighting bizarre and interesting do-it-yourself projects, often with a geeky theme.
  • Google's Volcano Fortress: A volcano fortress is one traditional dwelling place of evil geniuses in fiction, and Google has quietly taken over huge chunks of people's interaction with the web. Perhaps this provides some background for 254: Comic Fragment?
  • Stallman's Airship: A joke, perhaps in line with Cory Doctorow's Balloon (239: Blagofaire, also referenced in this strip). The Super Mario series of games also commonly contains bossfights in airships.

Ocean of Subculture and Sea of Memes (East)[edit]

Need descriptions

Sites related to smaller internet communities, a.k.a. "Subcultures." Also, a whole lot of internet memes, unsurprisingly. The "Viral Straits" references the idea of something "going viral," i.e. spreading quickly to huge numbers of people on the internet. These sites are often responsible for things going viral, and the memes listed are ones that went viral in the past.

  • 2Channel: a Japanese imageboard that was actually the original inspiration for...
  • 4Chan: an imageboard in which people can upload pictures, while others comment on them. The website is infamous for its loose/often non-existent rules, incredibly vulgar userbase, source of new memes, and spawning of trolls. 4chan's random board, known internally as /b/, is almost constantly flooded with porn and image macros.
    • The fact that 4chan is a very small island on this map (to the far right on the map - left of "dragons" in the sentence Here there be anthropomorphic dragons) made quite a fuss for Randall. And this caused the comic to be mentioned in FRUIT OPINIONS! on the Blag. Although this comic was one of the more controversial, it had nothing on the impact of 388: Fuck Grapefruit, which was the cause of the Blag entry as that became the most controversial comic written to that point (i.e. 2008): ...beating out comics about cunnilingus, the Obama endorsement, and my making 4chan tiny on the map of the internet. (See the grapefruit comic for more details).
  • Reddit: the self-described "front page of the Internet" in which users submit stories, photos, and videos, and the best are "up-voted" to the top of the page.
  • Digg: a former competitor to Reddit in the social-news sphere, but has been sold since this map was drawn and restarted as an aggregator of news stories.
  • Fark: A website that writes humorous commentary on various news reports, especially the strange, bizarre, or things from the political far-left and far-right.
  • Something Awful: a website that is meant to showcase all things "awful." SomethingAwful also has a large trollbase, but they tend to be more honorable than the ones from Encyclopedia Dramatica and 4chan. One example is there being a spotty holding of the no-furries rule in the forums. The forums themselves are famous because of the holding of the "Let's Plays" of Dangan Ronpa and Super Dangan Ronpa 2, which had cooked up public interest to the point of there being an English-language release of the games.
  • /.: Slashdot, a news site for technology-related news stories, which are submitted by its users. The "Slashdot effect" is named after this site.
  • YTMND: a community in which users can create meme-type nonsense by playing music over an image (either static or animated). Its name is an acronym for "You're The Man Now, Dog!"
  • Stumble Upon: A website that attempts to develop a profile for users in order to recommend which websites they might enjoy.
  • Del.icio.us: Another image and website aggregator, linking to various things of interest. It uses tags to let people find specific types of content. (Note: Since this comic, this website was renamed as "Delicious.")
Memes and related
  • Isle of Slash: "Slash fiction" is a type of fanfiction that takes two male characters from another work of fiction and puts them in a plot where they have lots of sex with each other. Named because of a common way of writing pairings in fanfiction, "X/Y", with the / being pronounced "slash." Adding to this, "Isle of" sounds like "I love."
  • Numa: A reference to the viral video "Numa Numa," consisting of a man dancing and lip-syncing to the song "Dragostea din tei" (Romanian for "Love from the lindens").
  • Your Base: A reference to the "All your base are belong to us" meme, a line from the game Zero Wing, a game with a huge amount of hilariously badly translated Engrish dialogue. See 286: All Your Base for more discussion of the meme.
  • Bay of Trolls: Trolls are people who attempt to stir up controversy by intentionally saying statements meant to annoy others into responding. "Bay" can refer to both a sheltered port and to an animal's cry, so "Bay of Trolls" can be read as "Shelter for Trolls" or "Angry Shouting of Trolls." Given the communities surrounding it, both would make sense.
  • Soviet Russia: "In Soviet Russia" jokes are a style of joke commonly associated with -comedian Yakov Smirnoff, which has since become an internet meme. Example: "In America, you always find a party. In Russia, Party will always find you." — playing off of the idea that "Party" can also refer to the Communist Party. The meme version usually isn't as clever as that, though. See "in soviet russia."
  • SPAAARTA: As in, "THIS! IS! SPAAARTA!!!", a famously over-the-top line from the movie 300.

MMORPGs and related games (Northeast by East)[edit]

An area dedicated to MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games), large-scale games with huge numbers of players put into the same world. The label "Here there be anthromorphic dragons" references a common marking on old maps ("Here there be dragons") but updates it to joke about the more humanoid dragons seen in many games, or again, how dragons, especilally anthropomorphic dragons, are very-very popular in the furry community.

  • Yahoo Games: A branch of Yahoo (see "The Icy North") dedicated to games (mainly boardgames).
  • UO: Ultima Online, one of the first MMORPGs, and the first to grow to any size. Based on the long-running Ultima RPG computer games. Started 1997.
  • EQ: EverQuest, another important early MMORPG, started 1999. UO and EQ have declined significantly since then; for a while, they were each the iconic MMORPG, but that role has been taken over by...
  • WoW: World of Warcraft, an MMORPG launched in 2004, again based on a previously-existing RPG series, and by far the largest and most iconic at the time of this comic's creation. A few others have attempted to challenge it since.
  • Runescape: Free-to-play fantasy MMORPG; the largest in existence.
  • FFXI: Final Fantasy XI, the eleventh installment in the Final Fantasy series of video games, and the first to be a MMORPG. It didn't really take off until after this comic was made.
  • Lineage: 1998 MMORPG. Particularly popular in South Korea, a country with somewhat of a cultural obsession with video games.
  • Second Life: A virtual world, noted for largely working from user-generated content, which can be sold by users for real money. See Second Life. Third Life is a joke based on Second Life — if it existed, it would presumably be a game people play to escape Second Life, which they play to escape their first, real life.


[Hand-drawn fantasy style map with land and sea areas representing populations of online communities. Each area or item is labeled.]
Map of Online Communities and related points of interest
Geographic area represents estimated size of membership
[Land Area Labels:]
The Icy North (Yahoo, Windows Live),
Chat Rooms
Reunion dot com,
Classmates dot com,
Yahoo Games,
Mountains of Web 1.0,
The Lonely Island,
Attractive MySpace Pages,
The Series of Tubes,
Myspace Bands,
Second Life,
Third Life,
OK Cupid,
The Compass-Rose-Shaped Island,
Practicals (Noob)
Focus on Real Life (IRL)
Focus on Web (.com)
Intellectuals (π)
The Bit Torrent,
Isle of Slash,
Something Awful,
Your Base,
Soviet Russia,
/. [Slashdot],
Spaaarta (YTMND),
The Blogipelago,
Xu Jinglei,
Post Secret,
[Hard to read label: Probably JWB, TWB, or TMZ]
Huffington Post,
Gays of Web 2.0,
The Wikipedia project,
MAKE Blog,
IRC Isles,
[Sea Area Labels:]
Gulf of YouTube,
Bay of Angst,
Sea of Culture,
Ocean of Subculture,
P2P Shoals,
Straits of Web 2.0,
Here Be Anthropomorphic Dragons,
Bay of Trolls,
Viral Straits,
Sea of Memes,
The Wet Sea
Item Labels: Shipwreck of the SS Howard Dean, Cory Doctrow's Balloon, Stallman's airship, Google's volcano fortress
(Not a complete survey. Sizes based on the best figures I could find but involved some guesswork. Do not use for navigation.)
Spring 2007


This comic used to be available as a poster in the xkcd store before it was shut down.

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I'm gonna try and put together some sort of explanation at all for this one. A couple of things I could use help on in terms of location if people want to chip in: series of tubes within myspace; the Icy North; the islands bounded by the Ocean of Subculture, Sea of Memes, and P2P Shoals; and the location of some of the tiny islands around the map (e.g. why is the Lonely Island near friendster, Google's Volcano Fortress off the IRC Isles, etc.). Thanks in advance!! Amurfalcon (talk) 20:30, 10 December 2013 (UTC)

I've found Googling some of the more obscure things and half-readable things helps a lot. It's how I got Xu Jinglei. 17:03, 20 December 2013 (UTC)

The Lonely Island may be a reference to the comedy band of the same name. Shortly before this map was made they blew up after appearing on SNL. I do not know if this is relevant to its location on the map. CloverOtsworth (talk) 00:03, 8 October 2019 (UTC)

Can someone remove that stray line break before "A larger version..."? It irks me and I don't know how to get rid of it.

bay of trolls

Might this be a reference to bay of pigs? 03:58, 31 December 2013 (UTC)

Possibly, but, well, it'd be rather speculative to include it, and there's lots of other "Bay of X" places, e.g. Bay of Fundy. 05:46, 16 January 2014 (UTC)
Map of the Internet

I don't know if or how much this art was inspired by this comic, but if you like 256 you'll love the Map of the Internet. tbc (talk) 16:14, 6 January 2015 (UTC)

"World of Warcraft ... based on a previously-existing RPG series" i'm not sure about this statement. The first thing that most people think about would be Warcraft but that's not an RPG series (they are strategy games) unless we are considering it so for the minimal RPG elements in Warcraft 3. Perhaps it's referencing an other series (maybe Diablo) or I'm missing something and since i'm far from an expert in either WOW or xkcd i'll let someone else decide if it should be changed (a possible minimal change would be changing "RPG series" to either "game series" or "video game series"). 07:49, 5 November 2016 (UTC)

There's no explanation of the "anthropomorphic dragons" bit. I mean, I'm sure many of us know what it means (wink wonk), but some may be confused. 03:31, 8 November 2016 (UTC)

what is a one-syllable way to say "practical" or "practicals"? New editor (talk) 07:05, 5 April 2022 (UTC)

As a noun? I suppose "prop(s)" fits that ("a practical effect", as supposed to a special one, for something in a movie scene). Or "skill", in context of what a practical ability is. Or "test" (i.e. a "practical exam"), if you think "trial" is >1 syllable (I say 1.5!)... As a non-noun, never pluralised in any context I can think of and I'm short of 1-syllable answers, but I'm sure a visit to a dictionary+thesaurus site would help greatly. But I'm now wondering why anyone even asked this question here... Perhaps I need to reread the page for long-forgotten context? 09:51, 5 April 2022 (UTC) - addendum: Ahah! The compass rose! Lemme think more about the word. Or let others find your question, equipped with an innately more at hand answer... - additional addendum: it refers to those who "can", maybe? The "Cans", with the Intellectuals opposite being more like the "Coulds", rather than dimetrically Cannots. The 1S limit is rather restrictive. Can't even role out "able(rs)", or the like. But I presume you have singly-short-style names for the othe three (or seven?) points of the rose... Have fun. Hope you get better ideas from the next editor! -- ~sameIP~~slightlylater~

A couple of the explanations given for certain sites seem a little outdated, for example, yahoo no longer owns Tumblr and (I think?) Friendster is defunct now.