Israeli researchers map the Internet

Israeli researchers enlist more than 5,600 volunteers across 97 countries to construct a topographical map of the Internet

Israeli researchers have created a topographical map of the Internet by enlisting more than 5,600 volunteers across 97 countries who agreed to download a program that tracks how Internet nodes interact with each other.

The result is "the most complete picture of the Internet available today," Bar Ilan University researcher Shai Carmi told the MIT Technology Review.

"A better understanding of the Internet's structure is vital for integration of voice, data and video streams, point-to-point and point-to-many distribution of information, and assembling and searching all of the world's information," Carmi and fellow researchers state in a new report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "It may reveal evolutionary processes that control the growth of the Internet."

Carmi's research uses a program called the DIMES agent, which is downloaded onto volunteers' computers and performs Internet measurements such as traceroute and ping. The project's Web site promises volunteers that, along with providing a "good feeling," using the DIMES agent will provide maps to users showing how the Internet looks from their homes.

P2P communication could be key

Carmi argues that the performance of the Internet could be improved by increasing the use of peer-to-peer communications. The research describes the Internet as containing a dense core of critical nodes surrounded by many more sparsely connected, isolated nodes, with a layer of peer-connected and self-sufficient nodes in the middle, the MIT Technology Review says.

Disconnecting the core slows down communication among nodes, but most nodes can still communicate with other nodes through about seven or eight degrees of separation, rather than four, Carmi tells the Technology Review. Using these alternate pathways "can improve the efficiency of the Internet because the core would be less congested," Carmi says.

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