The internet is one of the most ethereal concepts in tech: it's nowhere and everywhere, all at once. But if you could measure the thing, how much physical space would it take up?

Fortunately Randall Munroe of XKCD fame has answered the question in a fun way over on his What If? site. He explains:

There are a lot of ways to estimate the amount of information stored on the internet, but we can put an interesting upper bound on the number just by looking at how much storage space we (as a species) have purchased.

The storage industry produces in the neighborhood of 650 million hard drives per year. If most of them are 3.5" drives, then that's eight liters (two gallons) of hard drive per second.

This means the last few years of hard drive production-which, thanks to increasing size, represent a large chunk of global storage capacity-would just about fill an oil tanker. So, by that measure, the internet is smaller than an oil tanker.

In fact, this answer is just a snippet from a series of short "What if?" questions answered in a single post on his site. Go read the rest. [What If?]

*Image by nrkbeta under Creative Commons license*