Infographic Of The Day: Yahoo Mail's Mindblowing Computing Power

The numbers involved in delivering a tiny slice of the world's mail are far too large to even grasp.

Checking your email has become something as reliable as turning on your water faucet. But there is, in both cases, a quiet history of ingenuity and infrastructure that works so flawlessly that it can be taken for granted. And, in the case of your email, that infrastructure is un-freaking-believeable. The sheer processing power involved in delivering just a fraction of the world’s email involves numbers that boggle the mind.

Yahoo, working with the data-viz firm Periscopic, has created an interactive infographic that actually offers a real-time look into some of this data. Up top is an actual screenshot of the web app showing where emails are being processed around the world in real time. Click a bit further, and you get to this wonderful little stream graph of search terms that are trending in people’s email. Note the presence of "vaga"—presumably, that’s a wave of spam about viagra that’s striking out across the network:

[Click to see interactive version]

These are both some hypnotic pieces of eye candy, but if you keep on clicking around on the charts, you eventually arrived at some unbelievable stats about Yahoo’s overall email-crunching process. One of the key components, of course, is squashing all those damn Viagra emails. In so doing, Yahoo has apparently identified a theoretical number of possible alternate spellings:

That’s one thousand trillion trillion—which apparently is called a sextillion. I would offer you a pun about sexy-tillions and Viagra, but I haven’t got the strength. (And in case you’re wondering whether that sextillion is even mathematically possible, remember that the number of characters that can be used in a misspelling of "Viagra" is limitless.)

Meanwhile, Yahoo Mail processes 280 terabytes of data every single day. Check out how that compares to the size of the Internet just 16 years ago:

And finally, there’s this:

How is that even possible, and what what are all those email accounts being used for?! Actually, we don’t even want to know.

[Via Flowing Data]

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  • Yahoo mail user

    Interesting article...

    Yahoo was my favourite e-mail provider for about 10 years  -I  found them far more convenient than either Hotmail or G-Mail. But unfortunately it all changed a month ago. Drastically changed. I have no idea why, but Yahoo suddenly thought it would be a good idea to force everyone to switch to new "untested" mailbox format.
    There are so many issues with the new webpage, that it would take forever to name them all - slow, terrible design - e.g. tiny "send" button hidden between options, e-mail doesn't scroll when typed so you are forced to always look at bottom of your screen. Also they got rid of most convenient tools which had differentiated Yahoo from others in the past, such as Notepad - ok, there is new redesigned version now, but its useless (new Notepad does not even have a sort by date function).

    Of course, as a company are trying to become more like a destination on the web (with apps and such), than just e-mail cheking place, where noone clicks on the ads. I am OK with the larger ads, to be honest. But with the rest - common Yahoo, you must be kidding.

    And somehow I don't have much faifth in them being able to rectify those issues. Maybe its time to switch to GMail finally...

  • fugita

    "vaga"in portuguese means "an open position to work somewhere". I dont know if all this "vaga" is from emails in portuguese that people send to friends telling them about new open positions for jobs.

    ps: I am from Brazil :-)

  • Dan

    Yahoo! is the number 2 email provider on the planet. I'd hardly call that a 'tiny slice'.

  • Ian Davies

    Yeah. I would have thought the question about what the email accounts are used for had a pretty obvious answer. Work on that particular problem a bit more, and they probably wouldn't need to spend so much time catching different spellings of Viagra...