Internet Geographer


Posts tagged cloud computing
Cloud Collaboration: Peer-Production and the Engineering of the Internet
I’ve just received final proofs for my chapter, “Cloud Collaboration: Peer-Production and the Engineering of the Internet.” This chapter, which will appear in the book titled “Engineering Earth,” has gone through a few incarnations (and indeed titles). But this version will absolutely, certainly, be the final draft.

The full citation is below, and I welcome any feedback.

Graham, M. 2011. Cloud Collaboration: Peer-Production and the Engineering of the Internet. In Engineering Earth. ed. Brunn, S. New York: Springer, 67-83.
Mapping the Geographies of Wikipedia Content

The Internet surrounds us like air, saturating our offices and our homes. But it’s not confined to the ether. You can touch it. You can map it. And you can photograph it - Andrew Blum 2009

The following maps represent the first stage of a project I am embarking on to map out some of the spatial contours of Wikipedia. Data were obtained from the August 2009 Wikipedia geodata dump organised by user Kolossos. The information was then ported over to a GIS. There are almost half a million geotagged Wikipedia articles (i.e. Wikipedia articles about a place or an event that occurred in a distinct place), so the preparation time alone for the files needed to create these maps was almost a week.

The map below displays the total number of Wikipedia articles tagged to each country. The country with the most articles is the United States (almost 90,000 articles). Anguilla has the fewest number of geotagged articles (4), and indeed most small island nations and city states have less than 100 articles. However, it is not just microstates that are characterised by extremely low levels of wiki representation. Almost all of Africa is poorly represented in Wikipedia. Remarkably there are more Wikipedia articles written about Antarctica than all but one of the fifty-three countries in Africa (or perhaps even more amazingly, there are more Wikipedia articles written about the fictional places of Middle Earth and Discworld than about many countries in Africa, the Americas and Asia).

When examining the data normalised by area, an entirely different pattern is evident. Central and Western Europe, Japan and Israel have the most articles per landmass, while large countries like Russia and Canada have low ratios of Wikipedia articles per area.

Finally, the data were also mapped out against population. Here countries with small populations and large landmasses rise to the top of the rankings. Canada, Australia and Greenland all have extremely high levels of articles per every 100,000 people. Smaller nations with many noteworthy features or geotaggable events also appear high in the rankings (e.g. Pitcairn or Iceland).

As I’ve previously argued, Wikipedia is an important component of the palimpsests of place. In other words, presences and absences play a fundamental role in shaping how we interpret and interact with the world. The fact that the geographies of Wikipedia content are so uneven therefore leads to worrying conclusions. As we increasingly rely on peer produced information, large parts of the world remain ‘terra incognita’ (in a similar manner to the ways in which many of those same places were represented on European maps before the 19th Century). However, it is conceivable that it will only be a matter of time until the empty spaces on the Wikipedia map are filled in by Wikipedians in Zambia, Indonesia, and much of the rest of world.

These data certainly warrant a closer look, and I’ll aim to get more maps (examining the distribution of content in specific languages, and looking in more detail at specific regions) uploaded soon.
Invisible Geographies: The Street as Platform

A nicely written quote about invisible geographies, hybrid physical/virtual spaces, and urban data streams from the City of Sound blog:

The way the street feels may soon be defined by what cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Imagine film of a normal street right now, a relatively busy crossroads at 9AM taken from a vantage point high above the street, looking down at an angle as if from a CCTV camera. We can see several buildings, a dozen cars, and quite a few people, pavements dotted with street furniture.

Freeze the frame, and scrub the film backwards and forwards a little, observing the physical activity on the street. But what can’t we see?


We can’t see how the street is immersed in a twitching, pulsing cloud of data. This is over and above the well-established electromagnetic radiation, crackles of static, radio waves conveying radio and television broadcasts in digital and analogue forms, police voice traffic. This is a new kind of data, collective and individual, aggregated and discrete, open and closed, constantly logging impossibly detailed patterns of behaviour. The behaviour of the street.”

Everyware and Ubiquitous Computing
“computers will die. They’re dying in their present form. They’re just about dead as distinct units. A box, a screen, a keyboard. They’re melting into the texture of everyday life…even the word ‘computer’ sounds backward and dumb” (Greenfield 2006: 93).
I recently finished reading Adam Greenfield’s Everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing. This collection of 81 brief theses outlines how ubiquitous computing has changed and will change society, and explores the ways in which its emergence can be shaped. The term everyware refers to a paradigm of “invisible computing” that is coming into being: computing that is not linked to specific personal devices, but is everywhere, not just in all places, but also in all things.

In everyware, broad networks will link together a variety of embedded systems: “what we’re contemplating here is the extension of information –sensing, -processing, and –networking capabilities to entire classes of things we’ve never before thought of as “technology.” At least , we haven’t thought of them that way in a long, long time: I’m talking about artifacts such as clothing, furniture, walls and doorways.”

A related, and extremely useful, concept introduced by Greenfield is the idea of ambient informatics. The term signifies the “state in which information is freely available at the point in space and time someone requires it, generally to support a specific decision.” In other words, information is no longer tied to physical things or places. Information instead becomes infinitely accessible from anywhere, using any tool or device. Everyware is therefore not limited to the “woodwork” of a given, bounded place. It is rather circumambient in the world.

These are far-reaching and powerful predications, and Greenfield devotes much of the book to carefully outlining the specific ways in which everyware will be brought into being. He proclaims “it is coming – and as yet, the people who will be most affected by it, the overwhelming majority of whom are nontechnical, nonspecialist, ordinary citizens of the developed world, barely know it even exists.” One reason why a state of everyware seems inevitable to Greenfield is the logic of convergence. Everything can and will connect because all things will share the common language of “on and off, yes or no, one and zero.” “Everything that can be digital, will be” and everything that is digital can be meshed, mashed, and connected. Greenfield further argues that everyware is structurally latent in several emerging technologies, and that these necessary technologies are becoming cheap and accessible.

Interestingly, the book devotes some space to a discussion of bridges between atoms and bits. Greenfield argues that ”the significance of technologies like RFID and 2D bar-coding is that they offer a low-impact way to “import” physical objects into the datasphere, to endow them with an informational shadow. An avocado, on its own, is just a piece of fleshy green fruit – but an avocado whose skin has been laser-etched with a machine-readable 2D code can tell you how and under what circumstances it was grown, when it was picked, how it was shipped, who sold it to you, and when it’ll need to be used by (or thrown out). This avocado, that RFID-tagged pallet – each is now relational, searchable, availableto any suitable purpose or application a robust everyware can devise for it.”

A number of worrying points are also made in the book:
  • “…everyware functions as an extension of power into public space” Thus, our notions of what counts as public cannot help but be changed.
  • “The passive nature of our exposure to the networked sensor grids and other methods of data collection implied by everyware implicates us whether we know it or not, want it or not.”
  • Everyware is problematic because it is difficult to see. We thus cease to see some tools as technology and their effects can become naturalised. This shields us from a fuller understand of the power-relations embedded into each situation and action.
  • The design of ubiquitous systems and everyware shapes the choices available to us in our everyday interactions with the world.
  • “Where everyware is concerned, we can no longer expect anything to exist in isolation from anything else.” Facts acquire immortality, but we traditionally we have relied on exformation (information leaving the world).
  • “With everyware, all that information about you or me going into the network implies that it comes out again somewhere else – a “somewhere” that is difficult or impossible to specify ahead of time – and this has real consequences for how we go about constructing a social self”

The book concludes with some suggestions for ways that everyware should be designed and structured in order to avoid some of the most worrying aspects of ubiquitous computing. The prescriptions are all well thought out, but it is hard not to get the sense that many of these ideas will never actually be implements by the engineers who knowingly or unknowingly are designing systems that will fundamentally alter the human experience. For example, we are told that “everyware must be deniable.” Few would disagree with this statement, but one struggles to imagine just how feasible this idea is. Isn’t the whole idea behind everyware that it is everywhere? This is perhaps then the most concerning aspect of this book. Although a clearly deterministic argument is being made, it is difficult to see how the logics of convergence and cheap and accessible information technologies, for better or worse, will not bring about some form of ubiquitous computing in the future.