Internet Geographer

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Posts tagged geographies of knowledge
Mapping The Global Knowledge Economy

The geography of published and codified knowledge has always had stark core-periphery patterns. Just look at the below map of where academic articles are published from (taken from a new co-authored paper with our Geonet team). 

However, increasing digital connectivity has sparked many hopes for the democratization of information and knowledge production in economically peripheral parts of the world. If you can access the sum of the world's knowledge at the tip of your fingertips, are there any reasons for these sorts of patterns to persist?

Sadly, we find that there are. We examined the geography of coding (through Github) and the geography of Internet domain registrations, and find that contrary to the expectation that digital content is more evenly geographically distributed than academic articles, the global and regional patterns of collaborative coding and domain registrations are more uneven than those of academic articles. While connectivity is an important enabler of digital content creation, it seems to be only a necessary, not a sufficient, condition; wealth, innovation capacity, and public spending on education are also important factors.

You can access a full discussion of our results in our new article below: 

Ojanperä, S., Graham, M., Straumann, R. K., De Sabbata, S., & Zook, M. (2017). Engagement in the knowledge economy: Regional patterns of content creation with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa. Information Technologies & International Development, 13, 33–51.

Hashtags and Haggis: Mapping the Scottish Referendum

Reposted from our work over at Floatingsheep

The past weeks have been quite eventful in Scotland as a monumental election unfolds. Everyone wants to know, which way will the Scots vote? While we here at Floatingsheep certainly don’t have the answer or power to predict the referendum, we thought it might be interesting to see the geographic dimension of how Scots (and the rest of the world) are tweeting about a fundamentally geographic decision [1].

We pulled data from DOLLY from the last month and a half for a number of hashtags and terms that we thought might be helpful in taking the pulse of Twitter discussion around the independence referendum. Most obviously, we collected the hashtags #VoteYes and #YesBecause due to their association with the pro-independence movement, and the hashtag #NoThanks because of its association with anti-pro-independence sentiment [2].


We started by comparing the prevalence of ‘no’ (i.e., pro-union) hashtags versus 'yes’ (i.e., pro-independence) hashtags the global level. In the map below, orange indicates a greater prevalence of 'yes’ tweets and purple indicates that there are more 'no’ tweets. Perhaps the most interesting thing here is that we can see the United Kingdom swing towards a 'yes’ vote, which has, for the most part, appeared to be the underdog in more conventional polling leading up to the referendum. Then again, most of Western Europe, along with Thailand and Australia, also have a general preference for 'yes’ tweets. Oddly enough, the United States is the staunchest defender of the union, based solely on it’s massive preference for 'no’ tweets. Strange for a country that yearly celebrates its breaking away from Mother England

Comparing 'Yes’ vs. 'No’ Tweets at the Global Scale

Looking closer at the UK, we can see that much of Scotland has a roughly equal number of tweets in support of both the 'yes’ and 'no’ positions – reflecting the contentious and hotly-contested nature of this referendum. But the Central Belt in particular – where a lot of actual votes will be coming from, as it is the most densely populated part of the nation – swings heavily towards 'yes’. The English, on the other hand, seem very much inclined towards pro-union or anti-separation tweeting.

Comparing 'Yes’ vs. 'No’ Tweets in the United Kingdom

To take an alternative look at support for the different positions, we mapped the percentage of each of the three hashtags that originates in each of the administrative sub-regions of both Scotland and the UK as a whole. The Highlands and parts of the Central Belt again show up as strong bastions of 'yes’ votes.

Percentage of Referendum-Related Tweets from Different Regions

But seeing as we’re interested in doing more than just mapping distributions, the next question is how are we to put all of this into context? The only proper place to start is, of course, with the Queen. The map below illustrates those places which also tend to have higher-than-normal levels of tweeting about the Queen (in orange) and those places that are tweeting less about the Queen than might usually be expected (in purple), based on a baseline measure of tweeting activity. Sadly, the whole country seems to be ignoring her. Apart from Glasgow, that is. In the interests of not upsetting an 88 year-old lady, we have chosen not to explore these tweets in any more detail.

Tweets referencing “Queen”

Building on this, we also explored the geography of references (using the same method described above) to something inherent in most people’s definitions of Britishness: tea and crumpets

We see an all-around tea-depression; hardly anywhere is particularly pro-tea at the moment, truly a shocking state of affairs. The British are clearly not being their usual selves, and for their sake we’re glad the referendum will be over soon, regardless of the outcome. Scotland, in particular, has average tea counts that are low by historical standards.

Tweets referencing “tea and crumpets”

This analysis would, of course, all be meaningless unless we mapped the geographies of a range of uniquely Scottish phenomena: haggis [3], kilts and Nessie. Still using the same method as above, the map below shows without a shadow of a doubt that Scotland is destined to become it’s own nation.

Tweets referencing “haggis”, “kilts” or “Nessie” 

The Scots are tweeting about these topics at a greater-than-usual rate, while their southern neighbors remain distinctly uninterested. If ever there were an indication that these nations are divided by more than just a line on a map, we see that manifested in the topic of people’s Twitter conversations. In short, the Scottish referendum is not just simply about “yes” or “no” but seemingly touches on much more fundamental questions of ovis-based cuisine, men’s wear and mythological creatures.

So even if the 'no’ votes win out in and the Kingdom remains united, the geographies of haggis related tweeting (along with a few other things) has revealed that these are two very different nations, indeed.

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[1] In case you don’t know what Twitter, is we refer you to the Scots Wikipedia page on the subject, which states: “Twitter is an online social networkin service an microbloggin service that enables its uisers tae send an read text-based messages o up tae 140 characters, kent as 'tweets’”.
[2] Perhaps we could have simplified this phrasing, but then we would have lost the chance to type “anti-pro-independence”, which is a lot of fun. Anti-pro-independence. Anti-pro-independence.
[3] Normally the Floatingsheep collective avoids conversation about sheep heart, liver, and lungs that are boiled in a sheep stomach. But we made an exception this time.
Two public talks in Barcelona in July

I’ve been invited to speak at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute in Barcelona next month. If you’re around, please feel free to join one or both of the talks that I’ll be involved with:

Internet Geographies: Data Shadows and Digital Divisions of Labour (public lecture at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Barcelona)
Mark Graham
10 July 2014

Information is the raw material for much of the work that goes on in the contemporary global economy, and there are few people and places that remain entirely disconnected from international and global economic processes. As such, it is important to understand who produces and reproduces, who has access, and who and where are represented by information in our contemporary knowledge economy. This talk discusses inequalities in traditional knowledge and information geographies, before moving to examine the Internet-era potentials for new and more inclusionary patterns. It concludes that rather than democratizing platforms of knowledge sharing, the Internet seems to be enabling a digital division of labour in which the visibility, voice and power of the North is reinforced rather than diminished.


Geographies of the Internet | Internet Geographies (public lecture at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Barcelona)
Mark Graham, Matthew Wilson, Matthew Zook
11 July 2014


In this seminar, we seek to understand and articulate some of the continuities and discontinuities between geographical representations of the Internet (as a record of Internet-based social-spatial relations), and geographical studies of the Internet (as a record of a specific socio-technical assemblages). We do this through an initial participatory discussion about the intersections of geography and Internet: asking how geography is implicated in how we understand the Internet, and how the Internet is implicated in how we create and enact geographies.

The three speakers then focus on key debates within Internet Geography in five minute interventions that are followed by five minute periods for discussion. We all cover relationships between the digital and the material, information inequalities and splintering urbanisms, GIS, society, and critical GIS, neogeography and volunteered geographic information, big data, and economic geographies of the Internet. For each of these topics, we outline some of the more significant contours of research in the area, as well as some of the most significant areas of concern.

We end with a discussion and demonstration of some of the tools that can be employed to address some of the questions outlined in this session. As research on geography and the Internet collide with one another, we hope that this seminar can serve as a starting point for anyone interested in disentangling social, spatial, and digital relationships.

My BBC Radio 4 talk on Internet and Information Geographies
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0435j93

My talk on Internet and information geographies is now freely available on the BBC’s iPlayer (or downloadable here - if you’re in an IP-address-block that the iPlayer doesn’t like) The talk argues that the geographies of information increasingly matter because of the more prominent role of augmentations of everyday life. But that those geographies of information often amplify earlier patterns of voice, representation, and participation. I work through a series of examples in order to conclude that: 

The informational divides that we’re seeing reproduced can’t simply be explained away by a lack of connectivity. Connectivity is a necessary, but, by no means, a sufficient condition. But so is a broader ecosystem of information, an educated and tech literate population, having reliable infrastructure, not excluding half of the population (in other words, women), having the internet be trusted rather than subject to surveillance by the state, and having the critical mass for local-language tools, platforms, and communities.
 We’ve always had inequality, but the digital layers of places mean that the internet and the ability to produce digital and coded information might start to amplify those older imbalances of voice and power and participation. We’re not just deepening the divides between different parts of our world, we’re also creating layers of places that aren’t necessarily representative of the underlying people, processes, and contexts that exist there.   
So let’s think about that the next time we use Google to find a restaurant or look something up on Wikipedia. Let’s remember that our digital tools are usually just amplifying the already most visible, the most powerful, and the most prominent things, and let’s maybe look for alternatives; different stories; different narratives; different mediators. Our world is always going to be augmented by digital information, but let’s always try to remember what it leaves out.

If you’re interested in some of my relevant/recent publications on the topic, then check out:

Graham, M., Hogan, B., Straumann, R. K., and Medhat, A. 2014. Uneven Geographies of User-Generated Information: Patterns of Increasing Informational Poverty. Annals of the Association of American Geographers (forthcoming).

Graham, M. 2014. The Knowledge Based Economy and Digital Divisions of Labour. In Companion to Development Studies, 3rd edition, eds V. Desai, and R. Potter. Hodder. 189-195.

Graham, M. 2013. The Virtual Dimension. In Global City Challenges: debating a concept, improving the practice. eds. M. Acuto and W. Steele. London: Palgrave. 117-139. 

Graham, M and M. Zook. 2013. Augmented Realities and Uneven Geographies: Exploring the Geo-linguistic Contours of the Web. Environment and Planning A 45(1) 77-99.

Graham, M., M. Zook., and A. Boulton. 2013. Augmented Reality in the Urban Environment: contested content and the duplicity of code. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 38(3), 464-479. (pre-publication version here)

Graham, M. 2011. Time Machines and Virtual Portals: The Spatialities of the Digital Divide. Progress in Development Studies. 11 (3). 211-227.