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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.

Mapping voice, representation, and participation on Wikipedia - our final report
 
I would like to share a final report that has come out of our project to map voice, representation, and participation on Wikipedia (carried out with Bernie Hogan, Ilhem Allagui, Clarence Singleton, Ralph Straumann, Claudio Calvino, Ahmed Medhat, Heather Ford, Taha Yasseri, Frederike Kaltheuner, David Palfrey, and Gavin Bailey).

The report contains a summary of most of the work that we did, as well as key findings:

Graham, M., and Hogan, B. 2014. Uneven Openness: Barriers to MENA Representation on Wikipedia. Oxford Internet Institute Report, Oxford UK. 

I’d like to thank not just all of the researchers who helped to make this mixed-methods project work, but also the many Wikipedians who went out of their way to help us, to explain things to us, to question us, and ultimately to help us to better understand some of the barriers to participation and representation in Wikipedia. I hope that by communicating our findings through a variety of mediums, we can play our part in helping to address the inequities that we encountered. 

In the near future, we’ll be turning this into more bite-sized outputs. One of those papers is already published:

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).

…and another is nearing completion (I’ll post a draft of it soon).

In the meantime, please get in touch if you have any questions about the report.



Uneven Geographies of User-Generated Information: Patterns of Increasing Informational Poverty (new paper)

After years of work, the first peer-reviewed paper to emerge from our research on Wikipedia is now officially ’in press’: 

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).

The paper has some very interesting and important findings, summarised in the abstract below:

Geographies of codified knowledge have always been characterized by stark core-periphery patterns: with some parts of the world at the center of global voice and representation, and many others invisible or unheard. However, many have pointed to the potential for radical change as digital divides are bridged and 2.5 billion people are now online.

With a focus on Wikipedia, which is one of the world’s most visible, most used, and most powerful repositories of user-generated content, we investigate whether we are now seeing fundamentally different patterns of knowledge production. Even though Wikipedia consists of a massive cloud of geographic information about millions of events and places around the globe put together by millions of hours of human labor, it remains that the encyclopedia is characterized by uneven and clustered geographies: there is simply not a lot of content about much of the world.   

The paper then moves to describe the factors that explain these patterns, showing that while just a few conditions can explain much of the variance in geographies of information some parts of the world remain well below their expected values. These findings indicate that better connectivity is only a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for the presence of volunteered geographic information about a place. We conclude by discussing the remaining social, economic, political, regulatory, and infrastructural barriers that continue to disadvantage many of the world’s informational peripheries. The paper ultimately shows that, despite many hopes that a democratization of connectivity will spur a concomitant democratization of information production, internet connectivity is not a panacea, and can only ever be one part of a broader strategy to deepen the informational layers of places.

This is the first of a handful of papers that are in the works, and I’ll post any updates that we have. In the meantime, feel free to get in touch if you have any comments, critiques, or questions about this contribution.
Controversy in Wikipedia in Africa

One more post on controversy before I close down the map-making machine. Following from the maps of controversy that my colleagues (Taha YasseriAnselm Spoerri, and János Kertész) and I made about Wikipedia in the British Isles and Australia, we have produced a map of controversy in Africa (for those interested in the method used to derive the data, check out the original post on the topic: Mapping Controversy in Wikipedia).



Here we see some notable patterns of controversy. Egypt (which hosts three out of the top-five most controversial articles on the continent) and North Africa have a lot of contentious articles. So too does the Horn of Africa (more than heavily populated parts of West Africa). 

Some of the most controversial articles (e.g. the Great Pyramid of Giza) seem to rise to the top of the list simply because there is a lot written about them and the Wikipedia article then becomes a site for discussion and conflict. But in other places/cases, we see more violent, material, and political conflicts spilling over onto the talk pages of articles (e.g. the Somaliland article). 

It is interesting to point out the average controversy score on the continent (96) is quite similar to the average in the British Isles (110). In other words, in both places, most articles simply aren’t controversial at all and we see a pronounced long-tail effect with only a few articles subject to the brunt of argument and conflict. 

But, we do see a lot more total conflict in the British Isles. Given that there are also far more articles about the British Isles than all of Africa combined, the higher total amount of controversy is simply a reflection of the increased amount of human labour and attention focused on the region.