Internet Geographer

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I co-wrote a song about Internet Geography: ' Use the Digital to Make the World you Want to See'

I recently co-wrote a song about my research (and my team's research) with the talented 'science troubadour', Jonny Berliner. The song, is essentially about why thinking about the geography of the Internet matters. It argues that an internet geography approach allows us to see a variety of digital inequalities, and it ends with some suggestions on what we can do to make the internet more equal and representative.

Jonny was a pleasure to work with, and it was incredible to go through the process of translating research into rhymes. Jonny of course played, recorded, and sung everything you'll hear on the track (I only take credit for some of the lyrics). Have a listen at the link below. It's a bluegrass song, by the way.

Graham, M., & Berliner, J. (2017). Use the Digital to Make the World you Want to See [MP3]. Oxford: University of Oxford (2016).

Lyrics

If you’re looking at a map, whether paper or an app,
It’ll tell you where to go from where you be,
The world is physical but it’s also digital,
So, we’ll think about web cartography,
All maps will tell a lie, and here’s the reason why,
They select the things they think that you should see,
So, the folks who make the map, control the way you interact,
With each other and your own locality.

What to think and what to do, where you should be going to,
We often ask the internet’s advice,
The advice that often sticks, is the first thing that we clicked,
When the search results are in you don’t think twice,
But internet geography, is allowing us to see,
Advice we get is always kinda skewed,
Breeding inequality, less opportunity,
And less voice for the folks who aren’t as viewed.

Chorus
If you want to see more equality,
Recognise the internet’s physicality,
Question all the data, be a content generator,
Use the digital to make the world, the world that you want to see.

A web geographer will get themselves a code that scrapes the net,
And gives them data ‘bout the digital terrain,
For instance, Wikipedia has less on all of Africa,
Combined than can be found on the Ukraine,
Only 1 in 5 of edits on the Middle East are credited,
To the locals who are really in the know,
Do you want Google to determine, from the language that you searched in,
The things it thinks you most want it to show?

So, remember you should question, every digital suggestion,
And the algorithm that gave it to you,
If you’re too reliant, on the internet giants,
Your data gives them power to abuse,
Don’t be under-represented, and never be contented,
With a story someone else has made for you,
Making your own contributions makes the data distribution,
More inclusive of your truth and point of view.

 

The geography of Wikipedia edits
image

Wikipedia has a geography. This is something that my colleagues and I have explored previously in a variety of scholarship. 

For a new book on ‘Open Development’, my colleague Stefano De Sabbata and I decided to update our most recent paper about information geographies with the above maps of Wikipedia. 

The basic underlying inequalities haven’t changed. Using the number of edits to every language version of Wikipedia coming from all countries and territory in the last quarter of 2014 (the most recent full set of data available), the above maps show that the geography of participation on Wikipedia is highly uneven.  

Stark inequalities are readily apparent: Europe and North America contribute 35.2% and 23.6% of Wikipedia’s edits respectively. In contrast, Africa contributes only. 1.3% of the world’s total (although it is worth noting that a few years ago, Africa’s contribution was consistently less than 1%). In fact, contributions from Africa are so low that there are actually more edits that originate in the Netherlands than the whole continent combined.

While some of these disparities can be explained by the total number of Internet users in a country, even normalizing by the percent of the population online (the second map) results in Africa still registering far fewer edits than would be expected (see our paper on this topic for detailed statistical analyses).

These geographies of Wikipedia edits because they represent how people from different parts of the world get to represent each other. Some people and places continue to have little voice and continue to be left off the map.

For more on this topic, see:

Graham, M., Straumann, R., Hogan, B. 2016. Digital Divisions of Labor and Informational Magnetism: Mapping Participation in Wikipedia. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 105(6) 1158-1178. doi:10.1080/00045608.2015.1072791.(pre-publication version here)

Graham, M. 2015. Information Geographies and Geographies of Information New Geographies 7 159-166.

Graham, M., De Sabbata, S., Zook, M. 2015. Towards a study of information geographies:(im)mutable augmentations and a mapping of the geographies of information Geo: Geography and Environment.2(1) 88-105. doi:10.1002/geo2.8

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. 104(4). 746-764. (pre-publication version here)

Or a recent talk I gave:

Kapuścinski Public Lecture - Uneven Geographies of Power and Participation in the Internet Era

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 11.50.17

You can watch the whole lecture at the link above. For anyone interested in more about the topic, the following pieces could be of interest:

Graham, M., Straumann, R., Hogan, B. 2016. Digital Divisions of Labour and Informational Magnetism: Mapping Participation in Wikipedia. Annals of the Association of American Geographers. (in press) doi:10.1080/00045608.2015.1072791.(pre-publication version here)
Graham, M. 2015. Information Geographies and Geographies of Information New Geographies 7 159-166.
Graham, M., De Sabbata, S., Zook, M. 2015. Towards a study of information geographies:(im)mutable augmentations and a mapping of the geographies of information Geo: Geography and Environment.2(1) 88-105. doi:10.1002/geo2.8
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. 104(4). 746-764. (pre-publication version here)

Mapping the geography of academic knowledge

Our team recently had the opportunity of working with some submission data from Sage journals. Amongst other things, the data tell us where authors of articles come from, and primary discipline of the journal they are submitting to.

We therefore decided to map out the geography of submissions for journals in five categories: Communications, Clinical Medicine and Critical Care, Cultural Studies, Engineering and Computing, and Management and Organization Studies.

Cjournals
CMCCjournals
CSjournals
ECjournals
MOSjournals

A few broad patterns are apparent here. First, we see way more academic content coming from the Global North than from the Global South. Africa in particular is notable for its absence. Most countries on the continent fail to register even a single journal article submission.

Second, there are only two countries that register a consistently large number of submissions in every category: the UK and the US.

This relates to the third point: that a handful of Asian countries (i.e. China, India, and Iran) register a high number of submissions only in STEM subjects.

We can also look not just at the raw number of submissions, but also the acceptance rates of submissions by country:

Cjournals_accrate
CMCCjournals_accrate
CSjournals_accrate
ECjournals_accrate
MOSjournals_accrate

Here we see that Northern Europe and North America have relatively high acceptance rates across the board. Relatedly, not only do a lot of countries in the South have particularly a low number of submissions, they also have very low acceptance rates for the small numbers of submissions that they do have: further deepening the geographic divides in knowledge production.

Sanna Ojanperä, Stefano De Sabbata, and I plan to explore some of these patterns in more detail in an article we are writing. But, in the meantime, please let us know if there are any questions about these preliminary patterns; or if there are any questions you would like to see addressed.

Some related work:

The Geographies of Science

Graham, M., Straumann, R., Hogan, B. 2016. 

Digital Divisions of Labour and Informational Magnetism: Mapping Participation in Wikipedia.

Annals of the Association of American Geographers

. (in press) doi:10.1080/00045608.2015.1072791.(

pre-publication version here)

Graham, M., De Sabbata, S., Zook, M. 2015. 

Towards a study of information geographies:(im)mutable augmentations and a mapping of the geographies of information

Geo: Geography and Environment

.2(1) 88-105. doi:10.1002/geo2.8

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.