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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.

 

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)

New publication - Digital Divisions of Labor and Informational Magnetism: Mapping Participation in Wikipedia
Network of edits between world regions, normalised for each target region. The edges are coloured according to the source region. Percentages denote self-edits (not depicted).

I am very happy to announce that a new paper that I have written with Ralph Straumann and Bernie Hogan is now available:

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)

The paper is the result of about three years of research into geographic patterns of participation in Wikipedia. We sought to ask what the geographies of voice and representation are: with a focus on whether Wikipedia offers people in the world’s economic margins a space to represent their own communities, or whether those margins continue to represented by non-locals. The full abstract is below. I have also previously blogged about some of the results in more detail in the following posts:

Explaining locally-contributed content in Wikipedia about Sub-Saharan Africa

Visualising the locality of participation and voice on Wikipedia

Digging deeper into the localness of participation in Sub-Saharan African Wikipedia content

Informational Magnetism on Wikipedia: geographic networks of edits

Informational Magnetism on Wikipedia: mapping edit focus

Abstract:

There are now more than 3 billion Internet users on our planet. The connections afforded to all of those people, in theory, allow for an unprecedented amount of communication and public participation. The goal of this article is to examine how those potentials match up to actual patterns of participation. By focusing on Wikipedia, the world’s largest and most used repository of user-generated content, we are able to gain important insights into the geographies of voice and participation. This article shows that the relative democratization of the Internet has not brought about a concurrent democratization of voice and participation. Despite the fact that it is widely used around the world, Wikipedia is characterized by highly uneven geographies of participation. The goal of highlighting these inequalities is not to suggest that they are insurmountable. Our regression analysis shows that the availability of broadband is a clear factor in the propensity of people to participate on Wikipedia. The relationship is not a linear one, though. As a country approaches levels of connectivity above about 450,000 broadband Internet connections, the ability of broadband access to positively affect participation keeps increasing. Complicating this issue is the fact that participation from the world’s economic peripheries tends to focus on editing about the world’s cores rather than their own local regions. These results ultimately point to an informational magnetism that is cast by the world’s economic cores, virtuous and vicious cycles that make it difficult to reconfigure networks and hierarchies of knowledge production.

Note that much of this work comes from the following report:

The following paper also offers some related results:

Or for a broader discussion about why the locality of participation matters, see:

"Towards a study of information geographies" A full list of our maps
We very recently published a paper that brings together a lot of the internet mapping work that we’ve been doing:

Graham, M., S. De Sabbata, and M. A. Zook. (2015) “Towards a Study of Information Geographies: (im)mutable Augmentations and a Mapping of the Geographies of Information.” Geo: Geography and Environment, doi:10.1002/geo2.8. (HTML version here)

A more detailed description and abstract are available in my earlier post about the piece. But what I didn’t do there is upload all of the maps and visualisations that we include in the paper. So, here they are. Make sure you check out the (open access) paper if you want to know more about the methods, findings, and implications.

NB. Here’s a talk on the same topic that I did for BBC Radio 4 last year (in case you’d like the non-visual version).