June 22, 2009

Information Inequality

Following on from the last post, here are some examples of Google placemark inequality:

First of all, China offers perhaps one of the most striking examples of regional disparities. Beijing, Shanghai, and the Pearl River Delta Region all are characterized by heavy information densities. In other words, a lot of information has been created and uploaded about these places. However, much of the rest of the country has very little cyber-presence within the Google Geoweb. In the map below, the height of each bar is an indicator the number of placemarks in each location.

The U.S.-Mexico border along the Rio Grande river offers a similarly striking contrast between high and low information densities.

The border between North and South Korea offers another example of placemark density not being correlated to population density. For obvious reasons, very little information is being created and uploaded about North Korea. In the map below (top), each dot represents 100+ placemarks. Interestingly, there are strong similarities between the map of placemarks on the Korean Peninsula, and satellite maps of lights visible from the Peninsula at night (bottom).

image source: globalsecurity.org

Information inequalities are clearly a defining characteristic of the Geoweb. Some places are highly visible, while others remain a virtual terra incognita. In particular, Africa, South America, and large parts of Asia are being left out of the flurry of mapping that is happing online (e.g. the Tokyo/Yokohama metro region has almost three times as many 0/1 placemark hits (923,034) as the entire continent of Africa (311,770)). Some of the geographical implications of cyber-visibility and invisibility have been examined in part (e.g. here and here), but there is clearly a lot more to be discussed. In particular, because Google allows any keyword to be searched for (not only "0" and "1"), we are able to explore not only the raw amounts of information attached to each place, but also the contents of that information.

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