December 25, 2010

The Twelve Posts of Santa, Part XII: The Most Wonderful Santa Claus Of All

We've studied Santa Claus in English (twice, even!), French, Italian, Polish, German, Spanish, Dutch and a handful of other languages. We even mapped references to various accompanying figures who dole out the punishments so that Santa doesn't have to.

But which of these representations of Santa Claus is the most prevalent? According to our tallies, plain ole Santa Claus is still the most wonderful of them all, as one might expect. But when comparing references to the top 10 versions of Santa Claus, a spatial mosaic of Christmassy cheer is evident, with each version of Santa existing in a somewhat clearly defined region, but with plenty of overlap. Just because references to Santa Claus are the most prevalent doesn't mean he can't coexist with alter-egos Père Noël, Weihnactshmann and Sinterklaas. Indeed, they seem to be getting along just fine.
Whether one is a Christian or not, the prevalence of Christmas celebrations around the world - not to mention the rampant consumerism built up around it - has made Santa Claus a lovable figure no matter what one believes, or even where one lives. But as we've shown in the eleven posts leading up to this finale, people celebrate Christmas differently in different places (and why wouldn't they?). But so what? What does mapping references to Santa Claus in Google Maps have to do with anything?

Like all Floatingsheep maps, we're attempting to connect the daily, lived practices of people to digital representations of those practices. By seeing that Polish Christmas characters show up almost exclusively in Poland, and similarly for any other country, it's easy to see how, while imperfect, the digital representations yielded by Google Maps are very much reflective of the many people's offline realities.

No matter what you each may believe, a Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

p.s. see you in the new year!

The Twelve Posts of Santa, Part XI: The Underbelly of Christmas

In this post we've decided to explore the less joyful side of Christmas. We conducted searches for three characters -- Zwarte Piet, Le Père Fouettard and Krampus -- that have a habit of dishing out punishments to bad children over the holiday season.
Which of these three characters would you least like to have over for tea? Well it turns out that while both Zwarte Piet and Père Fouettard have a penchant for dishing out floggings to children (and for some reason abducting them to Spain in the case of Zwarte Piet), it is the not-too-photogenic Krampus that draws the line at scaring children with bells. It also is rumoured that Austrian fascists weren't too keen on the guy. In the spirit of the my enemy's enemy proverb, we decided to see how Krampus performed in online visibility compared to his child beating colleagues.
It turns out, not too badly. As would be expected, Zwarte Piet is most visible in the Netherlands and Père Fouettard is most visible in France. Belgium is evenly split between the two, so poorly-behaved, Flemish-speaking Belgian children can expect their whippings from Zwarte Piet and French speakers can expect beatings from Père Fouettard. Zwarte Piet also seems to make brief appearances in Berlin, Venice and London, but it is Krampus who really has the most geographic mobility, with sightings all over Europe.

We're not sure what they moral of this tale is, but if you see an ugly, horned monster-like creature speaking Austrian German wandering about your neighbourhood, try not to panic.

December 24, 2010

The Twelve Posts of Santa, Part X: The Balkanisation of the Eastern Santaspheres

Searches for Santa's equivalent in Eastern Europe displays none of the Christmassy diversity of the western half of the continent. Święty Mikołaj is largely found in Poland, Kalėdų Senelis in Lithuania, and their counterparts also largely stay confined to the borders of the states that imagined them into being.

In fact, the diversity between variations on Santa Claus seems to have more to do with the relative dense of each country's cyberscape. For example, it is likely that there are more references to the Estonian Jõuluvana (green dots) than the equivalent terms in neighboring countries simply because Estonia has much higher rates of Internet penetration.

There are however, some interesting exceptions to the balkanisation of these Eastern Santaspheres. Ded Moroz (Дед Мороз), in particular, seems to stray widely from his Russian base. He is far more visible in Ukraine (particularly the Eastern portion) than his close cousin Дід Мороз (Did Moroz). He also seems to stray into Moldova, Germany, the Netherlands, and even eastern France. Despite his broad geographic mobility, Mr. Moroz is totally absent from many countries containing sizable Russian minorities (e.g Russians in northeastern Estonia, and parts of Latvia).

Also worthy of mention is that Joulupukki, the Finnish Santa, appears in virtual santascapes across the continent. Is he fleeing the harsh Finnish winter? Avoiding yet another karelian pie? or simply picking up a diversity of presents for all the Finnish children who can't bear to see yet another moomin?

The Twelve Posts of Santa, Part IX: The Low Countries

We should admit from the start that we are mixing Santa traditions rather more loosely than perhaps we should. Especially given the rich array of characters in the Dutch/Flemish traditions, where you have Sint Niklaas (St. Nicholas) and Sinterklaas, both associated with the holiday celebrated on December 6th. Sinterklaas is arguably the origin of Santa Claus (after he was reinterpreted in the U.S.), but according to Dutch tradition lives in Spain. Other figures are Kerstman (who delivers presents around Christmas, and thus more like Santa Claus) and Kleeschen, which is a tradition largely limited to tiny Luxembourg.

We're sure that we'll be told how we messed up the characters, but for now we're throwing them all in, plus for a little excitement we're tossing in Zwarte Piet (the guy with the switch/whip).

As in Germany, there seems to be a North/South split with Sint Niklaas being more prevalent in Belgium and Sinterklaas more prominent in the Netherlands, with a thin buffer of Kerstman references in between. Hard to know what exactly is going on, but Sinterklaas does seem to be more of a Dutch thing and poor Kleeschen can't seem to escape Luxembourg.

More interesting is that this region seems much less preoccupied with the "bad guy" of the season, which in this case is Zwarte Piet. There is only one spot in the Netherlands that has more references to him than anyone else. A bit surprising but perhaps it is tied to him not being nearly as scary as some of the other "bad guys" out there, such as Krampus.

For an extremely funny interpretation of the Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet tradition, which we highly recommend, see David Sedaris' monologue in text and on audio.

December 23, 2010

The Twelve Posts of Santa, Part VIII: La Navidad de España

As we've already covered in our series of posts up to this point, Christmas traditions are incredibly varied around the world. In fact, we haven't even gone past Europe and we've found a number of different ways that people celebrate the holidays. Spain is no exception, with a unique combination of religious iconography and regionally-specific characters.
Closest to the traditional notion of Santa Claus in Spain is Papá Noel (shown in red), and one can see that references to the portly bearded guy we all know and love are scattered across the country. We suspect that the scattering of references to Papá Noel in francophone Europe may actually be for Papa Noël, the French spelling.

More prevalent than Papá Noel, however, is the tradition of the Three Kings who bring gifts on the celebration of the Epiphany, just as Christian lore says the kings came to deliver gifts to the baby Jesus. In castellano, they are called the "Reyes Magos", and in Catalan, they are the "Reis Mags", a linguistic difference that can be seen in the widespread diffusion of references to Reyes Magos and the clustering of references to Reis Mags in Catalonia.

Another important Catalan figure is the Tió de Nadal. It's like a Christmas tree, but you feed it candy in the weeks leading up to Christmas and then it poops them out on command. Life of the holiday party, he is, that Tió de Nadal. His star seems to be fading a bit as there is but a single purple dot in Catalonia, where references to him predominate.

On the other side of the country, in the Basque region (including parts of Spain and France), the Olentzero is the quasi-mythical figure who brings presents to children on Christmas eve. Although many legends about the Olentzero abound, he is always a giant, and has come to coexist with the many other more universal Christmas traditions in the surrounding regions.

¡Feliz Navidad!

The Twelve Posts of Santa, Part VII: German Diversity

Now that we've covered variations on Santa Claus in English, French, Italian and Polish, it's time to turn our attention to German speaking Europe, where a number of versions of Santa abound.

Both St. Nikolaus and Sankt Nikolaus are variations on Saint Nicholas, who is celebrated on December 6th. References to these keywords in the southern portion of Germany make sense, as this region is predominantly Catholic and would have more saints -- of all colors, shapes and creeds (OK, maybe not creeds as they're mostly Catholic) -- and be more likely to celebrate Saint Nicholas' Day.
As a result of the Catholicism in the south, Weihnachtsmann, the guy who delivers presents on the 24th, is more prevalent in Northern Germany, which is mostly Protestant. Perhaps Weihnachten is less anthropomorphized in the south and more of a religious celebration. In the northern part of Germany, evangelic and and less tradition, the Weihnachtsmann bringing presents may play a more prominent role than the religious celebration. Also make sure to be careful with the spelling, as weih nackt mann has a completely different meaning.

Other Santa-like traditions in Germany include the Christkind (Christ child), who also brings presents at Christmas, and is limited to a few scattered sites within our search. Based on a reader's suggestion (thanks!) we included Samichlaus, which shows up as small but very clear cluster in Switzerland, and Kleeschen, which is a tradition in Luxembourg.

Because we were able to see linguistic differences so strongly in our Santa maps, particularly the forthcoming map for Spain, we thought it would be worthwhile to focus on the distribution of the main names for Santa in French, German and Italian. We're particularly interested in Switzerland given its linguistic diversity. We should note that we're not including some local Swiss variants such as Samichlaus in these maps. Still some interesting results.
There is fairly clear division between the French speaking cantons in Eastern Switzerland and the German speaking ones to the North and center. The Italian term of Babbo Natale doesn't seem to have made much headway into the country as of yet.

Of related interest is that increased prevalence of Christkind in Austria which contrasts with southern and northern Germany. Perhaps this serves as the counterweight to to the Austrian preoccupation with Krampus (see map 1). Given that Krampus is the evil one and not the one bringing gifts, this is a bit surprising. But then again, once you get a look at him it's easy to understand why Austrians might be fixated on him.


December 22, 2010

The Twelve Posts of Santa, Part VI: Polish Puzzles

Gwiazdor and Święty Mikołaj were the two Polish terms for Santa Claus we searched and again it is very striking the extent to which they correspond with formal and linguistic borders. We must admit, however, that we are fairly uninformed when it come to Polish Christmas traditions, but our understanding (i.e., what we can decipher from a Google translation of the Polish wikipedia page) is that both characters deliver presents although Święty Mikołaj seems to be the more direct derivative of Santa.

This is probably a good time to note (again) that Santa Claus is a cultural artifact from Anglo (particularly American) practice and his diffusion has a lot to do with U.S. political and cultural power (and probably not that much to do with the Holy Roman Empire).

While many countries had similar figures, the timing of arrival (St. Nicholas' Day in early December or the Epiphany in January) varied as did the image, dress and role.
All of that being said, we have no good interpretation for the spatial distribution seen in the map above. The Wikipedia article does note that Gwiazdor is associated with the "areas of Wielkopolska and Kujawy (specifically, those parts which were under Prussian rule), Kashubian and Kociewie" which seems to correspond with out maps but we'll leave it to the readers to decide. Regardless, the extent to which Polish-language references are constricted to the formal boundaries, and what appears to be two equally legitimate claims on the proper name for a Santa Claus-like figure, remain especially interesting.

The Twelve Posts of Santa, Part V: Italy and the Coca Cola Santa

Our comparison for terms in Italian are "Babbo Natale" and "La Befana", which we are the first to admit are not directly comparable. La Befana is an old witch (seemingly relatively benign) who brings presents/coal to good/bad children on the eve of Epiphany (in January), which is when some traditions say the Wise men showed up. We thought that Babbo Natale is simply the Italian version of Santa.

We can't say that the map below shows much pattern between these two characters, but it does act as a nice depiction of the range of Italian in Europe: primarily spoken on the "boot" (and Sicily and Sardinia) but crossing national borders in the north.

What we were not expecting to find is that Babbo Natale is considered by many to be an invention of Coca Cola as a marketing device. Even more shocking is that some view Coca Cola as a non-authentic cultural actor rather than a bringer of light, goodness and carbonated beverages (OK, we're kidding about the last point). Still, it again highlights the complexity of the Christmas tradition in cultures other than one's own.

The historical equivalent of Santa Claus in the Italian tradition, according to our trusted local informant, is "Presepe" or "Gesù Bambino", the new born Jesus. In hindsight, it could have been very interesting to compare Gesù Bambino to Babbo Natale in order to see the differences between traditional Italian practices and corporate marketing. Sadly, we didn't have Gesù Bambino on our search list and we'll have to wait until next year.

December 21, 2010

The Twelve Posts of Santa, Part IV: En France, L'État, c'est Père Noël

After something of an Anglo-centric start to our series of twelve posts (see Part II and Part III), it's time to appease those Francophile Floatingsheep Fanatics. Focusing our attention on two separate, but not interchangeable, terms -- Père Noël and Père Fouettard -- we can start drawing some fairly clear conclusions about the way the French celebrate Christmas. Le Père Noël est très formidable. Even more interesting is how well the use of Père Noël illuminates the linguistic contours of French speakers, primarily France but also extending into parts of Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland.
For the most part, it is commonly accepted that the French simply use Père Noël as the local translation of Santa Claus (although technically it means Father Christmas). Indeed, the comparison shown in the map above shows Père Noël to be the dominant representation within the country, unlike the UK where there is fierce competition between Santa Claus and Father Christmas.

With Père Noël established as the legitimate bearded giver of gifts in France, why include Père Fouettard in our search?

Thanks to a helpful comment from a reader, we became aware that Père Fouettard is a locally-specific tradition in Lotharingen, France. And true enough, the cluster of four green dots signifying the prevalence of Père Fouettard in the northeast of France is the general location of Lotharingen.

But who is this le Père Fouettard anyways? Well, he's the one that accompanies St. Nicholas to punish (literally whip) all of those kids who don't deserve awesome presents. So, frankly, you don't want to get to know the guy. Kind of makes you feel sorry for all those folks in eastern France, doesn't it? But at least one can understand the preoccupation with keeping track of where "the whipping father" is.

And don't worry, we're tracking some other variations of St. Nicholas' posse, such as Krampus and Zwarte Piet. Unfortunately we seem to have missed Belsnickel.

The Twelve Posts of Santa, Part III: A new Holy Roman Emperor?

Now that we've explained the thinking behind this year's Search for Santa (in Part I) and mapped out references to two of the most popular names for that old bearded guy (in Part II), we thought we'd begin expanding our analysis to the plethora of terms we searched for. The second map in our series, presented here, continues to analyze English-language terms, this time including the names "Saint Nicholas", "Santy" and "Kris Kringle", but with a broader focus on the European continent rather than just the UK.
What we can see is that while Father Christmas seems to be focused on England, Santa Claus really gets around. His name has been inscribed on the virtual landscape all the way from Portugal to central Russia. Unlike other more ethnolinguistically specific terms for Santa, "Santa Claus" appears to be incredibly prevalent no matter where one might be.

But most interestingly, the area with the highest concentration of references to Santa closely corresponds to the old Holy Roman Empire. Coincidence? We think not. Consider the following hypothetical word morphology.

Charlemagne (800 C.E.)
Sharla Maens (1157 C.E.)
Shanta Claes (1613 C.E.)
Santa Claus (1800 C.E.)

Clearly there is a connection.

Note also that Santa Claus reigns supreme at world's most christmassy point: Kittilä, Finland.

While Santa Claus seems to be the primary term across most of Europe, it's also possible to notice the not insignificant number of points where references to "Saint Nicholas" predominate, perhaps indicating the greater cultural importance of Saint Nicholas' Day on December 6 in some regions. And though Santy is something of an Irish name for the old guy, references to "Santy" seem more prevalent at scattered points around France and Spain, while "Kris Kringle" is all but absent from the European Yule-tide cyberscape.

December 20, 2010

The Twelve Posts of Santa, Part II: Who are all these old men with bushy beards?

We've all heard about these old men wearing red outfits and sporting bushy white beards. But who are they really? Santa Claus or Father Christmas? We decided was about time to figure out who these dodgy characters are. Over the next eleven posts, we will be mapping references to the many names given to these old men (and women! and other creatures, too!) that we've collected, as documented in Part I of our series.

In this post we compare references to Santa Claus and Father Christmas in the British Isles. We see that Father Christmas is far more likely to be inscribed on the Christmassy landscape in England and Wales, while references to Santa Claus are more prevalent in Scotland and Ireland.
Father Christmas is traditionally associated with being the gift bearing bearded old man that visits children in the UK. So why do we see so many references to Santa Claus in Scotland and Ireland? Is this a cunning celtic plot to usurp the hegemonic British gift-giver (albeit replacing him with a central character in American culture)?

Based on our research, the Irish generally refer to this bearded old man with his nickname, "Santy". Our preliminary mapping failed to show a significant number of references to Santy, so perhaps the prevalence of the bearded man's full name in the cyberscape is indicative of the jolly guy's efforts to be taken more seriously amongst the Irish. Passing out gifts to billions of people in a matter of less than 24 hours is a lot of work, and Santa Claus doesn't appreciate his work being trivialized.

The Twelve Posts of Santa, Part I: The Search

Based on the names listed in our previous posting and the helpful reader comments (thanks!), we have completed our data gathering efforts for the 2nd Annual Search for Santa. This time, our search area is limited to Europe, broadly defined, and can be found in the white box outlined below.
Search Area for Santa Claus

Over the next week, we're going to start bringing you two posts a day mapping the results of this year's Search for Santa in a variety of different ways. For example, how does "Santa Claus" compare to "Father Christmas" in the U.K.? How do the various linguistic/cultural traditions map? Switzerland should be interesting. Are there differences between Catholic and Protestant parts of Germany?

The frequency tables for the data are below. Santa Claus still retains the lead, but Père Noël and Der Weihnachtsmann are close behind.

December 17, 2010

The "Power" of Maps

In addition to power of maps in shaping world views that we highlighted in the previous post, we neglected to point some of the more prosaic (albeit powerful) uses of maps. Unfortunately these applications likely work best with paper rather than digital maps.

Thanks to Martin Dodge again who keeps us well supplied with "good" mapping references.
For those of you unfamiliar with MacGyver.

December 15, 2010

Crowdsourcing the price of Weed

In the last few years, we've seen how crowdsourcing has been employed for a range of important tasks including disaster relief in Haiti, monitoring the recent Kenyan elections, and now mapping the price of weed. This is a great example of how crowdsourcing can produce information that is simply unavailable otherwise. After all, there are no official price data on marijuana markets given its illegality.

Map from the Website
(Green = < $300 per oz; Yellow = $3oo-400 per oz; Red = > $400 per oz

Quite an interesting distribution with cost rising as one moves west from the Pacific coast (with Oregon being the cheapest). Florida shows up as a low spot as well. Both patterns are consistent with what is known about the geographies of production and distribution. Of course given the overall much lower reported prices for weed in Canada (is it subsidized?), one has to wonder if this site will only serve to further increase the US trade deficit.

We have previously done some analysis on the geographies of marijuana, if anyone wants to compare.

December 07, 2010

Map of Wikileaks list of facilities 'vital to US security'

One of the most interesting, and perhaps controversial, bits of information from the recent release of the Wikileaks US embassy cables has been the list of locations deemed vital to US security. Since this information is now in the public domain, we were interested in visualizing the data spatially.

The first step was to take the rather messy data and identify individual entries. In some cases it was no more specific than "Indonesia: Tin Mine and Plant". In other cases it named a pipeline, a port, or a city in which an undersea cable made landfall. Next, using the geocoder (as well as some Wikipedia entries), we (along with the much appreciated help of Zach U. and Tim B.) located an approximate latitude and longitude for each of the locations mentioned in the cables.

We wish to emphasize that the locations in our mashup are only for the cities in which these critical facilities are located, and not the actual facilities themselves. In some cases, the location in the map is no more detailed than the country. Given this relative inaccuracy, this map does not present any security threat whatsoever. Moreover, all the data sets used for this geo-coding are openly available on the Internet and could easily be replicated by anyone.

Our purpose is to visualize the patterns exhibited by this particular data set, which are illustrated below. The categories in the legend are our own classifications based on the information provided by Wikileaks (you can view a larger, non-embedded version of our mashup here, or download a KMZ file of the mashup here that should automatically load into Google Earth. The KMZ version also allows you to turn on and off categories as you wish).

Map Legend

It is interesting to note that the vast majority of these facilities are not directly military-related. Even the ones that we mark as 'military' are related industrial facilities rather than actual bases. Instead, the list seems to focus on non-military topics such as telecommunications, energy and pharmaceuticals. Much of the list is also focused on supplies of important raw materials (Bauxite, Chromite, and Rare Earth Minerals), as well as the ability to move products through ports and shipping channels.

Share of Facilities by Type
Telecommunications 28%
Energy 18%
Pharmaceuticals 13%
Border_Crossing 11%
Raw_Material 10%
Port 7%
Military 5%
Industrial 4%
Shipping 3%
Dam 2%

These data offer a fascinating insight into the ways that the national security priorities of the United States span the entire globe. This global web of essential facilities goes a long way to explain the fact that the US Department of Defense has more military facilities around the world than all other nations combined. The globalization of the world economy means that facilities that are vital to the communication, health, and economic needs of the U.S. are scattered across the planet; and this ultimately means that the U.S. (as well as other developed and developing countries) have to contend with new and changing notions of what "security" means in the 21st century.

We are truly living in a network society.

See also:
A choropleth map depicting the number of facilities in each country, made by some folks at University College London.

A map of all the Wikileaks cables.

And, a user-generated effort to plot the cables.

The Power of Google Maps

Hardly a week goes by without there being some flare up about how a disputed border represented in Google Maps leads to real world consequences. Whether it was the Chinese labelling of place names in Arunachal Pradesh, or the recent confrontation over a mis-drawn border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica leading to an 'invasion', Google Maps has found itself at the center of some touchy geopolitical disputes.

We're not the first ones to mention these disputes. Indeed, we rarely (and belatedly), if ever, comment on them. But because of the persistence of news stories on this topic, we're compelled to comment on the broader implications of what John Gravois, in his interesting Washington Monthly piece 'The Agnostic Cartographer', points to as the problem of Google's attempts at ambivalence when such disputes arise. The official Google policy is to avoid culpability in such disputes by relying on previous international conventions and providing multiple representations of places in order to placate both sides of a potential conflict. But what do these attempts at neutrality accomplish?

Ultimately, Google's ambivalence serves to further obfuscate, and reinforce, the power of their maps. As J.B. Harley so astutely pointed out over twenty years ago, "Much of the power of the map, as a representation of social geography, is that it operates behind a mask of a seemingly neutral science. It hides and denies its social dimensions at the same time as it legitimates" (Harley 1989: 7). So by attempting to withdraw from "some of the world's touchiest geopolitical disputes", Google is at once depoliticizing and further extending the influence of their maps, as Gravois points out in his article. But, as Harley asserts, "the map is never neutral" (14) -- so why attempt to make it seem that way?

The point being, just because Google Maps are produced and used somewhat differently than the hand-drawn maps of old, does not somehow mean that the nature of the map is fundamentally different and that the corpus of theory built up around critical cartography is no longer relevant. Indeed, the same ideas apply quite nicely to both traditional, expert-oriented cartography and what has become known as 'neogeography' or 'volunteered geographic information'.

These issues and ideas seem to have been lost in all of the popular debate about Google and geopolitics, even in excellent summaries such as Gravois'. Maps, in whatever form they may take, remain important reflections of the world, albeit reflections of a particular, limited worldview and set of interests (in the case of Google, the interest in minimizing conflict and maximizing profits) that should not be ignored. At the same time, however, maps also have a powerful role in shaping the world in which we live; a role that arguably should not be left to giant corporations or powerful governments.

Further reading:
  • Crampton, Jeremy and John Krygier. 2005. "An Introduction to Critical Cartography". ACME: An International e-Journal for Critical Geographies 4(1):11-33.
  • Harley, J.B. 1989. "Deconstructing the map". Cartographica 26(2):1-20.
  • Wood, Denis. 1992. The Power of Maps. The Guilford Press.

December 03, 2010

The Search for Santa, 2010

Building upon our discovery of Santa in Los Angeles last year we are embarking on a similar search this month. The goal this year is to compare the distribution of Christmas related characters within the greater European context (Iceland to Azerbaijan on the West-East axis; Norway to Morocco on the North-South axis). While this clearly captures historical European Christendom it also crosses over into territories in which Islamic, Jewish and other religious traditions dominate.

The goal is to map the cultural diffusion of Santa in general and the local variants. For example, the results for the Basque tradition of Olentzero is already producing some really interesting geographies. We hope it will also be a means by which to show linguistic differences as well, e.g., variations on Ded Moroz in Cyrillic languages.

Were conducting searches on the list of names below...mostly variations on Santa Claus but with a few other characters as well (e.g., Krampus and Zwarte Piet). We've no doubt missed some. We started with the wiki list although made some changes. Please take a look at the list below and make suggestions/corrections and we'll add them to the search.

Also, if anyone has other suggestions for similar types of searches on non-Western (particularly Chinese) cultural icons please let us know.
  • Names in English (Kris Kringle)
  • Names in English (Saint Nicholas)
  • Names in English (Santa Claus)
  • Names in English (Father Christmas)
  • Albania (Babadimri )
  • Albania (Babagjyshi i Krishtlindjeve )
  • Arabic (بابا نويل)
  • Aragon and Catalonia (Reis Mags )
  • Aragon and Catalonia (Tió de Nadal)
  • Aragon and Catalonia (Tronca de Navidad)
  • Armenia (Ձմեռ Պապիկ )
  • Azerbaijan (Şaxta baba)
  • Basque (Olentzero)
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina (Djeda Mraz )
  • Bulgaria (Дядо Коледа )
  • Croatia (Djed Božičnjak )
  • Croatia (Djed Mraz )
  • Czech Republic (Ježíšek )
  • Czech Republic (Svatý Mikuláš )
  • Denmark (Julemanden)
  • Estonia (Jõuluvana)
  • Estonia (päkapikk)
  • Finland (Joulupukki)
  • France (Père Noël)
  • Georgia (თოვლის ბაბუა )
  • Germany (Sankt Nikolaus)
  • Germany (Weihnachtsmann )
  • Germany, Austria, Switzerland & Liechtenstein (Christkind)
  • Germany-Austria (Krampus)
  • Greece_Cyprus (Άγιος Βασίλης )
  • Hungary (Jézuska)
  • Hungary (Kis Jézus )
  • Hungary (Télapó )
  • Iceland (jólasveinarnir )
  • Iceland (Jólasveinn )
  • Ireland (Daidí na Nollaig)
  • Ireland (Santa Claus)
  • Ireland (Santy)
  • Italy (La Befana )
  • Italy & Switzerland (Babbo Natale)
  • Latvia (Ziemassvētku vecītis )
  • Lebanon (Papa Noel)
  • Lithuania (Kalėdų Senelis )
  • Lithuania (Senis Šaltis )
  • Luxembourg (Hoseker)
  • Luxembourg (Kleeschen)
  • Macedonia (Дедо Мраз )
  • Netherlands & Flanders (Kerstman )
  • Netherlands & Flanders (Sint Niklaas)
  • Netherlands & Flanders (Sinterklaas)
  • Netherlands & Flanders (Zwarte Piet)
  • Norway (Julenissen)
  • Poland (Gwiazdor )
  • Poland (Święty Mikołaj )
  • Portugal (Pai Natal)
  • Portgual (more Brazilian?) (Papai Noel )
  • Romania, Moldova (Moș Crăciun )
  • Romania, Moldova (Moș Gerilă )
  • Romania, Moldova (Moș Nicolae )
  • Russia (Ded Moroz)
  • Russia (Дед Мороз )
  • Serbia (Božić Bata )
  • Serbia (Deda Mraz )
  • Serbia (Божић Бата )
  • Serbia (Дедa Мрaз )
  • Spain (Papá Noel)
  • Spain (Reyes Magos )
  • Sweden (Jultomten)
  • Switzerland (Père Noël)
  • Turkey (Noel Baba )
  • Turkmenistan (Aýaz baba )
  • Ukraine (Did Moroz)
  • Ukraine (Svyatyy Mykolay)
  • Ukraine (Дід Мороз)
  • United Kingdom (Father Christmas)

November 30, 2010

Geographies of Wikipedia in the UK

After a lot of data cleaning and number crunching, we are able to present the following three maps of the geographies of Wikipedia in the UK using brand new November 2010 data. Looking at the first map (total number of articles in each district), we see some interesting patterns. With a few exceptions, it is rural districts in Scotland, Wales and the North of England that are characterised by the highest density of articles.

What we're likely picking up on is the fact that large districts simply have more potential stuff to write about. If we normalise the map by area we see an entirely different pattern. The map below displays the number of articles per square KM.

We see that most of the large urban conurbations in the UK are covered by a dense layer of articles. Most sparsely populated areas in contrast have a much thinner layer of virtual representation in Wikipedia. There are, however, some notable exceptions. Parts of Cornwall, Somerset and the Isle of Wight all have a denser layer of content than might be expected for such relatively rural parts of the country. On the other hand, one might expect a higher density in the districts surrounding Belfast (in fact almost all of Northern Ireland is characterised by very low levels of content per square KM).

Finally, we can look a the number of articles per person in each district:

Here some more surprising results are visible. All major urban areas have relatively low counts of article per person (with the exception of central London). In contrast, many rural areas (particularly areas containing national parks) have high counts per person.

There are obviously a range of ways to measure the geographies of Wikipedia in the UK. We see that some areas are blanketed by a highly dense layer of virtual content (e.g. central London and many of the UK's other major conurbations). These maps also highlight the fact that some parts of the UK are characterised by a paucity of content irrespective of the ways in which the data are normalised. Northern Ireland in particular stands out in this respect.

We'll attempt to upload similar analyses of other countries in the next few months. In the meantime, however, we would welcome any thoughts on the uneven amount of virtual representation that blankets the UK.

p.s. many thanks to Adham Tamer for his help with the data extraction.

November 23, 2010

Uncovering the Wishbone of Thanksgiving

Given the interest last year in our “Search for Santa” posting it seems only natural for us to also analyze the spatial dimensions of other holidays. Given the upcoming Thanksgiving break (which has resulted in a campus wiped as empty as a post-dinner sweet potato and marshmallow casserole dish) the remaining cadre of the FloatingSheep faithful turned their penetrating gaze (much like Uncle Lester when the pumpkin pies come out) to the age old question: what is the most “Thanksgivingest” place in the United States?

OK, maybe we just made that question up but it makes a nice rhetorical flourish.

Drawing upon Google Maps data from November 2010, we calculated the presence of the keyword “thanksgiving” in the geoweb (or cyberscape) layer of 14,000 unique points in the lower 48 states. The map below illustrates the resulting spattering of thanksgivingness across the golden brown skin of the United States with large metropolitan areas representing moist succulent slices of holiday spirit; the veritable “breast meat” of Thanksgivingness.

Raw Thanksgivingness, November 2010
The raw score, however, is merely the appetizer of a multi-course analysis, such as standardizing for the overall size of the geoweb at each point. (Hopefully the first map has not ruined your appetite). This metric is akin to a per capita measure (e.g., income per person) except it represents Thanksgivingness per Geowebnicity. Points that scored high on this measure had a larger proportion of their spatial web activity focused on Thanksgiving (see the map below).

Thanksgivingness per Geowebnicity , November 2010
Just as tilting your dinner plate will shift the location of cranberries, this standardized measure reconfigures the spatial visualization of Thanksgivingness. Interestingly much of the Eastern United States and large metropolitan areas drop out of this visualization. In contrast, areas such as southern Utah and northern Arizona, the central valley of California and the Cascade range in Washington and Oregon rise faster than a Butterball pop-up turkey timer. Clearly by this standardized measure the Western U.S. is Thanksgivinger than the East. Although the site of the original Thanksgiving (Plymouth, MA), Key West and the interior of Maine also seem to have gotten “their turkey on”.

The final entrée of this research is a hot spot analysis (based on the Getis-Ord Gi* statistic) that looks at both the values of individual points but also the values of its neighbors. Concentrations of spots with statistically significantly high values are designated “hot” while locations with uniformly low values are “cold”. The map below highlights the contours of “hot” and “cold” concentrations (based on standardized data) for Thanksgiving. Areas without dots were not found to be statistically significant concentrations of hot or cold.

Hot and Cold Spots for Thanksgivingness per Geowebnicity, November 2010
One sees hot spots (represented in shades of red) of “Thanksgiving-ness” spread like a rich (albeit seemingly randomly distributed) gravy over the landscape of the western U.S. Upon closer inspection, however, it is easy to distinguish the “wishbone of thanksgiving” expanding from its base south of El Paso, TX across New Mexico and Arizona before cleaving into twin clavicles at the apparent fulcrum point at Las Vegas, one of the few major metropolitan areas that ended up as a “hot spot”. Must be all the buffets.

From Vegas, one branch of the wishbone expands eastward through northern Arizona and Utah before a splintering end at the edge of Montana and the Dakotas while the other moves up California’s central valley and along the Cascades before settling in at Seattle. A hot spot of Thanksgivingness is evident along the Big Sur coast between Monterey and San Luis Obispo where evidently people have a lot to be thankful for. The same goes for Key West and also apparently (and rather surprisingly) the interior of Maine.

But with the hot also comes the cold and we need consider those areas trending more towards “Thanksgivinglessness” (represented in shades of blue). Spreading from Michigan to the gulf coast like an unappetizing mound of congealed mashed potatoes, these cold spots dominate much of the non-coastal Midwest and South. Even FloatingSheep’s headquarters in Lexington, KY seems immersed in a decided cool (verging on gelatinous) spot in distribution of Thanksgivingness per Geowebnicity.

Of course this analysis is based on the level of Thanksgiving in the geoweb so interpret it with that in mind. Still it does seem that Key West, Las Vegas and the Big Sur coast demand further fieldwork on this topic. So it seems like my winter break plans are in order.

And central Maine? Sounds like an excellent chance for the enhancement of graduate student education.

Happy Thanksgiving….

p.s. Many thanks to Jeff Levy who generated the maps for this posting.

November 17, 2010

Internet access as a human right

Five countries have now declared internet access as a fundamental human right. Four of these countries are in Europe (Estonia, Finland, France and Greece) and one is in Central America (Costa Rica). Interestingly, there is quite a range of internet penetration rates in these countries:

Costa Rica: 43%
Estonia: 75%
Finland: 85%
France: 69%
Greece: 46%

It is likely that there will soon be other additions to this list. There is a strong push for universal internet access by major international organisations. The secretary-general of the ITU, for example, stated that governments should "regard the internet as basic infrastructure - just like roads, waste, and water." A recent BBC World Service poll found that 79% of people, in a poll of 27,000 people conducted across 26 countries, consider internet access to be a fundamental right. However, our representatives clearly remain more sceptical about codifying human rights. This extends to more than just internet access. For instance, last July the United Nations even passed a resolution recognizing that access to clean water was a human right: 122 countries voted in favor, while 41 abstained (including the U.S.) .

It will therefore be interesting to see how this map changes over the next few years. Please provide feedback on any changes that should be made to this list.

November 15, 2010

We once were lost but now are found

Multiple posts (here and here) from last week documented the strange disappearance of the University of Kentucky label from the Google Maps based layer. Making it more intriguing was that the University was re-labeled as Transylvania University (see image below).

The mis-labeling seems to have been fixed (actually as we were posting last Friday). We're not privy to the how and why (we didn't report the error and Google generally doesn't comment) but we can take comfort in the fact that at least the city of Lexington didn't get renamed as has happened elsewhere.

University of Kentucky Labeled as Transylvania University (11/8/2010)

November 11, 2010

Multi-scalar Labels and the University of Kentucky

As we noted in earlier posts the University of Kentucky has been mislabeled as Transylvania University with Google Maps. (This post was updated at 2:00 pm 11/11/2010. See text in red.)

Further exploration, however, has revealed that labeling is apparently a matter of scale (Update: at least some of the time). Or in Google Maps terminology, as zoom level changes, the labeling for the University of Kentucky changes as well.

For example:
  • At Zoom Level 12, the area for the University of Kentucky is shaded differently but no labels are shown.
  • At Zoom Level 13, the area is labeled as the University of Kentucky. (Update: Or at least it did when we did this at 1:15 pm on 11/11/2010. As of 2:00 pm on 11/11/2010 Zoom Level 13 shows Transylvania University. See screenshots below.).
  • At Zoom Level 14 (and higher), the area is labeled as Transylvania University.
2nd Update: As of 4:00 pm on 11/11/2010 the University of Kentucky label was showing up all zoom levels from 13 up. But there were still Transy references, see figure below.

This still doesn't explain why the University of Kentucky is mislabeled at the higher zoom levels. (Update: Or why the labels seem to be flipping back and forth at zoom level 13. Lucky number 13...)

The links above showed this change when we posted on 11/11/2010 but since the base map will change, static screen shots of the different zoom levels are below.

Zoom Level 12, No Labels

Zoom Level 13 1:15 pm - 11/11/2010, University of Kentucky Label

Update: Zoom Level 13, 2:00 pm - 11/11/2010, Transylvania Label

Zoom Level 14, Transylvania University Label

Zoom Level 16, 4:10 pm 11/11/2010 - University of Kentucky Label with Transylvania Reference

November 10, 2010

The Online Manchester Derby

The Manchester Derby, a heated football game between Manchester City and Manchester United, has been hotly contested since 1881. United have recorded the most wins overall, and indeed the most success in general. However, City recently (by some measures) became the world's richest sports team and have invested heavily in order to become outdo their local rivals.

But how has this rivalry taken form online? Has the new found wealth (and relative success) of Manchester City given the team more visibility than their more successful rivals? And, is the commonly repeated assertion that City fans are from Manchester, but United fans are from elsewhere reflected in online visibility for the two clubs?

The maps show that within Britain, Manchester United are far more visible than Manchester City. There are only 18 postal code areas in which there are more references to City than United, but 92 in which the opposite is true. The main cluster of areas in which City outdo United are unsurprisingly located in the Northwest, but interestingly within Manchester itself it is United and not City that are characterised by the greater degree of online visibility. So, at least in online world, it remains that Manchester City can't quite yet claim to be the only real representatives of Manchester.

November 09, 2010

Where in the world is the University of Kentucky?

As we noted in our last post, Google Maps lists the the University of Kentucky as Transylvania University (an actual university, also located in Lexington).

University of Kentucky as Transylvania University
(you may need to click on the image to see a larger version)

So what do you get when you search for the University of Kentucky? [1]
It is apparently located at a McDonalds on the edge of town.

University of Kentucky as a McDonalds
(you may need to click on the image to see a larger version)

This image is based on a search conducted on 11/8/2010 via Internet Explorer at the default North American opening screen with a clear cache and no cookies from an office within the University of Kentucky.

Or you could get a listing (see below) that ranks things
  1. Transylvania University
  2. U.K.'s Maine Chance Research Farm
  3. A location in Paducah, KY
  4. A location in Pikeville, KY
  5. The actual main campus of the University of Kentucky.

A Spatially Challenged Google Maps Searches for the University of Kentucky
(you may need to click on the image to see a larger version)

This image is based on a search conducted on 11/8/2010 via Internet Explorer via the wireless service at the University of Kentucky.

The plot thickens....

November 08, 2010

Did Nicaragua Really Invade Costa Rica because of Google Maps?

An interesting article about the power of maps. As the story is reported, Nicaraguan troops mistakenly entered Costa Rican territory because of the placement of the border on Google Maps.

I'm a bit suspicious, as it seems likely that officials in the area would have a good sense of where the lines of a disputed border were. Using a Google Maps border, particularly with low resolution data, seems more like a cover story than something that might actually happen. But who knows? Thanks to Zach Underwood in passing this along.

In any case it again highlights the power of maps in general and Google Maps in particular. Google has no official standing in terms of recording international borders or naming but exerts a tremendous amount of power, nonetheless.

In a much more prosaic example, the University of Kentucky has been listed as Transylvania University (an actual university, also located in Lexington) for a least ten days. A static image is below, or you can go directly to Google Maps (which may change). I will state for the record that Floatingsheep was NOT involved in this little map hack, we just happened to notice it ten days ago. We prefer that you not try to fix as we're curious how long it will remain.

University of Kentucky as Transylvania University
(you may need to click on the image to see a larger version)

November 04, 2010

The Political Economy of Search and Space

There was an interesting piece in the Guardian recently by Micah White with the provocative title, "Google is polluting the internet". (Thanks to Martin Dodge who sent it to me.) It basically comes down to an analysis of the political economy of knowledge classification in the age of Google searching. How do we relate things together? And most crucially, how does advertising (Google's revenue source) influence what we find and what we chose to pursue?

Food for thought and similar to many of the issues that we regularly raise here in regards to how sorting of maps (including advertisements) shapes our understanding of places. We generally think of ourselves as sophisticated users of technologies but we are not immune; advertising links on our smartphones have changed our decisions about where to go.

There is no one right answer to how to search and map, just as there is not one truly representational map. The decisions that are made are necessary for things to work but they are decisions rather than simply value-neutral operations and warrant thoughtful consideration. As this article notes, "There is no system for organising knowledge that does not carry with it social, political and cultural consequences. Nor is an entirely unbiased organising principle possible. The trouble is that too few people realise this today. We've grown complacent as researchers; lazy as thinkers. We place too much trust in one company, a corporate advertising agency, and a single way of organising knowledge, automated keyword indexing."

Introna and Nissenbaum have a good article on this for those who are interested (see below). I'd welcome any other suggestions as well.

Introna and Nissenbaum 'Shaping the Web: Why the Politics of Search Engines Matters' (The Information Society, 16(3):1-17, 2000)

October 31, 2010

KFC vs McDonalds: An Epic Battle

A few of months ago, we featured a series of maps depicting fictional battles between the prominent mascots of KFC and McDonalds: Colonel Sanders and Ronald McDonald. Besides the fact that someone (ahem, Mark) forgot that we had already posted these maps, we thought that it was worth connecting our analysis to some recent discoveries, especially through a Lucasian theoretical framework.

Some historical background is provided in the video below for any readers unfamiliar with this theoretical formulation.

Our original series of maps (see one replicated below) shows distinct geographic patterns of influence for the two fast-food chains. McDonalds is dominant in much of the world, being especially visible in Europe (particularly in the Netherlands for some reason). The Colonel, on the other hand, has a strong redoubt in the south and west of the United States. However, this area is not nearly as homogeneous of a fast-food landscape as the Ronald McDonald's stronghold in Europe.

Of course, given the concentration of McDonalds in Amsterdam and Europe, we can't but help to wonder of we need to make Quentin Tarantino a honorary member of the Floatingsheep collective.

October 25, 2010

The Full Wiki

A fascinating website called The Full Wiki has recently been brought to our attention.

The site contains an excellent mapping tool that allows users to visualise the locations of all places and events mentioned in any wikipedia article.

The entry for World War II for example, brings up a detailed map. Clicking on any point will bring up the snippet of text in the Wikipedia article that mentions that specific place. Needless to say, this is a useful tool for uncovering the not only the places mentioned in any article, but also the silences and omissions.

We should point out a curious anomaly for the map of the article on monkeys. The only location shown is in downtown Washington DC. We won't ask why.

October 22, 2010

Mapping the Tea Party Movement Online

Since Sarah Palin was recently talking about our blog on cable news shows, we decided it was only fair to map out her so-called tea-party movement.

It is interesting that the West Coast and the northeast of the country have some of the highest relative and total hits for the tea party. Perhaps this refudiates the claim that these are less pro-America parts of the nation. Or, depending upon your point of view, it may confirm that the coasts are out to destroy the country.

Also the patterns we see in the above slice of cyberscape, represented by data drawn from Google Maps, is matched by another slice of cyberscape drawn from Twitter. A presentation by Pete Skomoroch, Kevin Weil, and Sean Gorman shows the distribution of tweets with the term tea party. It shows Lady Gaga, as well, if you're curious (check out slide 68).

We should also point out that just because you can't see Russia on these maps is no reason to misunderestimate them. There's also a distinct possibility that we're missing out on a whole slew of geotagged data due to the misspelling of fairly simple words.

October 17, 2010

Floatingsheep and the Open 2.0 Event

Those of you in (or near) Lexington, KY should check out the Open 2.0 Conference happening at the University of Kentucky. Lots of interesting speakers but in the spirit of shameless promotion, Matt will be giving a talk on the 19th at 9:00 am on "Open Geographies".

October 15, 2010

More Flickr Mapping

Building on our visualisation of 34 million geotagged Flickr images, we have decided to map the data normalised by population and area. In doing so, some quite interesting patterns are evident.

Flickr Images per 100,000 people
Flickr Images per 100 square km

Predictably, we see some of the same core-periphery patterns that are observable in other types of user-generated content (e.g. Wikipedia). More surprising is the fact that unlike the geography of Wikipedia content, there are a significant number of low-income countries with relative large amounts of content (i.e. images) per every 100,000 people and 100km. Cambodia, Oman, Namibia, South Africa, Nepal and a host of other countries all score highly using these normalised measures.

I would hypothesise that two factors are at play here. First, there are lower barriers to entry on Flickr versus Wikipedia. In other words, despite the openness of Wikipedia, it is still easier to upload geotagged photos to Flickr than to create a new article and defend it's existence against nominations for deletion and overzealous editors. Moreover, the binary developed vs. developing country division has always masked the range of differences between and within countries, e.g., an interesting comparison between Oman and Yemen.

Second, it is also probable that much of the content in low-income countries is created by visitors and tourists. For instance, a significant number of photos geotagged to Cambodia are likely tourist shots of the Angkor Wat temple complex rather than locally created scenes of more everyday events.

Whatever the reasons are, more research is clearly needed on the topic to uncover what the specific biases in authorship are. Furthermore, irrespective of the specific reasons, it remains that these maps continue to show significant unevenness in user-generated content around the world.

For further reading see:

Graham, M. 2010. Neogeography and the Palimpsests of Place. Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geografie 101(4): 422-436.

Zook, M. and M. Graham. 2007. The Creative Reconstruction of the Internet: Google and the privatization of cyberspace and DigiPlace. GeoForum 38(6): 1322-1343