March 19, 2010

How does the density of placemarks vary across space?

One of the most fundamental questions in our research is also one of the most basic. How does the density of placemarks vary over place? Back in June 2009, we took an initial look at information inequalities but had to rely on keyword searches for "0" and "1" (based on the assumption that there would be no particular spatial bias to these terms) as proxies for the total amount of content produced about a place. It worked fairly well but was less ideal than we hoped.

Recently it became possible to conduct wildcard searches (using the "*" operator) and this post revisits the same question, How does the density of cyberscape vary across locations? We conducted a wildcard search at approximately 260,000 points on the Earth's surface and collected the total number of placemarks indexed there. As always, a direct observation is preferable to a proxy measure so we're quite excited by these maps.

One sees that the United States contains the most placemarks (77 million) with almost twice as many as China which has 43 million. The only other countries that also have over ten million placemarks are the usual suspects when it comes to technology use: Germany, Japan, the UK, France and Italy. However, looking at the raw number of placemarks per country only tells part of the story. So, we decided to normalize these data by population and area. In doing so, some interesting patterns emerge.

Most countries in western Europe have extremely high levels of user-generated content per person despite having fewer placemarks than countries like China or the US. Denmark in particular stands out as having the world's highest ratio of placemarks per person. We're not sure why the Danes are so well represented in cyberscapes. Perhaps Danes have the perfect combination of high levels of disposable time and income to allow them to engage in the construction of user-generated content (the country has the world's highest level of income equality, a large welfare state and one of the highest levels of internet access). An alternate theory (which we're not putting a lot of store in) rests on the well established fact that all things internet-related can usually be explained by pornography. Denmark was the world's first country to legalize pornography and, as such, it stands to reason that they have a head start when it comes to producing content for the internet. We should point out that we haven't yet had a chance to explore the actual content that the Danes are producing.

Moving swiftly on, it is remarkable that China, despite being home to 1.3 billion people, continues to have a relatively high ranking when the data are normalized by population. The finding is a testament to the enormous amount of content being created about China. Interestingly in many of our maps so far, China has not shown up very strongly but this is likely connected to our focus on English search terms. For instance, we're currently searching using the Chinese characters for temple which is producing some interesting patterns that are also much denser than the searches on the English word temple.Finally, we decided to normalize the data by area. Here, very different patterns emerge. Small, densely populated countries like the Maldives and Singapore rise to the top of the list. Much of Europe as well as Japan and South Korea also stand out as having a large number of placemarks per square kilometre.

These maps show that there is no single way to represent the multiplicity of the world's cyberscapes. Depending on the particular way that these cyberscapes are measured and normalized, some quite different results can be found. And yet, irrespective of how the data are measured, a general 'digital divide' can be observed in these virtual representations of place. Western Europe, North America and parts of East Asia are represented by a significant amount of virtual content, while much of the rest of the world (in particular most of Africa and the Middle East) remains, both literally and figuratively, off the map.

1 comment:

  1. I think USA is the no.1 for finding out statistics and records. These are amazing.

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