February 26, 2010

Metro Cyberscapes from around the World

Today's posting is comparing the cyberscapes (geo-coded data in cyberspace) of a range of cities from around the world. While cyberscapes can come from a range of sources, these maps are limited to user generated placemarks in Google Maps.

The best way to understand these maps is that these are the locations which Internet users have decided to annotate with placemarks. Thus, places with a great deal of economic and cultural activity within metropolitan areas are the ones highlighted within these maps. For example, the financial district and Market Street corridor in San Francisco; Westminster and the City of London in London; and the historic downtown and University of Kentucky campus in Lexington. Be careful comparing one city to another as the symbols/legends are scaled differently for each city (see notes below).

(For some reason the blogger software insists on moving all the maps far below. Keep going and you'll see them).



Buenos Aires

Cape Town


Washington D.C.


Hong Kong



Lexington, KY


Los Angeles

Mexico City


New Orleans

New York


Rio de Janeiro

San Francisco


It is also useful to compare the maximum number of placemarks (limited to user generated placemarks containing the search term "1") found in any one location for each city. This provides a means by which the overall size of each metro's cyberscape can be compared. New York and London clearly are the best developed within this set of cities (and likely the world). Likewise one can see a sizeable difference between cities within developed and developing countries. Lexington, KY (a U.S. city of approximately 250,000 people) has a comparable number of placemarks as do the most important cities in South America, India and Africa.

Notes on the maps
  • These maps are based upon a 100 meter search grid of the city. The white box in each map indicates the area for which we have data.
  • The data measures the number of user generated placemarks containing the search term "1" (selected to limit the amount of language bias between cities) at the grid locations in each city. Google Map queries required a search term and "1" is the best proxy for general levels of placemark use.
  • Not surprisingly, there is a large amount of variation between cities with placemark use. The Pyongyang cyberscape has a maximum of 130 placemarks at any one location while New York has 100 times as many placemarks at its most dense location.
  • The size/color of the symbology is the same for each map but the scale can be quite different. For example, the largest symbol for Baghdad represents a range of 64 to 68 placemarks while the map of London does not even include locations that have fewer than 76 placemarks.
  • All data is from January 2009.

February 24, 2010

The many guns of urban America

God and guns keep us strong
That's what this country was founded on
Well we might as well give up and run
If we let them take our God and guns
-Lynyrd Skynyrd, "God and Guns"
As we have shown in earlier maps (here and here) guns have become a central fixture of the American landscape.

And often proponents of the Second Amendment are associated with a predominantly rural, religious and conservative population as exemplified by the above song lyric. Whether or not this is because rural Americans are 'bitter', the stereotype remains pervasive. However, when we map the number of user-generated Google Maps placemarks mentioning the word "gun", a much different pattern emerges.

Absolute Number of Guns in User-Generated Placemarks

Although the smaller dots peppered throughout the rural United States certainly show that guns maintain a presence in the rural landscape, the highest concentrations of guns in user-generated placemarks are undoubtedly found in the nation's urban centers.

Relative Specialization in Guns in User-Generated Placemarks

By focusing instead on those places with a higher-than-average number of placemarks with the word "gun", the concentration in urban areas becomes more obvious - rural areas are all but wiped off the map of indexed values. A plausible explanation would simply say that the prevalence of guns is more a function of population (more references to guns because there are more people) than of a stylized cultural trait.

Or could the differences in user-generated content been explained, at least in part, by a digital divide between urban and rural Americans? For example, rural Americans could simply be too busy actually using their guns to worry about adding user-generated placemarks to Google Maps? We should also note that the meaning of a reference to the word "gun" in a placemark is not straightforward. In other words, it could be a protest against guns or, alternatively, an affirmation of them.

Unfortunately, we end with an entirely new set of questions and are left clinging to conjecture, just as much of America remains clinging to their guns.

February 22, 2010


Much has been written about the living dead. We certainly know what they eat and the many ways in which they can be killed (or re-killed) is well documented. There are a number of theories about their origins (e.g. Dawn of the Dead tells us that "when there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth"). Yet one thing that we don't really know that much about is where they are. And when you think about it, that really is the most important question.

Documentary Photo from the Floating Sheep Archive

We've shown that mapping geo-content indexed by Google is a relatively accurate reflection of economic, social and political trends. But what about zombies? Can we map out zombie geographies using some of the techniques that we've developed?

We certainly can try, and the map below an initial attempt to geo-locate zombie demographics. As you can see, zombie references are littered throughout North America and Western Europe: a fact that can only lead us to speculate that zombies are clustered in those places. In Europe, Zombies references are curiously mostly found in the UK and Germany and are largely absent from much of the Mediterranean and almost all of Scandinavia.

Distribution of Zombie Placemarks Worldwide

An initial hypothesis was that zombies are cold blooded and therefore can't spend much time in the far northern reaches of the planet. However, according to the Zombie Research Society it is possible that zombies are able to produce a glycoprotein that can prevent their blood from freezing. In contrast World War Z clearly documents that zombies freeze if they go too far Noth.

So it is still very unclear why references to zombies (and thus the locations of the undead) are so clustered. One final theory could simply be that we are only capturing the very beginnings of a global epidemic and that the zombie infection will start to move across the globe in the same manner in which plague did in the 14th century.

There is one final important issue to bring up. If we examine the Google Trends data for the term "zombie" we see that in most of the countries in which there already seems to be a major zombie outbreak there is already a great deal of vigilance (i.e. people doing searches for zombie related topics).

Google Trends Data Indicating the Number of Zombie Related Searches

However, why are Thais, Swedes and Finns doing so many searches? We can only suspect that the outbreak has already spread to those places, but has not yet been picked up by Google Maps at this early stage. Equally worrying is the fact that Germany is absent from this list. Either most Germans are blissfully unaware of the zombie rampage sweeping through their country, or it is already too late and most Germans have already joined the legions of the undead.

Hmm...the latter hypothesis would explain A LOT about our last visit to Germany.

February 18, 2010

Mapping Escorts, or what's up with Plano, TX?

The role of sex in the American economy (let alone, culture) is complex and exceedingly contradictory. While sex is used extensively to sell to the consumer-citizens of the U.S. (see any TV ad) it is also the focus of efforts to control it (who is allowed to marry) and regulate its sale (the illegal status of prostitution in most of the U.S.).

This latter issue is particularly convoluted as leafing through the back of many a local newspaper or postings at Craigslist (or other websites) will aptly demonstrate. There is any number of "escort services" for sale, with the majority presumably being a thinly veiled offer to exchange sex for money.

The wide spread availability of these listings led to today's maps which visualize the distribution of directory listings for "escorts" within Google Maps. The map of the absolute numbers of escorts identifies major urban centers as key sites for this activity, with Denver, Dallas, New York and Miami representing particularly large clusters.

Absolute Number of Escorts Listed in the Google Maps Directory

It is only through the analysis of the relative number of escort listings (see the map below) that more surprising patterns emerge.

Relative Number of Escorts Listed in the Google Maps Directory

Most large urban centers are still present although some such as Detroit or Salt Lake City are very small. Additionally, smaller cities such as Tampa, FL, Knoxville, TN, Tulsa, OK and Lexington, KY appear to have a much higher number of escort listings than their mere size would suggest. As Lexington is the U.S. home for floatingsheep.org we are somewhat nonplussed at this result. Who knew? Particularly since "Sin City" aka Las Vegas is completely absent in this map. Not really the category that Lexington's city council has been trying to get the city highly ranked on.

But the clear front-runner in this category is Texas in general and Dallas in particular which appears as the most specialized metropolitan area in escort services in the U.S. The nearby city/suburb of Plano contains the highest rank which leads inexorably to our final observation (apologies in advance) that…

...Debbie does Dallas, but prefers Plano.

February 16, 2010

Crescent City Cyberscapes

In honor of today's raucous Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans, we present to you all a series of cyberscapes showing the concentration of numerous New Orleans eccentricities (some good, some bad). We'll mostly let the pretty pictures speak for themselves on this day of celebration, but notice the concentration of activity in these maps in both the French Quarter and the Lower Ninth Ward (see map of New Orleans neighborhoods below for reference).

All User-Generated Placemarks

Things get more interesting when you compare the distribution of placemarks for specific keywords. Unfortunately due to a technical glitch we do not have a map for the term Mardi Gras. But since a main element of the celebration in New Orleans is about processions, using the keyword "parade" provides a good sense of the distribution of activity on Mardi Gras with a large cluster in the French Quarter where the largest (and best known) parades occur.

But Mardi Gras is more than the French Quarter with neighborhood parades and celebrations being a key part of local identity. These events, known as "second lines", have a much different geography within New Orleans. Neighborhoods outside of the tourist district (such as Treme and Broadmoor) emerge as important (and non-tourist oriented) sites for Mardi Gras.

__Second Line_______Parade______

Other New Orleans cultural icons include mapping Beignets (clustered around the Cafe du Monde site) and Jazz. The map of jazz highlights both the French Quarter and the site of the annual jazz festival.


Some of most intriguing results are for the keywords "Hurricane" and "Katrina", each of which highlight parts of the city that were particularly hard hit in 2005. The Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood and the site of the levee break are particularly well documented.


Anyone interested in Hurricane Katrina and Google Maps should see:
Crutcher, M. and M. Zook (2009). Placemarks and Waterlines: Racialized Cyberscapes in Post Katrina Google Earth. GeoForum 40(4): 523-534.

Map of New Orleans Neighborhoods (to orientate yourself)

February 12, 2010

Groceries, groceries and yet more groceries

Since the comparison between grocery stores and bars helped identify the beer belly of America, we thought it would be worthwhile to check out the distribution of grocery stores in general.

Unfortunately we were wrong. It is really rather uninteresting.

Don't even look at this map showing the absolute number of mentions of grocery stores in the Google Maps directly. It simply shows that they are everywhere that people are. DON'T LOOK!

Absolute Number of Grocery Stores Listed in the Google Maps Directory

Even when we normalize the data to create a measure of grocery store specialization, we end up with a big YAWN. Urban areas have more grocery stores per capita than rural areas.

Relative Number of Grocery Stores Listed in the Google Maps Directory

No doubt tied to the higher division of labor (e.g., more specialty grocery stores) that large centers of population have as well as the fact that urban areas have higher land costs and fewer available large parcels that results in a built environment of more (albeit smaller) establishments.

Wow… it's rather sad that we spent as much energy as we did to create this. It's boring. Much like the act of shopping for groceries. But like grocery shopping, it needs to be done. But hopefully by someone else, next time.

Apologies all around. Next post we'll show more interesting like urban maps of user generated references to crime or distribution of escort services…stay tuned.

February 11, 2010

Guest Map: Facebook Connections

We just saw this map of facebook linkages in the U.S. by Pete Warden and thought it well worth sharing. Very interesting data and great analysis/visualization

We'll get to our own maps tomorrow.

February 10, 2010

Where Users Like to Vacation

Over the past few months, we've published a number of maps showing the automatically- and user-generated online representations of place, from the seedy to the holy to the hoppy. Perhaps you've found yourself thinking, "I'd sure like to go there!", wherever there may be. So where exactly is it that people want to go?

The following maps show the incongruities between these automatically- and user-generated representations of place when searching for "tourism" and "vacation" in Google Maps. The values in each of the four maps were normalized using the national average for each search term, with any points not 20% greater than the average (indexed value >1.2) being excluded. These maps thus specifically show the places in which there is a higher-than-average concentration of placemarks (either user-generated or directory) mentioning the words "tourism" or "vacation".

Tourism: Directory

Tourism: User-Generated

Perhaps the starkest contrast between these maps of tourism is the much smaller number of user-generated placemarks as compared to the automatically-generated directory placemarks, usually drawn from pre-existing sources like the Yellow Pages. In moving from directory to user-generated representations, almost all rural locations disappear from the map, although the vast areas west of the Mississippi River with no information at all show that even some urban areas don't possess larger-than-average amounts of tourism-related information.

Vacation: Directory

Vacation: User-Generated

Shifting our attention to searches for "vacation", it is interesting that in this case, user-generated representations still have considerable coverage across the United States. Moreover user generated references to vacation differ from the "official" map of vacation based on Google Maps directory listings.[1] That is, "vacation" shows up most often in New York City in the Google Maps directory but user-generated representations show that Orlando, Florida, the home of Disney World, is the place to go on your coveted break each year.

God help us all.

Take note as well, that coastal areas all across the United States are prominent in the peer produced constructions of vacation, from the coastal Carolinas and Georgia to the Gulf Coast, and even throughout California, Oregon and Washington. So perhaps there is hope of eluding our mouse overlords after all.

Most importantly, these maps call our attention to the significant variances in how place is perceived online, depending on what measures are being used to represent these constructions. Even if it's possible to dig a hole through the planet on Google Earth, the difference between, and within, places remains as important as ever.

[1] This is also one of the few cases in which the maximum value in a map deviates from one of the nation's largest urban areas.

February 08, 2010

The Great American "Pizza" Map

Having spent considerable time over the past months analyzing the distribution of a number of strangely juxtaposed social phenomenon (ranging from religion to bars), today's map should come as no surprise to anyone. After all, isn't the comparison between the number of user generated references to "pizza", "guns" or "strip club" an obvious one to make? Perhaps not, but we're doing it anyway.

To our knowledge this is the first time that this particular set of fractures within American society have been mapped. And it is likely to be the last time as well, so don't blink.

The Great American "Pizza" Map

The map reveals that America seems to be largely pro-pizza with the red dots of pizza spreading across the landscape (the Midwest and Northeast seem particularly well endowed) like a rich and robust tomato sauce. Perhaps there is something after all that everyone can agree upon. (Although the unity behind pizza would likely break down over a fight between "New York" and "Chicago" styles.)

Moreover, there are a number of clusters -- represented by green dots – with more references to guns than pizza. We're not quite sure what life there is like (as we live in a particularly large swath of sauce) but it does give one pause for thought. Are these patches of green olives? Peppers? JalapeƱos? Pesto? In any cases, these clusters are predominately rural areas – where apparently there are more guns than pizza.

Lastly one sees a few scattered locations where strip clubs are more popular (we're looking at you Las Vegas) than either guns or pizza. Much like the token scattering of pineapple that one is forced to endure on pizza (there's always one person who suggests it!), strip clubs represents a decidedly marginal activity in the aggregation of human experience illustrated in this map.

In any case, this post has made us hungry so we're off to grab a slice.

February 03, 2010

Informal versus OFFICIAL Fun & Vacation

In some of our previous explorations of user-generated representations of place, we looked at the "funnest" places in North America. Although Toronto was by far the "funnest", when normalized by population, Cape Cod Bay looked like the best place to go for a good time (because, you know, nobody actually lives in the bay). In order to get a better grasp on where the fun is and from whence it comes, we compared our previous data on user-generated Google Maps placemarks mentioning the word "fun" with listings in the Google Maps directory that mentioned "fun". In short, how do informal notions of fun (user-generated) compare to OFFICIAL fun (directory listings).

Locations of Informal (user-generated) and Official (directory listing) Fun

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Toronto again appears prominent because of the prevalence of informal, as opposed to official, "fun". Toronto is largely an anomaly among urban areas in North America as most cities are decidedly tilted towards fun of the official type variety. Clearly we need to do some fieldwork in Toronto!

Likewise a considerable area in the rural western U.S. also displays a favoritism towards user-generated/informal fun. Upon further examination, many of the areas displayed in orange above correlate to the locations of US National Parks and National Forests. Because there would be few, if any, directory listings in these protected areas (as opposed to urban areas, which would have a much larger directory), user-generated placemarks are more prevalent than those generated automatically using sources like the Yellow Pages.

Also of interest is the high correlation in the differences between user-generated and directory content for "fun" and the differences between user-generated and directory content for "vacation" (see below). Here again wide swaths of the western US have more user-generated vacation reference than directory content, despite the general trend across the U.S. and Canada being the opposite. One site that shows up prominently as a cluster for user generated fun and vacation is Wall, South Dakota, home to the famous Wall Drug. Many a weary traveler driving across the country on I-90 have sought a few hours of refugee/distraction here. And apparently many have chosen to document it as well.

Locations of Informal (user-generated) and Official (directory listing) Vacation

So even if only in the relative prevalence of user-generated representations of places that are both fun and good for vacationing (don't they go so well together?), rural areas have found their place in the American cyberscape.

February 01, 2010

The Beer Belly of America

At FloatingSheep, we're willing to search for and analyze almost anything that falls within the realm of human experience. Sometimes this is mundane (pizza) and sometimes it is contentious (abortion) but most of the time it falls somewhere in between. Such as, where can I get a drink?

Total Number of Bars

We were quite surprised, however, when we did a simple comparison between grocery stores and bars to discover a remarkable geographically phenomenon. We had expected that grocery stores would outnumber bars and for most parts of North America that is the case. But we could also clearly see the "beer belly of America" peeking out through the "t-shirt of data".

Starting in Illinois, the beer belly expands up into Wisconsin and first spreads westward through Iowa/Minnesota and then engulfs Nebraska, and the Dakotas before petering out (like a pair of love handles) in Wyoming and Montana.

The clustering was so apparent that we wanted to check how it compared to the "official" data on this activity. So we gathered 2007 Census Country Business Pattern on the number of establishments listed in NACIS code 722410 (Drinking places (alcoholic beverages)) and divided by Census estimates for state population totals for 2009 and found remarkable correspondence with our data.

On average there are 1.52 bars for every 10,000 people in the U.S. but the states that make up the beer belly of America are highly skewed from this average.

RankStateBars per 10,000 Population
1North Dakota6.54
4South Dakota4.73

Another slice of the Google data which shows the relative number of bars in a location further confirms this concentration. So looks like Wisconsin is your best bet.

Specialization in Bars