March 31, 2010

Political Cyberscapes I: Democracies and Dictators

Over the last few weeks, we've posted a series of maps that illustrate the representation of religious groups online via the number of references in Google placemarks. In an attempt to achieve the hat trick of talking about things best avoided at the dinner table, we've turned our (short term) attention to mapping a series of references to a range of political terms. (See here and here for some of the analysis on religion and sex).

The first in a two-part series, these maps show references to the terms "democracy" and "dictatorship" in Google Maps placemarks. In a likely vain attempt to forestall complaints, we would like to note that we fully understand that the reality of governance is never so clear as an either/or choice between democratic or dictatorial rule. In fact, as the findings of these maps show, the complexities of state politics are never as clear as they may seem, especially in this context.

Each of the maps below show the number of placemarks mentioning the keywords "democracy" or "dictatorship", aggregated at the country level across the world. These amounts were then normalized by the total number of placemarks per country, and classified based on the geometrical interval method, which is appropriate given the lack of a normal distribution in these datasets.

References to "Democracy"

The United States and United Kingdom have the highest relative levels of references in placemarks to "democracy". More interesting, however, is that both Iran and Iraq have relatively high numbers of references to "democracy" as well. While both nations maintain elements of democracy (e.g., elections), they are not widely considered to be fully democratic states. Meanwhile other countries such as India with long established democracies have relatively fewer references.

In the case of Iraq, the prevalence of democracy in placemarks is likely associated with the attempts to establish a functioning democratic government as part of the ongoing occupation. Similarly in the case of Iran, the placemarks mentioning democracy are almost certainly related to the mass protests against the Iranian regime following last summer's contested elections. These protests were accompanied by a mass online demonstration using a variety of social media applications and this activity appears to be reflected within Google Maps.

This same anomaly can also be found in the countries with highest concentrations of references to "dictatorship" in the map below, in which many non-authoritarian countries are relatively prominent, while some authoritarian states are not. For example, the U.S. shows up as having a high number of placemarks referencing dictatorship. Again, our method captures interest in a particular keyword within places' cyberscapes and imperfectly reflects offline activities. In this particular instance, the U.S.'s high showing is likely tied to the fact that the U.S. has many placemarks and that the search term was in English.

References to "Dictatorship"

Nevertheless, many current dictatorships - Myanmar (Burma) in southeast Asia, Eritrea in east Africa and Cuba - display some of the highest relative concentrations of the keyword dictatorship. Other countries whose history included authoritarian leaders -- Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Nicaragua -- remain prominent in terms of their online representations. In fact, in contrast to georeferenced mentions of democracy (which seem more oriented towards the potential for democracy in the future) references to the keyword "dictatorship" appear to have more of a historical element to them.

So while there remain some distortions in how the political systems of the world are represented in Google Maps, these maps reinforce our findings that the online representations of place are strongly tied to the physical world. Moreover, in the case of these political cyberscapes, they introduce a new level of temporality - the historical and futuristic references that have previously been absent (or, at the very least, less noticeable) - to our analysis of these online constructions of offline space.

And one of the most fundamental question -- Who gets to make these political definitions? – remains.

March 28, 2010

The Beer Belly of America in 3D

After Avatar and Alice in Wonderland, we've noticed a 3D craze happening that we feel a bit left out of. So we decided to turn one of our most popular maps (the beer-belly of America) into a 3D visualisation. No 3D glasses necessary. Although sea-sickness pills may be recommended for those who might feel slightly unsettled watching a spikey map of the U.S. lurch across the screen.

Of course, since our budget is slight smaller than Hollywood's, you may find it harder to lose yourself in the magic of animation. Also, for some reason the happy beer belly has been transformed into a spikey midwestern landscape of doom. And the blue grocery store map reminds us too much of what we saw last time we looked under a table at the cafeteria.

But besides that, it is just like Avatar.

March 26, 2010

Multi-lingual cyberscapes: the case of Bangkok, Thailand

For the most part, our maps have been based on the results of keywords in English which has complicated our analysis at the global level (see here and here). Although many English words are used in other languages, it remains an issue. As a result, we have recently begun mapping and comparing the results of searches based in a variety of other languages including those written using characters other than the Latin alphabet.

This post outlines four terms we searched for in Bangkok in both English and Thai.

The first map is similar to other city-scale maps we've published in the past. However, this time we specifically decided to search for references to beer. This map shows results of searches for placemarks containing the word "beer" overlaid on satellite imagery of Bangkok (courtesy of Google Earth). The color and size of each circle indicates the number of results at every given point. Big red circles have the most references and small purple circles have few. Locations without any circles have no references.

A few parts of the city stand out with an abundance of references to beer: the backpacker ghetto of Khao San Rd at the northwestern corner of the map, Patpong in the middle of the map, and the infamous Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy at the far eastern edge of the map. A cluster of references to beer can also be seen slightly to the north of the main Hua Lamphong train station (the area of white blobs on the map), although we're not really sure why.

"Beer" in English
Interestingly when the same search is conducted using Thai charcters instead of English (เบียร์), a relatively similar pattern is evident. The same areas stand out on the map, although this time Patpong is far more visible. Also evident is the fact that references to beer have a far more dispersed geography in Thai than they do in English. This is likely due to the fact that English speakers are far more likely to reference the few tourist hot-spots in the city, while Thai speakers are more likely to be familiar with a much broader range of places . In any case, we are gratified to see that beer seems to international.

"Beer" in Thai (เบียร์)

This difference in the parts of the city understood and mapped by tourists versus locals can also be observed when a search for "silk" is conducted. Silk is one of famous exports of Thailand and this is reflected in Bangkok's cyberscape. When looking at references to silk in English, we see a map not too dissimilar from the map of beer. Khao San Rd. and Patpong stand out again (likely because silk is often sold in the night markets in both places). The map also picks up references to silk stretching from Patpong down Silom Rd. to the Chao Phraya river and stretching from Nana down Sukhumvit road in both directions (both roads are lined with silk shops that are oriented towards tourists).

"Silk" in English
When the Thai word for silk is used (แพร), a very different pattern can be seen. References to silk are scattered throughout the city without the clear clustering seen in the English (and presumably tourist oriented) cyberscapes of silk. Very different geographies and understandings of place are therefore being constructed between English and Thai representations of the city.

"Silk" in Thai (แพร)

These differences between English and Thai cyberspaces are observable in a whole range of terms. Mapping references to "temple" in English, unsurprisingly highlights the Grand Palace Complex and the many temples in the Phra Nakhon District of the city.

"Temple" in English
A search for the Thai word for temple (วัด) highlights entirely different parts of the city. Instead of the Grand Palace area, we see a focus on the Temple of Dawn and the many other temples on the eastern bank of the river. There are also clusters of placemarks around the Golden Mount, Chinatown and the temples in Sathon (e.g. Wat Yan Nawa). Again these are locations in the city that are more likely to be known and frequented by Thais than foreigners.

"Temple" in Thai (วัด)
Finally, we wanted to look at the geographies of an industry that is far more visible in Bangkok than in most parts of the world: the sex industry. We started with a search for the term "brothel" in English. We see a few dominant clusters showing up on the map: most notably the famous red-light districts of Nana and Patpong.

"Brothel" in English
But when searching for brothel in Thai (ซ่อง), a radically different geography can be seen. The Chong Nonsi area especially stands out (a part of the city not particuarly famous as a red-light district).

"Brothel" in Thai (ซ่อง)
We recognize that ensuring that our terms are equivalent in both languages is problematic and would welcome thoughts on ways to improve our searches. For example, would English speakers use the term brothel or sex club? Or something else?

Nevertheless what this shows, is that very different representations of a city are being produced and reproduced for different people. Our understandings of the cities we move through are heavily influenced by representations of place and we therefore need to find useful ways to map and understand the fluid and sometimes fleeting representations that exist on the internet.

March 24, 2010

Finding Religion

We've received many comments in response to our latest series of maps of online representations of religion. Some were full of praise while others, well, weren't.

The critiques focused mainly on the fact that the maps didn't include the full diversity of religious beliefs in the world, or that the dominant belief systems of an area didn't necessarily appear in a place's cyberscape. A lot of this can be tied to our decisions about what to map and how to display it. Any map represents a whole range of decisions about what to include and how to display it and obviously some of our decisions rankled the sensibilities of some folks. The Anglicans of the United Kingdom seemed particularly incensed about being classified as Catholic. Jeez, it is almost as if there were decades of dynastical conflict and civil war about the issue of religion in England.

So, in response to the concerns raised by our readers we're featuring a series of maps of different religious terms. All of the maps below plot only the raw number of mentions of a particular keyword in the Google Maps database. Because these maps are not adjusted based on population or the relative specialization of placemarks with the given keyword, densely populated areas and those with higher levels of internet access are more prominently shown. Also, the sizing of the circles are unique to each map and therefore one CANNOT make direct comparisons between maps.

Despite these shortcomings, the maps are more or less indicative of the places where our readers expected to find high concentrations of Anglicans (particularly the U.K.) and Lutherans (northern Europe and the Nordic countries).

Map of Anglican
Map of Lutheran

Although it would appear that parts of the US, Canada and Australia rival the UK in the number of Anglicans, this isn't necessarily the case. Indeed, terms such as the "Church of England," "Church or Scotland" or "Church of Ireland" are used equivalently to "Anglican" in the U.K. but were not one of the keywords in our study.

For sake of comparison, we've also include a map of references to "catholic" in Google Maps placemarks. Remember, one CANNOT directly compare the size of the circles between maps. The sizing is unique for each.

Map of Catholic

The inability of capturing the variety of language used to described a single phenomenon remains a methodological issue for us, but it is one that we are continuing to address. Regardless, our concern is not with purporting to show the actual number of people subscribing to a particular religious doctrine in a particular place, but rather only how religions are represented in the cyberscapes of places.

For example, the terms Atheist and Agnostic are largely located within the U.S. (Southern California and the Northeast) and Europe. Few other parts of the world show the presence of these keywords.

Map of Atheist and Agnostic
References to Scientology, the domain of Hollywood actors like Tom Cruise and John Travolta, are similarly concentrated in the places one would expect of them. Although Scientology's status as a religion can surely be debated (and continues to be in many countries, which could help explain the cluster in Germany), one sees large pockets in Los Angeles, where the Church of Scientology is now headquartered, New Jersey, where it was founded, and Clearwater, Florida, where it maintains a large complex.

Map of Scientology

Even Google Maps references to Zoroastrianism, purported to be the oldest known religion but now claiming relatively few adherents, are located in the parts of Iran, the United States, Pakistan and India that continue to have clusters of Zoroastrian believers.

Map of Zoroastrianism
So even the descendants of a religion founded in the 5th century B.C. are on Google Maps. Who knew?

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.

T-shirts, Ties and Beer Steins!

It has been a busy week including some great coverage in the New York Times, the Atlantic Magazine, Chicago Sun Times and of course Strange Maps.

We've also gone over the 1000 mark in terms of followers in blogger. We also have a couple of hundred folks getting our tweets. And a few dozen following us via zuurki* feeds.

And we're quite appreciative of all the interest people have shown. Thank you.

To celebrate we've put together a collection of unlikely Floating Sheep consumer products. We may not have a name for our mascot** but we do have t-shirts. And a tie. And a beer stein with the Beer Belly map on it. Stuff which we have trouble imagining that anyone would actually want but through the magic*** of the Internet we are able to offer it to you via the

The FloatingSheep Cornucopia of Consumer Consumption

* A name and technology which we just made up. Not sure what it is or why people would want to use it but it probably involves laser beams. And sharks.

** So far were working with Lambert, Mutton, Plat, Geoid or Datum. More suggestions are welcome.

*** That is, the socially constructed and complex networks of technology, economy, culture, and practice that make up the Internet.

March 17, 2010

Mapping Christianity

Last week's New Technologies and Interdisciplinary Research on Religion was a fascinating collection of work in this area. Historians, data visualizationists, linguists, sociologists, economists, etc. presented on a wide range of topics which really worked well together. You can find our presentation here.

So after the last week of alcohol and drug related postings I guess you can say that we've found religion! Hallelujah! And returning to our earlier analysis of the cyberscapes of religion, the following three maps take a more fine grained look at representations of Christianity on the internet.

The first map displays references to four types of Christianity (Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostal and Protestant) at a global scale. Vivid patterns are visible on this map. References to "Catholic" dominate in many places. Of course, those who are making placemarks may be more likely to refer to a specific Protestant denomination (e.g., Methodist, Baptist, etc.) which would serve to overstate the level of Catholicism.

However, there are clear clusters of the three other types of Christianity. Most interesting is the fact that references to "Pentecostal" are more visible than references to "Catholic" in most parts of Brazil (and large parts of South America) despite the fact that almost three-quarters of Brazilians identify as being Catholics. Part of the issue is likely down to the fact that we thus far have confined our searches to English-language terms and are therefore missing out on all the references to Catholicism in Spanish. However, it is intriguing that Pentecostalism is so visible in Brazil (perhaps because it is rapidly growing in popularity in the region).

Taking a closer look at Europe, there is a fascinating split between Orthodox Eastern Europe, Protestant Germany, and Catholic everywhere else. In places such as the UK that contain more Protestants than Catholics it is likely that people aren't using the actual term "Protestant" as a signifier of their religion.

Too combat this issue of Protestantism being an overly general term that few people associated with, we also looked at a broader range of terms related to Christian denominations in the US and discovered patterns that are incredibly clear. Catholics are most visible in much of the Northeast and Canada, with Lutherans taking the Midwest, Baptists the Southeast, and Mormons unsurprisingly taking much of the mountain states. Methodists, interestingly, seem to primarily be most visible in a thin red line between the Southern Baptists and everyone else. The obvious (and farcical question) is against whom are they forming a defensive barrier?

Our readers might also be interested in the fact that there are parts of the country in which the Amish are most visible in religious cyberspaces: a somewhat surprising finding given the fact that they are not supposed to be using contemporary technology - let alone be annotating Google placemarks.

March 15, 2010

Drunken Maps or Why the Netherlands is the World's Designated Driver

Given the results of our map of Alcohol, Caffeine and Tobacco (particularly Rachel Maddow's pithy "we're a nation of drunks!" comment) we thought it prudent to take a more ahem, sober look at the issue. So today's map is a comparison between the number of user generated placemarks referencing the terms "drunk" and "sober".

Of course the term for drunk varies with language and complicated by the fact that many terms are slangish, "Ich bin blau" (literally I am blue) in German. We don't really understand why blue=drunk either. Then again, why does blue=sad in English? In any case a closer look is clearly warranted.

The global maps seem at first glance to indicate that people are much more interested in documenting drunkenness than sobriety. Must be a lot of college students out there. But there are a number of intriguing patterns. Most interesting is that the European continent contains many more references to sober than drunk when compared to the U.S. which seems awash in a green sea of drunkenness. This is particularly interesting given that alcohol consumption is much more strictly regulated in the U.S. via high drinking ages and various blue laws (again with the blue references) restricting its sale.

World Map of Drunk and Sober

Zooming into the European level, one can see a fair amount of regional variation. The United Kingdom in particular contrasts fairly strongly with the rest of Western Europe. Western Europe itself has a fairly variegated pattern with certain areas such as the Netherlands and Belgium being particularly sober places. On the other hand, the U.K. is blanketed in references to drunk with nary a mention of sober. Given the make-up of the Anglo-American research team of Floatingsheep, this does not come as much of a surprise. But perhaps some further ethnographic participant observation in a range of pubs is warranted. Equally interesting is the steady increase in references to "drunk" (versus sober) as one moves eastward across Europe.

European Map of Drunk and Sober
But it is at the U.S. level that things are particularly compelling. As noted earlier, there are many more references to drunk than sober with a few intriguing exceptions. Most notable is a band of sobriety in Central Iowa (which incidentally seems to correspond to a lower number of bars). While Iowan farmers have always struck us as a particularly sober bunch, some of the other clusters such Southern California, Virginia Beach and Tampa-St Petersburg are a bit more surprising.

North American Map of Drunk and Sober
Given this variation we thought it worthwhile to compare the number of "sober" user generated placemarks to an independent measure of drunk related behavior. A quick search provided us with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data on traffic fatalities related to drunk driving. Aggregating our point data up to the state level and normalizing each variable by population shows a statistically significant and negative relationship. See the graph below.

Sober References vs. Drunk Driving Fatalities, State Level

In short, the number of user generated placemarks referencing the word "sober" is negatively related to the number of traffic fatalities resulting from drunk drivers. Although there isn't a direct causal relationship between the two (after all, how would the creation of a placemark affect individual decisions about driving?), the existence of a correlation at all is a compelling example of how online and offline human activity can mirror each other.

For those who are interested, there is no correlation between our measure of bars per capita and drunk driving related fatalities. Nor does the number of bars seem to correlate to references to drunk or sober.

And because we know a lot of folk from Wisconsin (ground zero for bars in the U.S.) are likely to read this, Wisconsin ranks right in the middle of states in terms of references to sober or drunk within user generated placemarks as well as drunk driven related fatalities.

So, Rachel, we're not able to reject your characterization of the U.S. as a nation of drunks (at least with this data) but an international comparison to the U.K. does suggest we're a bit more sober than some others. It also suggests that the Netherlands might be the best candidate for the world's designated if we can just get the keys out of the hands of the usual suspects.

March 12, 2010

Google Ganja or Mapping Marijuana

We're sure that many were disappointed that the comparison between tobacco, alcohol and caffeine did not also include other possible vices. So these folks should be happy with the next series of posts when we begin to get into some of the geography of drugs.

We're going to start with a gateway posting to this topic with a quick comparison between user generated placemark references to tobacco and marijuana. Starting with North America one see that while the majority of locations have more references to tobacco there are plenty of places with more references to marijuana. California stands out as do Washington, Oregon, Florida and Ontario.
U.S. Map of Marijuana and Tobacco
Given the illegal nature of marijuana production in most of the U.S., production statistics are less reliable than those coming from the census. Still according to an article published in the Bulletin of Cannabis Reform (we have to admit this is the first time we've cited this particular journal), the top marijuana growing states are California, Tennessee, Kentucky, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon and Florida. This corresponds well with our findings.

Moving up to the global level, tobacco again reigns supreme. There are pockets of marijuana production with Mexico (an important supplier to the U.S.) some interesting clusters in the Himalaya region of Northern India and Nepal as well as Morocco which supplies into Europe.

Global Map of Marijuana and Tobacco
The lack of any marijuana-preferring cluster around Amsterdam is a bit perplexing, to say the least, given its reputation as a site of pilgrimage for the weed obsessed.

Similarly, given that Kentucky is reported to be a major center of marijuana production in the U.S. (and the North American home of, we were surprised to see that it did not show up very strongly in this map of the largest clusters of references to marijuana in user generated placemarks.
Perhaps marijuana growers are NOT documenting their production sites in Google Maps? Come to think of it, this makes quite a bit of sense...

March 11, 2010

Floatingsheep Talk at Harvard (Cambridge, MA)

This Friday (March 12th, around 9:30 or 10 am), I'll be giving a talk as part of the New Technologies and Interdisciplinary Research on Religion Conference at Harvard University (Tsai Auditorium, CGIS South, 1730 Cambridge Street).

The conference is free and open to the public and has panel sessions all day Friday and Saturday morning. More information is available here.

My talk is Mapping Religious Cyberscapes: Google and User Generated Religion and will feature a lot of new maps and analysis (now with r-squared's and t-scores!) including connections between the troika of Floatingsheep favorites -- religion, bars and strip clubs.

The powerpoint of the talk is available here

(Sadly it will not include the
this Floating Sheep painting by Tyson Grumm sent in by Quentin Cregan of OII)

March 10, 2010

The Geography of Minor Vices

“I prefer an interesting vice to a virtue that bores” - Jean-Baptiste Poquelin aka Molière

Everyone has a vice and, seemingly, everyone enjoys hearing about the vices of others. So today's map focuses on a comparison of a trio of minor vices that are in common use around the world, alcohol, caffeine and tobacco. Granted references to these keywords that show up in user generated placemarks may have less to do with vice and more with production, but so be it.

At the global level it is clear that much of the world makes more references to alcohol than either of the other two. But there are some very interesting exceptions. The top ten global producers of tobacco are China, India, Brazil, USA, Turkey, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Italy, Greece, Malawi, Pakistan and Argentina, and each of these countries show a sizeable number of placemarks referencing tobacco.

This is particularly significant for countries such as China, Zimbabwe, Malawi, India and Argentina, which have a relatively small number of placemarks in general.

Sadly for caffeine lovers, it is largely overshadowed by each of the other vices. Perhaps we should try searching for high fructose corn syrup the next time?

Global Map of Alcohol, Caffeine and Tobacco

Zooming into the North American region one see that alcohol is also extremely popular (it would be interesting to see if there is any correlation to guns and/or churches). At the same time, however, the main centers for burley and flue cured tobacco production (Kentucky and North Carolina) contain more references to tobacco. Only in a few locations such as Seattle (home of Starbucks) does one see caffeine raising its jittery head above the heaps of tobacco and waves of alcohol sloshing across the nation.

North American Map of Alcohol, Caffeine and Tobacco
The European map shows a more complex pattern that is surprising strongly tied to national borders. The U.K. retains is exceptional status vis-à-vis continental Europe with a very mixed pattern and the tobacco producing countries of Italy, Greece and Turkey are well marked with tobacco. The one notable exception to this pattern is the coastal resort regions of Turkey where there are more references to alcohol, perhaps tied to tourism activities.

But the corridor from Spain to Germany reveals a very intriguing replication of national differences within these cyberscapes. France and Germany have almost uniformly more references to tobacco than anything else, while Spain and the Benelux countries have more references to alcohol.

European Map of Alcohol, Caffeine and Tobacco
As much as we'd enjoy calling the inhabitants of the Low Countries a bunch of heavy drinkers (hi to our friends in Ghent!) the difference is most likely due to language differences. Alcohol is alcohol in Dutch but alkohol in German and alcool in French. As a result we got more hits on our search term "alcohol" in the Netherlands and Flanders. Equally intriguing is the cluster within France in the Poitou-Charentes region where there are more references to alcohol as well. Perhaps this is due to a local linguistic practice? We don't know but would be curious to find out. Obviously requiring a bit of fieldwork!

In any case, this map with its clear demarcation of many national borders reinforces yet again that the social and cultural practices of the Internet are still very much tied to places.

March 09, 2010

Visualization of an Urban Cyberscape

We recently created this visualization of an urban cyberscape. In other words, the online extension of the socially constructed human landscape in which the lines between material place and digital representations of place blur.

It is this hyrbid space that is focused on mapping and analyzing.

More info at the FAQ

NOTE: The original title of this post should have read cyberscape, not cyberspace. These are the problems associated with making up words...

Guest Map: The Burger Force

The cyber-badger recently sent us this fascinating map of the "burger force" of fast-food restaurants in the US made by Stephen Von Worley.

Worley describes "burger force" as:

...a field of energy that radiates from every freshly-cooked patty, earth-penetrating and inverse-squared with distance, compelling the hungry carnivore to seek out and devour the well-done ground beef at the source.

Unlike all of the maps featured on this blog, the "burger force" map is not based on user-created content. It is rather based on the actual locations of businesses. For those interested in the data behind the map check out AggData. It should therefore be interesting to see how similar a map user-created content referencing the same terms will be. Or in other words, is the burger force of McDonald's as strong in cyberscapes as it is throughout most of the US?

Good thing we are currently running searches on "colonel sanders" and "ronald mcdonald".

March 08, 2010

References to Slum, Ghetto and Poverty

Building upon our earlier maps of rich and poor, we were curious whether there was much difference between user generated references to slum, ghetto and poverty.

As the global map below indicates the differences seem to be primarily based on language with English speaking countries (U.S., Canada, the U.K. Australia and New Zealand) where references to poverty dominate.

Global Map of Slum, Ghetto, and Poverty
This difference becomes clearer as one zooms into the European regional level where references to ghetto appear to be most prevalent in non-English speaking zones. It is likely that this is tied to ghetto being a more internationalized term than poverty and thus shows up more outside the Anglophone world. But overall one can see that these particular search terms are not used ubiquitously across language groups, highlighting again the importance of using non-linguistic keywords for search, e.g., the number 1, or words that are generally unchanged across space. For example, maps of the names of well know international figures like "paris hilton" [1] or "osama bin laden" (this is probably the first time those two have been in the same sentence!).

European Map of Slum, Ghetto, and Poverty

Looking at North America therefore is helpful as it represents largely English speaking (apologies to Quebec and Mexico). While it is clear that there are more mentions of poverty than either slum or ghetto there are some intriguing patterns.

North American Map of Slum, Ghetto, and Poverty

For example, places where references to slum are the most prevalent are relatively rare but do seem to correspond with poor areas such as Watts in Los Angeles and some neighborhoods in Philadelphia and New York. The term ghetto also appears to be most frequent in urban settings (although not all) with the cities of Tampa, Gainesville, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Phoenix, Oakland and Sacramento representing clusters.

Since the term poverty greatly overshadows occurrences of slum or ghetto we also generated a map which just those terms. It is not clear why these differences are here but may simple point to regional linguist preferences with the U.S.

North American Map of Slum and Ghetto
Again, this mapping does not signifying a particular economic fortune in any one area but the prevalence of an array of terms associated with economically disadvantaged areas. Still it produces some intriguing patterns.

[1] Which of course bring up its own problems in the city of Paris and the Hilton Hotel. Maybe we should try Nicole Richie instead?

March 05, 2010

Cybergeographies of Peace and War

Which parts of the world are defined by peacefulness? And, maybe more importantly, which parts of the world are blanketed by references to war? To answer these questions we decided to do global-level keyword searches for the terms "war" and "peace."

The map below shows that these terms have very complicated yet compelling geographies. On the global scale there seems to be two stark war/peace divides. The first one appears to run roughly along the Prime Meridian, with most places in Europe to the east of the line having more references to war, and places to the west of it with more placemarks contain the word peace. In North America, we see a clear difference between Canada and its larger neighbour to the south. Very few parts of Canada are represented by more references to war than peace. The United States in contrast has a far more complicated geography of peace and war.

It is difficult to discern any coherent spatial patterns in the zoomed-in, North American map of war and peace. We do, however, see that Colorado and eastern Massachusetts are pretty peaceful places. (I'm sure we're going to get lots of comments on that one). Also, despite the abundance of references to war, almost everyone on the continent can escape close to somewhere else dominated by virtual references to peace.

We see quite different geographies of these terms in other parts of the world. Much of Asia is not characterised by references to either term. But, there are a few clear patterns. The Bangkok metropolitan region is covered by a cluster of references to war. The reasons are unclear as to why, but perhaps link back to our Thai findings in the analysis we conducted on the geographies of virtual references to zombies. OK, we're grasping at straws on this one.

Japan and Korea in contrast are defined by far more references to peace. However, note the line of war references along the South-North Korea border.

The European war/peace map is perhaps the most interesting in the set. The starkest difference is between mainland Europe (far more references to war) and Switzerland the British Isles (far more references to peace). This is something you would expect in Switzerland given its long history of neutrality, but why the British Isles home to Manchester City fans and other assorted football holligans?.

One explanation is that on much of the continent a lot of the references to war can probably be traced to frequent use of German in placemarks (the word "war" in German means "was" in English so is probably used quite often). For example, "Ich war ruhig, bis das Zombie nach Hause gekommen war und versuchte, mein Gehirn zu essen." or I was peaceful until the death-challenge individual came to my house for a snack.

Yet this fact only strengthen's Switzerland's highly peaceful cyberspaces. Despite the fact that German is a widely-used language in the country, there are still more virtual references to peace in most parts of Switzerland.

There are also some intriguing similiarities between more references to peace and the battlefields of WWI and II. Especially the differences between Northern France and Southern France.

In peace...

March 03, 2010

Floatingsheep's New Logo and Master Plan (?)

It is with great pride that we introduce our new mascot/logo for We're actively soliciting suggestions for its name (and for that matter its gender).

Why did we feel compelled to create a logo? We're glad you asked.

Being denizens of the 21st century, we realize that branding is key to the well-being of any organization. And even though floatingsheep hardly qualifies on that count, we have high hopes of someday becoming one of the most trusted names in obscure maps of Internet phenomenon. We're looking at YOU Atlas of Cyberspace! Our floating sheep will take on your cyberbadger anytime!

Plus we wanted to make some t-shirts.

Whatever the reason we are blog with a logo and a plan. Unfortunately the plan revolves largely about what we will have for lunch.

So we submit to you gentle readers, what should we do? T-shirts, coffee mugs, breakfast cereal....? We'll stop there as the possible branding opportunities are making us a bit dizzy. We don't really expect anyone to buy these things (besides us and maybe our moms) but like the idea of their existence, even if but in cyberspace.

Also, are there any student readers who are currently in a marketing/business class in need of a semester project? Art students looking to apply a floating sheep brand in interesting ways? Social theorists looking to critique the hell out of this dubious enterprise?

We offer unlimited opportunity but alas severely limited financial gains as in nothing (or perhaps a floating sheep t-shirt when they come into existence).

Sounds like a great deal? Yes? Yes?.....hello, anyone there?

Interested parties please email us at zook [at) uky dot edu

p.s. And also for no particular reason, we offer a video of political ad from California about the upcoming gubernatorial primary which features a Demon Sheep (go to about 2:20) that some of the Floating Sheep Collective think looks like our new mascot. Others, however, point out that linking our new brand with the spawn of Satan would likely NOT be seen as a positive connection. But what do we know?

March 01, 2010

Rich and Poor Placemarks

So what happens when you search for user generated placemarks containing the words rich and poor? We didn't know but now we do.

Overall the world of user generated data seems to be a fairly rich place. Which is not altogether surprising since the ability to even create a Google placemark (access and ability to use a computer) suggests a certain level of affluence in a world where half the population lives on less that $2.50 a day. That's one reason why much of the globe doesn't have any placemarks at all.

Global Map of Rich and Poor

So it makes most sense to more closely examine East Asian countries of Japan, South Korea (note the clear difference with North Korea) and Taiwan are mostly spotted with "rich" placemarks. Likewise in China (which doesn't have many placemarks in general, a topic for another posting) "rich" is associated with the wealthy coastal regions such as the economic powerhouse of Shanghai, Fuzhou and Ghangzhou.

East Asian Map of Rich and Poor

Moving westward one sees that Europe is much more placemarked (is that even a word?) in general than Asia. But within this, there are interesting patterns as one moves south, east and north from the historic core of Europe. France, the Benelux countries, Germany and Italy systematically have more placemarks referencing rich than poor. But as one moves into the areas of Spain/Portugal and Greece/Turkey, the pattern becomes more varied. There are both fewer placemarks in general and those that do exist are more likely to have references to poor. Perhaps the most striking example is Britain with the core region around London tagged as rich and as one moves northward there is an increasing amount of placemarks referencing poor.

European Map of Rich and Poor

The pattern in the North American context is much less clear. One can see the Northeast (stretching from Massachusetts to DC) is primarily tagged as rich. This tendency toward rich is mostly maintained along the entire coastline. Moving inland, the patterns become much less clear, with the rest of the country seeming to be a nearly equal combination of rich and poor.

U.S. Map of Rich and Poor