Monday, April 14, 2014

My response to the geoweb and ‘big data’ alt.conference at #AAG2014

At the recent #AAG2014 alt.conference on the geoweb and ‘big data’, I was asked to serve as a panellist at the end of the day: summarising some of the day’s themes, and reflecting on how they speak to future directions in the discipline. The responses that I prepared are below. Forgive the scattered nature of the notes, as they were hastily put together. 

We were asked to engage with the lightning talks and the ways that they factor into the potential future directions of research. Let me go through a few themes that emerged.

First, I’m not sure we’re all talking about the same thing when we speak about 'big data' and the geoweb. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but I’d hope that future conversations could focus more on what exactly the ‘geoweb’ is? what exactly do we mean when we speak about it? Where are the boundaries between the web and the geoweb? (I’m not sure I clearly see them). Where are the boundaries between the geoweb and what we might think of as the underlying/offline/material geo that seems to underpin, augment, or inform it? I’m also not sure I clearly see those boundaries in part because of the ways that place is always transduced: constantly remade, and reenacted. So, whilst I don’t think we have to agree on any definitions, I do think that we should avoid taking for granted some of the assumptions wrapped into these very powerful terms.

Second, we hear a lot about the need for more mixed methods research. Yes. Absolutely. But I also think that we need to avoid creating caricatures to argue against. Is there anyone out there who is actually saying that big data can answer all facets of all societal questions? How then should we best channel our energies into creating, carrying out, and enacting those hybrid approaches then?Jin-Kyu and others offered us some helpful beginnings here.

Third, it’s nice to see the beginnings of some more cross-pollination between geography, computer science, information studies, internet studies, and other social sciences. There is definitely a lot that we can contribute as geographers, but we also need to make sure that we aren’t reinventing the wheel. So, for instance, we often talk about crowdsourcing or vgi, but there’s a lot of work being done in information studies, psychology, and internet studies trying to understand motivations for crowdsourcing. we could do more to allow that work to cross-over to geography and geoweb research. And then hopefully feed back into it.

Fourth, a lot of our conversations about big data often seem to forget the truly massive amount of paid human labour that goes into the filtering, sorting, cleaning, manipulating, and managing of it. We seem to talk about big data as something that pings around between sensors, datasets, machines, and algorithms. But one of the things that I’m working on is looking at those digital sweatshops, the micro workers, the click workers, the gold farmers - those labourers in the background that are keeping our networks chugging along. And I hope we’ll start to see more of this work - remembering that automation is often an illusion. What should we be asking about those millions of workers in the shadows; doing unorganised; low-paid; alienated work - and making many of our ‘big data’ ecosystems function.  

Fifth, building on Jeremy’s comments this morning, I wonder if we should be leading a charge to address - what I think is one of the most pressing issues of our time - concerns about privacy. I think that - as geographers - we’re maybe somewhat unwisely ceding this space to computer scientists - who do tend to be very informed on the topic - and politicians - who, well, don’t tend to be informed on the topic. What should we be doing and saying and researching as geographers, to draw on our expertise and the strengths of our discipline to make a difference - and I want to emphasise - make a difference - in this new world of always-on tracking and monitoring and the datafication of everything.

But how do we also make sure that privacy isn’t used as an excuse for the wholesale locking away of social data by large companies - meaning that we can’t use those data to address the social and human questions that really matter. So, where do we stand on the transparency/privacy spectrum? And, again, what should we be doing about it?

Sixth, a lot of people today spoke about focusing on what, who, and where is left out. I very much agree that this is a crucial first step. Castells puts it well, when he says that "the costs of exclusion from networks increases faster than the benefits of inclusion in the network.” And this is an area of work that we tend to do very well as geographers (this is a question that people in other disciplines often seem to miss), but it is precisely that - a first step. How can we move beyond it? What can or should we do about it? If we establish that the digital layers that augment place are inherently uneven, unrepresentative, and imbalanced, what can we do with that knowledge; what should we do with that knowledge?

We should also think about the flip side of this issue. Whilst there’s been a lot of focus on where there isn’t enough data; or where data might not be able to capture the complexities of any given situation. What about contexts where we have too much data? Some of the talks guided us through methods for dealing with ‘big data'; but we probably need more of this. Should we be having more conversations about what to actually do with it? It would be nice to have conversations about cluster computing, graph databases, agent-based models and other methods for grappling with unmanageable volumes of data. Yes, we always need to remember what those data leave out; but unless we want to abandon the whole big data project we should also be - critically - trying to figure out what those datasets do tell us about society - and how they help us to answer the big questions that we need to ask.

Finally, let’s keep our eyes on the prize. Let make sure that we’re asking the questions that matter, and not being too driven by just what data are available. Let's make sure our research continues to focus on questions about things like inequality, power, voice, control, and human welfare.  And I say continue because I was very impressed by the topics that the presentations today were tackling.
We can make sure that we’re shaping not just the questions being asked, but also the data being collected. Some of this means doing things like always being explicit that there is never any such thing as ‘raw data’. Data are always socially, and humanly constructed. And recognising that, in many ways, we’re the privileged ones in this room. We have the knowledge, the skills, and desire to be the ones doing the constructing and doing the shaping of data.

A few weeks ago, Tony Benn - who was a British Labour party politician - passed away. He famously had a set of five questions that he said that we should always ask any powerful person: "What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?” Well I wonder if we shouldn’t adopt those questions to the data intermediaries, systems, platforms, and algorithms that we’re dealing with. "What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?”  It’s been nice to see a lot of the work on big data and the geoweb tackling these questions, and I hope we see more of it in years to come.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Who cares about the Geography of Information? (hint: not the Pope)


We made a quick map of the countries and territories that haven't visited our Information Geographies site.


In sum, we're really delighted that our analysis, stories, and maps have had such a truly global reach. And this is something that we hope to expand on as we turn some of the work at geography.oii.ox.ac.uk into a printed atlas. All we have to do now is figure out how to tune the Pope into some of our research.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Call for papers: The Data Revolution in International Development (Sri Lanka, May 2015)

Richard Heeks and I are organising a track at WG 9.4: Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries on the topic of "The Data Revolution in International Development." 

Chairs:
Richard Heeks (University of Manchester, UK)
Mark Graham (Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, UK)

Many have pointed to a “data revolution” occurring in business, science, and politics.  As ever-more and ever-faster information is available about trends, patterns and processes, then related decision/action systems will be significantly affected.  This track focuses on these changes in the context of international development, given the likelihood that the post-2015 development agenda will include a greatly increased role for data.  This was particularly identified in the 2013 High-Level Panel Report – “A New Global Partnership” – one of the foundations for post-2015 discussions.  The report explicitly calls for a data revolution in international development, and suggests data-related targets for inclusion within the new development goals.

In some ways, the High-Level Panel reflects a reality already underway, and this track invites papers on any aspect of the data revolution in international development, such as:
  • Technical research on new techniques specifically required for capture, input, storage and processing of developing country data.
  • Socio-technical research on the specific issues that arise in analysis and presentation/visualisation of developing country data.
  • Socio-organisational research on the developmental value of new data, and on the transformation of development processes and systems that new data can enable.
  • Critical research on the politics and discourses of the data revolution.
We identify four main strands within the data revolution, which papers might address:

Open development data: the greater availability of developing country datasets for general use.  By far the biggest growth area has been open government data which is particularly linked to improvements in transparency, accountability and service delivery.  But open data can apply equally to private sector firms, markets, NGOs, and other development actors and systems.

Big development data: the emergence of very large datasets relating to phenomena within developing countries.  One main source has been mobile phone call records but there are growing numbers of survey-based, transactional and other large datasets that can offer new insights
into development.

Real-time development data: the availability of developing country data in real time.  To date, lagged models have been dominant within developing country data and decision-making, with data becoming available months or years after the events that it describes.  The growing diffusion of ICTs within developing countries is reducing this lag significantly as crowdsensing – everything from humans reporting via their mobiles to field-based sensors – becomes a reality.  The use of (near) real-time data for development decisions could enable a move to agile methods in development.

Other data trends: open, big and real-time data are three main elements to the data revolution but there will be others that form part of the post-2015 agenda.  These include increases in geo-locatable data, mobile data, bottom-up data, and qualitative data.

Submissions Due: 3rd October 2014

For more information, please contact richard.heeks[at]manchester.ac.uk.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Collection of Maps of Submarine Fibre-optic Cables in Africa



I've been speaking with my Oxford-based college, Martina Kirchberger, about co-authoring some work on the effects of fibre-optic connectivity throughout Africa. As part of this discussion, Martina has very helpfully put together a list of maps of fibre-optic cables in Africa. Please let us know if we're missing anything interesting:

For submarine cables

For terrestrial fibre

Mapping the data shadows of Hurricane Sandy: Uncovering the sociospatial dimensions of ‘big data’ (new paper)


Together with my colleagues, Taylor Shelton, Ate Poorthuis, and Matt Zook, I've written a new paper about data shadows, and some important sociospatial dimensions of 'big data.'

Digital social data are now practically ubiquitous, with increasingly large and interconnected databases leading researchers, politicians, and the private sector to focus on how such ‘big data’ can allow potentially unprecedented insights into our world. This paper investigates Twitter activity in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in order to demonstrate the complex relationship between the material world and its digital representations. Through documenting the various spatial patterns of Sandy-related tweeting both within the New York metropolitan region and across the United States, we make a series of broader conceptual and methodological interventions into the nascent geographic literature on big data. Rather than focus on how these massive databases are causing necessary and irreversible shifts in the ways that knowledge is produced, we instead find it more productive to ask how small subsets of big data, especially georeferenced social media information scraped from the internet, can reveal the geographies of a range of social processes and practices. Utilizing both qualitative and quantitative methods, we can uncover broad spatial patterns within this data, as well as understand how this data reflects the lived experiences of the people creating it. We also seek to fill a conceptual lacuna in studies of user-generated geographic information, which have often avoided any explicit theorizing of sociospatial relations, by employing Jessop et al.’s TPSN framework. Through these interventions, we demonstrate that any analysis of user-generated geographic information must take into account the existence of more complex spatialities than the relatively simple spatial ontology implied by latitude and longitude coordinates.

Below you can find the full citation and a link to a publicly available (free) version:

Shelton, T., Poorthuis, A., Graham, M,. and Zook, M. 2014. Mapping the Data Shadows of Hurricana Sandy: Uncovering the Sociospatial Dimensions of 'Big Data'. Geoforum (52) 167-179.  (free pre-publication version available here).

We'd welcome any comments or questions about the paper.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Society and the Internet How Networks of Information and Communication are Changing Our Lives


The book that Bill Dutton and I have been working on for a few years is now approaching publication and has a space on the Oxford University Press website. The paperback, hardback, and ebook copies should be out in May, and I'll post more information about the book, and why we brought it together, closer to the release date.

Full table of contents below:

Society and the Internet How Networks of Information and Communication are Changing Our Lives

Manuel Castells: Foreword
Mark Graham and William H. Dutton: Introduction

Part I. Internet Studies Of Everyday Life
1: Aleks Krotoski: Inventing the Internet: Scapegoat, Sin Eater, and Trickster
2: Grant Blank And William Dutton: Next Generation Internet Users: A New Digital Divide
3: Bernie Hogan And Barry Wellman: The Conceptual Foundations of Social Network Sites and the Emergence of the Relational Self-Portrait
4: Victoria Nash: The Politics of Children s Internet Use
5: Lisa Nakamura: Gender and Race Online

Part II. Information And Culture On The Line
6: Mark Graham: Internet Geographies: Data Shadows and Digital Divisions of Labour
7: Gillian Bolsover, William H. Dutton, Ginette Law, And Soumitra Dutta: China and the US in the New Internet World: A Comparative Perspective
8: Nic Newman, William H. Dutton, And Grant Blank: Social Media and the News: Implications for the Press and Society
9: Sung Wook Ji And David Waterman: The Impact of the Internet on Media Industries: An Economic Perspective
10: Ralph Schroeder: Big Data: Towards a More Scientific Social Science and Humanities?

Part III. Networked Politics And Governments
11: Miriam Lips: Transforming Government by Default?
12: Stephen Coleman And Jay Blumler: The Wisdom of Which Crowd? On the Pathology of a Digital Democracy Initiative for a Listening Government
13: Sandra Gonzalez-Bailon: Online Social Networks and Bottom-up Politics
14: Helen Margetts, Scott A. Hale, Taha Yasseri: Big Data and Collective Action
15: Elizabeth Dubois And William H. Dutton: Empowering Citizens of the Internet Age: The Role of a Fifth Estate

Part IV: Networked Businesses, Industries AND Economies
16: Greg Taylor: Scarcity of Attention for a Medium of Abundance: An Economic Perspective
17: Richard Susskind: The Internet in the Law: Transforming Problem-Solving and Education
18: Laura Mann: The Digital Divide and Employment: The Case of the Sudanese Labour Market
19: Mark Graham: A Critical Perspective on the Potential of the Internet at the Margins of the Global Economy

Part V. Technological And Regulatory Histories And Futures
20: Eli M. Noam: Next-Generation Content for Next-Generation Networks
21: Christopher Millard: Data Privacy in the Clouds
22: Laura Denardis: The Social Media Challenge to Internet Governance
23: Yorick Wilks: Beyond the Internet and Web

Friday, January 31, 2014

Uneven Geographies of User-Generated Information: Patterns of Increasing Informational Poverty (new paper)


After years of work, the first peer-reviewed paper to emerge from our research on Wikipedia is now officially 'in press': 

Graham, M., Hogan, B., Straumann, R. K., and Medhat, A. 2014. Uneven Geographies of User-Generated Information: Patterns of Increasing Informational Poverty. Annals of the Association of American Geographers (forthcoming).

The paper has some very interesting and important findings, summarised in the abstract below:

Geographies of codified knowledge have always been characterized by stark core-periphery patterns: with some parts of the world at the center of global voice and representation, and many others invisible or unheard. However, many have pointed to the potential for radical change as digital divides are bridged and 2.5 billion people are now online.

With a focus on Wikipedia, which is one of the world’s most visible, most used, and most powerful repositories of user-generated content, we investigate whether we are now seeing fundamentally different patterns of knowledge production. Even though Wikipedia consists of a massive cloud of geographic information about millions of events and places around the globe put together by millions of hours of human labor, it remains that the encyclopedia is characterized by uneven and clustered geographies: there is simply not a lot of content about much of the world.   

The paper then moves to describe the factors that explain these patterns, showing that while just a few conditions can explain much of the variance in geographies of information some parts of the world remain well below their expected values. These findings indicate that better connectivity is only a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for the presence of volunteered geographic information about a place. We conclude by discussing the remaining social, economic, political, regulatory, and infrastructural barriers that continue to disadvantage many of the world’s informational peripheries. The paper ultimately shows that, despite many hopes that a democratization of connectivity will spur a concomitant democratization of information production, internet connectivity is not a panacea, and can only ever be one part of a broader strategy to deepen the informational layers of places.

This is the first of a handful of papers that are in the works, and I'll post any updates that we have. In the meantime, feel free to get in touch if you have any comments, critiques, or questions about this contribution.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Open Development: Networked Innovations in International Development


The book, Open Development: Networked Innovations in International Development, has just been released under an open CC-BY license. The book emerges from a stimulating conference organised by Matthew Smith and the IDRC in Ottawa a few years ago.

The volume also contains a chapter by Håvard Haarstad and myself:

Graham, M. and Haarstad, H. 2013. Open Development through Open Consumption: The Internet of Things, User-Generated Content and Economic Transparency. In Open Development: Networked Innovations in International Development. Eds. Smith, M. L., and Reilly, K, M. A. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 79-111
You can download the full book here.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

New paper: Geography and the future of big data, big data and the future of geography

Taylor Shelton and I recently convened an article forum on Geography and 'Big Data' in Dialogues in Human Geography.

Our lead article, "Geography and the future of big data, big data and the future of geography" (pre-pub version here) points to some of the potentials of 'big data' in geography and some of the potentials of geography in 'big data.' But it also argues that we need to remain cautions of the ways that 'big data' can obscure, rather than reveal, the complexity of social and spatial processes.

We were privileged with a group of very knowledgeable and critical scholars to develop this important and timely conversation. The rest of the special issue can be accessed here, or through the links below.

Rob Kitchin: Big data and human geography: Opportunities, challenges and risks 

Evelyn Ruppert: Rethinking empirical social sciences 

Michael Batty: Big data, smart cities and city planning 

Michael Goodchild: The quality of big (geo)data

Sean Gorman: The danger of a big data episteme and the need to evolve geographic information systems 

Sandra González-Bailón: Big data and the fabric of human geography 

Trevor Barnes: Big data, little history 


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

'Data Shadows and Urban Augmented Realities' session line-up at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers

We have twelve papers confirmed for our Data Shadows and Urban Augmented Realities session at the next Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers. Full details below:

Session Title: Data Shadows and Urban Augmented Realities

Session Organizers: 

Mark Graham 
University of Oxford
Oxford Internet Institute

Matthew Zook
University of Kentucky
Department of Geography

Session Abstract: 

Most parts of our urban areas have become both digitally connected and represented by digitized information. Digital layers of geographic information (commonly referred to as "augmented reality" by computer scientists) can take myriad forms. The most visible of which are probably the digital maps that many people use to navigate through cities. Google, Yahoo!, Wikipedia, Apple, OpenStreetMap, Baidu, and many other companies and organisations all host publicly accessible platforms that partially reflect parts of our world. These services also become the platform for an almost unimaginable amount of additional content that both reflects the materiality of cities and augments it with additional content. This additional volunteered (and emitted) geographic information is comprised of photographs, blogs, tweets, social media checkins, webcams, videos, and encyclopedia articles. These layers of digital representations are then further reproduced and repurposed in the ways that they annotate the urban environment

The ambition of this session is to interrogate the increasing prevalence of both geographically referenced digital information and the code through which it is regulated. By asking what these augmented realities are, where they are and where they are not, and how they are brought into being, we can both unpack the language we use to speak about digital augmentations and explore the ways in which digital extensions of place are becoming increasingly important in everyday, lived geographies.

This session seeks two kinds of papers. First it aims to provide space for papers that explore the ways in which we should imagine, describe, critique, and even name, the digital and informational augmentations of our lives. Second, the session seeks papers that critically examine information geographies and augmented realities in specific contexts. How do informational augmentations impact on how we bring our worlds into being? What and where do they exclude? What narratives and discourses do they allow, and what do they conceal? How are they governed, regulated, and challenged?

Session 1: Practicing Data Shadows

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Visual data shadows and the difference between seeing and photographing designed landscapes

University of Glasgow
School of Geographical and Earth Sciences
 
In this paper I explore the significance of gaps in the augmented 'reality' created by the proliferation of images online and in social media, and the extent to which visual data shadows may serve as a means of mapping or interrogating cultural values. I am particularly interested in images of designed landscape, which tend to depict urban environments in a manner that is apparently diverse but highly selective. My case is the newly renovated Grand Park in Los Angeles, where a major feature of the design and programming is the inclusion of gardens narrating a natural history of trees in LA. While these gardens present an opportunity to see the city differently—that is, as an urban forest populated by species other than palm trees, planted by a variety of cultural groups—they are relatively absent from photographs circulating via Flickr and Instagram. There are many ways of accounting for this invisibility—including the design of the landscape itself, which prioritizes views unobstructed by trees—but I focus on finding a means of making this gap in the site's visual augmentation appear, while also theorizing its significance. What is the relationship between the circulation of images and ways of perceiving the park, and what does that in turn suggest about how visual augmentation in general works? A lack of photographs suggests that people are not attending to a given feature, but we need to think in terms of production practices and the differing contexts of circulation in order to fully unpack the significance of that inattention.

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June 16th 1904 in Dublin: Augmented Realities and James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922)

University of Dublin Trinity College
Trinity Long Room Hub


The digital layers of augmented urban geographical information hosted in Google, Yahoo!, Wikipedia, Apple, OpenStreetMap, Baidu, are ubiquitously engaged to navigate the world’s cities and have diffused into the sphere of literature.  Michael Connolly and Lee Child both employ these platforms in their crime thrillers and in Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland (2008) Google Earth is used by its Dutch narrator as a navigation device to vicariously remedy home sickness while living in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. Indeed, the relations between accessible geographical information and the construction of fictional narratives is a long standing one. A century ago urban information was commonly compiled in city gazetteers supplemented by foldout maps.  One example is the 1904 edition of Thom’s Official Directory of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, employed by James Joyce while writing Ulysses (1922) to “remotely sense” from Trieste, Zurich and Paris the layout of Dublin’s streets, districts, pubs, churches, houses, and neighbourhoods, as he plotted the journeys of Leopold Bloom, Stephen Dadelus and other characters as they crossed the city on the 16th of June.  Frank Budgen recalled that “to see Joyce at work on the Wandering Rocks” section of the novel “was to see an engineer at work with compass and slide-rule, a surveyor with theodolite and measuring chain, or more Ulyssean perhaps, a ship’s officer taking the sun, reading the log and calculating current drift and leeway” (1972, p. 123). Joyce’s literary navigation of Dublin was also informed by the visual techniques of Cubism, Futurism, and Dadaism. Budgen points out that “the multiplicity of technical devices is proof that Joyce subscribed to no limiting aesthetic creed and proof also that he was willing to use any available instrument that might serve his purpose” (1972, p. 198). One can only imagine if Joyce had access to the augmented realities produced today by GIS / GPS / Google Earth / Open Source platforms to navigate and explore Dublin as he creatively repurposed the city’s digital data to plot Ulysses.  This paper has two aims. Firstly, it will try to counter-factually envision a scenario which finds Joyce Googling information, accessing Floating Sheep and playing with Thom’s map of Dublin in ArcGIS, as a means for us to interrogate the process of creating further fictions by gleaning information from the digital augmentation of Dublin’s urbanity. Secondly, it will juxtapose this counterfactual with a discussion of the Bloomsday app JoyceWays, and other digital platforms related to Joyce’s work, to explore within the specific context of these augmented realities which Joycean narratives and discourses they allow, which ones they conceal, and how their digital platforms frame the imagined geographical and aesthetic journeys through the periodicity and pages of Ulysses, as a reader simultaneously navigates the streets of contemporary Dublin.

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UPLOAD: Urban Politics of London Youngsters Analyzed Digitally

London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
Department of Media and Communications


The main aim of the proposed study is to investigate the lived experience of cultural difference among young Londoners (between 12-18 years) of different cultural backgrounds. Internet applications such as the video sharing platform YouTube, the social-networking site Facebook and micro-blog Twitter are taken as entry points to study the juxtaposition of differences in urban, digital representations. I will theorize and produce new empirical knowledge about how digital practices become loci of intercultural encounters. Taking a comparative approach, I focus on the networked belonging of youths from lower-class (often more multicultural) and upper-class (often more homogeneous) London boroughs on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. As digital practices have become a significant part of their life, it is urgent to achieve greater insights in whether their use of Internet applications corroborates pan-European sentiments of failed multiculturalism and ethnic segregation or whether their experiences rather showcase conviviality, cross-cultural exchange and cultural hybridization. Thus far, the ways in which diverse ethnic/gender/religious identities digitally encounter, negotiate and appropriate one another across online/offline spaces have remained understudied. Innovatively bringing new media, gender and postcolonial studies into dialogue; the layered dynamics and user-generated cultural heterogeneity across Internet applications is scrutinized. The proposed study combines large-scale digital methods to study geographically tagged user-generated content, qualitative in-depth interviews with 90 youths and virtual ethnography with 30 young informants.

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Blanked Out: Data-rich and Data-blank Spaces in London as a New Frontier of Gentrification


University of Oxford
Oxford Internet Institute


This paper investigates the sources of disparity in digital data collection on user-generated mapping platforms in the City of London. Reexamining the phenomenon of gentrification in a digital context, the study measures participation in the augmented urban environment by analysing  user-generated geographic information. Critical geography literature illustrates how inequalities become embedded in the architecture of cities. Yet, as urban environments are increasingly represented digitally, there is a growing need to account for the conditions that enable disparity in generating this urban-geographic data. Collecting metadata for businesses and points of interest, using Google Maps, Yelp and Foursquare, this paper correlates those distributions of geographic data with economic census indicators to produce overlays of digital presence and urban social processes. The reality represented by this location-enabled data is then compared with the experienced space through field surveys of three neighborhoods. This ground truthing process includes physical surveys of businesses and qualitative interviews with residents.


We propose a new analytic dimension to the urban phenomenon of gentrification—by presenting lack of inputs as blank spaces, user-generated mapping amplifies social divides in the augmented urban environment. We conclude that augmented realities are sensitive to a highly particular set of data-generators. The sensors measuring activities in these augmented realities are tuned to specific inputs, commonly aggregated by a particular socio-economic group. Through this process, those coded spaces generate a sub-group of urban residents digitally unaccounted for. In addition, this paper contributes to the research of digital spaces by devising a categorization of spatial data’s richness and blankness.

Session 2: Coding Data Shadows

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Augmented cities, socially mediated geo-platform and the geo/coding of places 
Sung-Yueh Perng, Tracey P. Lauriault and Rob Kitchin
National University of Ireland Maynooth
National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis


This paper seeks to understand augmented cities through the interplay of processes of abstraction and geo/coded specificities.Processes of abstraction in computing are part of architecture building and code writing. It is the practice of formalizing the relationship between various entities observed and the directing of how these behave once an algorithm is set in motion.  In this instance, once a social media geo-platform is in play, mobile users geo/code places within the location-based framework become determined by the program. For example, in Foursquare geo/coding occurs as individuals 'check-in' by locating themselves in the programmed version of the ‘city’,  and then geo/code it with updates, comments and multimedia. This is therefore the remediation geo-referenced information, that was exchanged by word of mouth and paper maps, to real-time positioning and mobile networking. Once these elements are programmed into the ‘city’, it becomes an engineered promise of enmeshed and diversely experienced 'locals'.  The knowledge of the city for better or for worse is augmented by this practice.

The assumptions built into geo-platforms, is that they can be represent anywhere and everywhere. This presumes that cities, the specific entities within them and the relations among these are interchangeable.  Concurrently, geo-platforms are continuously being updated, functionality is added and often external actors build new apps and create services to extend them.  This questions the initial assumption that one geo-platform fits all places and that places have no specificities.  Meantime, there is the belief that a city’s specificities can be encapsulated in a tweak and/or a hack.  The recognition of this tension around processes of abstraction and specificities, within and outside location-based frameworks and the geo/coding of places these allow, highlights the misplaced promise and the hope for the seamless alignment between programmed dreams, living in a and the augmented city. 

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The semantic production of space: pervasive computing and the urban landscape

University of Washington
Urban Studies and Geographic Information Systems

Abstract: This paper suggests that as pervasive computing technologies have gained purchase in urban space they have also become more implicitly blended with everyday life and more contingent on information that is inductively compiled from Internet-based data services. It is argued that existing theorizations of the technologically mediated production of urban must engage with the increasingly implicit nature of informational transactions as well as the emergent semantic structuring of information. Drawing on examples of ongoing pervasive computing projects, implicit computing procedures are explored in relation to the mediation of everyday urban life. Literatures from computing science and geographical theory are brought into conversation in order to examine the consequences of a convergence between implicit pervasive technologies and the spaces of everyday life.


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From Jerusalem to Kansas City: New geopolitics and the Semantic Web

University of Oxford
Oxford Internet Institute


The world’s most popular search engine, Google, has recently announced a fundamentally new way of representing populated place. With its ‘Knowledge Graph’, which is a ‘semantic network’ containing over 18 billion facts, the search engine is changing how geographic information is presented. Conducting a search for “capital city of Israel”, for example, currently results in the prominent display of facts about Jerusalem including a map with its borders, size, population numbers, weather and points of interest.


Google’s embrace of the Semantic Web was seen as a major success for the movement calling for the next moment in the Web’s history - a moment in which information is being increasingly tagged, standardised, and ordered in order to allow information to be more easily shared and reused. But this fairly innocuous-sounding movement has a single impact that many didn’t foresee. Categorization of cities is taking place outside of the control of those affected by those sites and is now in the hands of a technical elite.

This paper tracks data about two cities as they appear, congeal, morph and are transfigured by its movement through three of the world’s most important data platforms: Wikidata, Wikipedia and the Google Knowledge Graph. In doing so we ask three key questions: In whose interests are these snippets of data being decided? What are the material conditions that have led us to this point in the history of the web? And what does it mean for the future of cities and the voices that represent them? 



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Code and the mediation of Space: The pleasures of being placed

Clark University
Department of Geography


As public space has been overlaid with invisible, electronic networks made up of wireless media and devices, myriad aspects of society have become enmeshed with and mediated through devices capable of computing – of calculating and processing data. The very ubiquity of code as a mediator in human’s lives has led to its disappearance from conscious consideration. This “invisible infrastructure” of hybrid spaces reshapes the experience and function of late capitalist modernity. While technology has long been associated with radical changes in culture, politics, and economics and the specific mobilities and dynamism offered by information networks has been widely acknowledged, less has been said on how mobile, digital, spatial technologies are shifting the social construction of space. While space remains socially constructed as Doreen Massey suggested, this research sheds light on whose social experience is encoded into software and comes to mediate lived experience. Drawing on qualitative interviews and observations of individual users of mobile, spatially-aware applications – such as Yelp, FourSquare, and others – this talk highlights the role code plays on the social construction and experience of space. Being placed on a map, and in a system of consumption, engenders feelings of confidence tailored to the desires of application designers and the needs of large corporations. While retaining ultimate agency over their location, end-users enmesh their digital ‘location’ within a system of data’s creation, commodification, and exchange.
 
Session 3: Tracking Data Shadows 

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The Digital Divide in Volunteered Geographic Information

Texas State University-San Marcos
Department of Geography


As the Internet has matured, new technologies have blurred the line between data creator and consumer while decentralizing the creation of content. The term Volunteered Geographic Information was coined to describe the contribution of online geographic data by citizens (Goodchild 2007). The rapid increase of available online data including VGI has been labeled the exaflood. Even while the amount of data online is increasing, a 2013 Pew Research Center study found that 15% of U.S. adults do not use the Internet (Zickuhr 2013). The production of VGI is believed to fall along the gradient of skills, access, and technologies that form the digital divide We further believe that there is a geographic pattern to this digital divide on VGI and that the pattern can be mapped and predicted by the distribution of key variables. This paper will report on our examination of VGI/digital divide from two aspects - (1) how is the production of VGI related to data contributors, and (2) how does the digital divide of VGI illustrate itself spatially in the US? The objectives of this study are to evaluate a large VGI dataset using 'big data' methods with the aim of understanding the uneven spatial distribution of VGI data. Using data extracted from OpenStreetMap, the paper will compare and map the top fifty 2010 Metropolitan Statistical Areas for OpenStreetMap activity from 2005-2013; it will relate county-level socioeconomic digital divide variables with OpenStreetMap activity to evaluate if there is a significant relationship between income, education, and OpenStreetMap activity.

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Measuring Digital Inequality Through Social Media Data Shadows?

University of Oxford
Oxford Internet Institute

The Internet is an increasingly important part of British social and economic life. Britain has the largest Internet economy in the industrial world, measured as a percent of GDP. Social life is increasingly mediated, influenced, and augmented by online interactions that take place through the Internet. Yet despite the importance of the Internet in everyday life, we know surprisingly little about the geography of Internet use and participation at sub-national scales.

The 2013 Oxford Internet Survey (OxIS), a random probability sample of 2,657 households in Great Britain, asks many questions about digital participation, interests, activities, and the types of content that people produce. However, the sample size of the survey is too small to make detailed inferences about the geographies of digital inequality below the regional level. By combining 2013 OxIS data with social and economic statistics from the 2011 census, and social media data from a database of Twitter, we can use small area estimation techniques to estimate Internet participation and other variables down to the county level for all of Great Britain. This allows us to map the geography of internet use at levels heretofore unknown. More theoretically, ask how we might expand some of the insights from OxIS using traditional (the census) and unconventional (social media data shadows of places) means. Ultimately this work leads us to ask what methods are appropriate to measure local-scale geographies of digital participation.


 
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An analysis of the resilience of augmented realities to news events
University of Oxford
Oxford Internet Institute


This study investigates the intersection of various kinds of media in the contexts of augmented realities at moments of stress. We specifically ask whether geosocial media reflect the same patterns that are produced through more traditional producers of media (i.e. newspapers). In doing so, we can better understand the diverse layers of content that augment our experiences in moments of conflict, stress, and unrest.  To do this, we consider the response of the Web to a 2013 terrorist attack at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. We will conduct a quantitative analysis of two datasets: first, the “Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone” (GDELT), which is a collection of 250 million stories published in newspapers from almost every country on Earth; and second, a collection of geocoded tweets extracted from a set of 2 million collected over the course of a month.



In both databases, we identify locations and events which mention the attack, and analyse the geographic and temporal distribution of items in both datasets. Specifically, we compare engineering resilience (recovery times), raster-based distributions, and aggregations to larger spatial units. In doing so, seek to understand whether global and local attention (over time and over space) in the data shadows of this event differ substantially. Drawing on the literature on resilience and spatial perceptions, we then attempt to ask what the effects-in-the-world of these variable geographies and temporalities might be. 

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University of Kentucky
Department of Geography


Geosocial media provides new ways to understanding places, particularly how they change over the course of a day as well as documenting connections between places.  These insights, however, come with heightened privacy worries and concerns about the biases contained within the data shadow associated with each particular form of social media.  In short, we know far too little about the representativeness of geosocial media data and are just beginning to grasp the implications on privacy associated with its use.



This paper seeks to fill this gap with an intensive study of one form of social media data, geotagged Tweets.  Building on the DOLLY database, a repository at the University of Kentucky containing all geocoded tweets since December 2011, this paper quantifies the demographics of Twitter users.  Using a dataset based on a random sample of 100,000 American Twitter users and the ~55 million tweets they sent in the last 16 months, we explore a number of techniques to establish home location of users, such as sustained presence and movement. Once home locations are identified we draw upon demographic data from the U.S. Census at the block group level to provide some insight on the nature of these users. While ever mindful of ecological fallacy, we explore the relationship between the density of inferred home locations and the demographics of that geography. This also allows us to go beyond a demography based on where people sleep and instead combine these demographic profiles with the intra-day movements of each user. In doing so, we document connections between locations and demonstrate how the demographic profile of any particular location changes over the course of a day.



The goals of this paper are 1) to outline a method for connecting geosocial media with official demographic data and 2) use geosocial media to better understand the demographic dynamism of locations in the course of day.