Oxford Internet Institute

Intriguing Features on the Oxford Map of the English Wikipedia

Wikipedia MapAs a habitual Wikipedia reader, I am particularly intrigued by the map and article entitled “Mapping English Wikipedia” found at Information Geographies (at the Oxford Internet Institute). Here, almost 700,000 dots have been placed on a world map to show the locations of geotagged articles in the English-language Wikipedia. As the authors explain:

Not all articles are geotagged, but almost all articles about events and places tend to be. The data in this map were all taken from November 2011 Wikipedia data dumps. Our project team wrote a script to search for coordinate representations in every article (taking into the varying ways in which geo-coordinates are expressed). We improved the quality of our coordinates by doing things like eliminating or fixing erroneous coordinates, grabbing coordinates (where sensible) from not just structured infoboxes, and making sure to remove irrelevant coordinates (Wikipedia actually contains a lot of coordinates for extra-terrestrial entities like lunar craters!).

The results are interesting. As the authors understatedly note, “there is clearly a lot of unevenness in the amount of content about places, and large parts of our planet are still invisible from these digital augmentations…” The unevenness of coverage is indeed conspicuous, but much of that is to be expected. It is hardly surprising, for example, that vast reaches of sparsely populated land in northern Siberia would be largely by-passed by the Wikipedia. I am more perplexed, however, by the fact that a few uninhabited and remote places, such as South Georgia Island, would be fully covered by yellow dots, whereas some densely populated and easily accessible areas, such as China’s Shandong Peninsula, would be mostly unmarked. (I suspect that the attention given to South Georgia stems in part from popular interest in the survival story of the Shackleton Expedition.) But regardless of this South Georgia oddity, the relative paucity of coverage of China is surely one of the map’s more striking features.

Wikipedia Map West AfricaIndia is much more heavily covered in the English Wikipedia than China, as might be expected, considering the widespread use of English in India along with the British colonial legacy. But colonial legacies as well as the geographies of language are in general not easily seen on the map. Consider, for example, its portrayal of West Africa, visible in the first set of detailed maps. Here the Gambia can be made out, but otherwise political borders are not discernable, even though several of them separate Anglophone from Francophone countries. I have roughly outlined Ghana to emphasize this point. Notice as well the concentrated clusters of dots in Burkina Faso to the north of Ghana. As Burkina Faso is a poor, somewhat marginal, Francophone country, its prominence in the English Wikipedia is noteworthy.

Wikipedia Map Eastern EuropeOnly in a few parts of the world are political boundaries visible on the map. The clearest example is Eastern Europe; here Poland stands out in sharp contrast to Ukraine and Belarus. The heavy English Wikipedia coverage of Poland is intriguing, as is that of Estonia and Moldova. Estonia is noted for its tech-savvy population, and hence its standing in the encyclopedia is not too surprising, but I am mystified by the blanket coverage of Moldova, Europe’s poorest country.

Wikipedia Map Southern AsiaEqually mysterious to me are the patches of concentrated Wikipedia coverage in upper Burma. As the set of maps showing southern Asia indicates, Wikipedia reporting on India and across much of Southeast Asia matches population distribution relatively well. In southwestern China, however, this connection collapses; sparsely populated Tibet receives roughly the same coverage as densely populated Sichuan. I find it remarkable that one cannot even pick out the major metropolitan areas of Chengdu and Chongqing, both of which stand out very clearly on earth-at-night satellite images.

Wikipedia Map Middle EastPolitical boundaries are evident in several other parts of the world. Armenia and Azerbaijan, for example, are easily discernable, although the “blob of yellow” that covers both countries also oddly extends into Iran, a pattern that is only partially explicable on the basis of population density. Second-order political boundaries are vaguely evident in the Midwest of the United States, where the western and southern boundaries of Minnesota can be distinguished, as can the state boundaries along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. In the Great Plains of the United States and Wikipedia Map MidwestCanada, linear features on the map correspond to roads and railways. This feature is particularly evident in northern Ontario and Manitoba, where two rail lines appear as long lines of yellow dots.

If any readers have any ideas about the usual features found on this map, I would be very interested to hear them.

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Mapping the Global Distribution of Information at Oxford

World Newspapers MapA variety of interesting and informative maps and other visualizations of global information flow can be found at the website called Information Geographies put out by the Oxford Internet Institute. The goal of the larger project is to:

[P]roduce a comprehensive atlas of contemporary information and Internet geographies, that will draw on four years of focused research conducted at the Oxford Internet Institute. Specifically, the atlas will draw on unique data, visualisations, and maps in order to tell a story about three key facets of global information geographies (access, information production, and information representation).

The next two or three GeoCurrents posts will examine several of the maps posted on the site. The first map to consider, that showing newspaper circulation, is perhaps the simplest and least innovative image found on Information Geographies. I have reposted it both here because I find the patterns that it shows quite interesting and because the map itself reveals a number of problems associated with mapping information. As the map indicates, newspaper circulation is one economic domain in which Japan still reigns supreme. I am also intrigued by the relative paucity of newspaper circulation in Latin America, and as well as by its importance in such countries as Ukraine, India, and Pakistan. The significance of London in the business is also noteworthy, as is the relative insignificance of most major U.S. cities

India Newspapers and Cities MapA close examination of the portrayal of India reveals both interesting features as well as problematic aspects of the map. The fact that Kerala in the southwest is marked with two circles despite its lack of major cities is revealing, as Kerala has long been noted for its high levels of education and its residents’ widespread interest in current affairs. The map’s most glaring oddity, on the other hand, is the fact that Mumbai (Bombay) is not shown as a major newspaper center, whereas much smaller and less important cities of northern and central India, such as Bhopal, are. But this depiction does not necessarily match information found on other sites. Consider, for example, the Wikipedia’s description of The Times of India, a Mumbai-based newspaper:

The Times of India (TOI) is an Indian English-language daily newspaper. In 2008, the newspaper reported a circulation of over 3.14 million certified by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (India) making it the world’s largest selling English-language daily, ranking it as the third largest selling newspaper in any language in the world and the largest selling newspaper outside Japan.

A circulation of 3.24 million should certainly earn Mumbai a place on the map based on this one newspaper only. Other Wikipedia articles, moreover, give different comparative figures, which only add further complications. According to one article, The Times of India is not even the largest-selling newspaper based in Mumbai. That position is rather occupied by Lokmat, described as “the fifth largest Indian daily … with 15.8 million copies a day.” If this figure is correct, Lokmat alone would earn Mumbai a ranking in the same category as that of Tokyo. But as it turns out, the “location” of Lokmat is somewhat ambiguous; although its “registered and corporate offices are located in Mumbai,” its “main administrative center is located in Nagpur,” another city missing from the map. Such a situation is not unusual in India; as noted on the Wikipedia article entitled “List of Newspapers in India by Readership,” many papers in India are situated in “various cities and states” (mostly because of their multiple, regional editions). Also of significance here is the distinction between circulation and readership; many newspapers in India rank much higher in the latter than in the former category, as individual copies are often passed around many readers.

However one tallies the impact of newspapers in India, it is clear that the business is thriving in the country, unlike in much of the rest if the world. As recently noted in LiveMint, “Western investors scoff at the idea of buying newspaper companies, assuming that with the rise of Internet, the newspaper is yesterday’s business model. However, circulation numbers in India continue to grow well, more so in the regional languages and it takes an understanding of the local context to bet against the pervasive bearishness about newspapers.”

Academic Journals MapIndia does not figure nearly so prominently in another image produced by Oxford Internet Institute, this one measuring the “location of academic knowledge,” as measured by the location of the main offices of academic journals. As the authors describe the significance of this study:

This map reveals a staggering amount of inequality in the geography of the production of academic knowledge. The United States and the United Kingdom publish more indexed journals than the rest of the world combined. Western Europe, in particular Germany and the Netherlands, also scores relatively well. Most of the rest of the world then scarcely shows up in these rankings. One of the starkest contrasts is that Switzerland is represented at more than three times the size of the entire continent of Africa. The non-Western world is not only under-represented in these rankings, but also ranks poorly on average citation score measures. Despite the large number and diversity of journals in the United States and United Kingdom, those countries manage to maintain higher average impact scores than almost all other countries. It is important to note that the 9,500 journals included in this map are taken from the Web of Knowledge Journal Citation Reports (JCR) and do not represent the entirety of all published journals. However, given the influence of the JCR, and its claims to provide a “systematic, objective means to critically evaluate the world’s leading journals,” it remains crucial to understand the geography of academic knowledge.


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