Dr Mark Graham and a team at the Oxford Internet Institute undertook a project to map every Wikipedia contribution, and have recently released the graphic representation of their findings.
By monitoring the location of every geotagged article posted on Wikipedia they were able to plot the density of information sources on a map of the globe. They examined not only English Wikipedia, but also the Arabic, Egyptian and French versions of the site. The Oxford Internet Institute, celebrating its tenth birthday this year,has also previously mapped every geotagged picture on Flickr and, most famously, created a map displaying the amount of zombie awareness across the world.
Dr Graham highlighted the importance of projects such as these, citing that, ‘some parts of the world are covered in thick layers of information while others are still digital terra incognita’ and that, ‘despite this unevenness, the scale of all of this human labour that has gone into describing our planet is astounding. It is fascinating to look at the hundreds of thousands of points on that map and realize that each one represents an article that itself could have been written by hundreds of authors (all of whom donated their labour for free).’
When asked about making the zombie map, he revealed that he ‘really enjoyed making both (although it is actually harder to map Wikipedia than map Zombies in Google). As for which is more useful: it depends on whether you want to know about global inequalities in knowledge or survive a zombie apocalypse.’
Lucy Phillips, a second year Geographer, stated, ‘I think this is a fascinating project. It’s so important for us to monitor the condition of the web pages that we take for granted; I rarely consider the implications of Wikipedia on such a global scale, and to see it mapped in such a way is quite awe-inspiring. It’s really given me some food for thought, and some much needed dissertation-inspiration!’
A more cynical student questioned, ‘Surely the areas with more geotags are simply the areas with more internet access? Doesn’t this just represent the varying levels of development across the world, as seen through the lens of Wikipedia?’
Dr Graham’s first map of Wikipedia was made in 2009, and he expressed his intent to ‘definitely continue to monitor’ the distribution of information, his hope that the ‘expansion takes the form of less uneven distributions of information’, and his belief that, ‘it isn’t a topic that will ever get boring’.