If you have any time to while away on some factual trivia via the internet, there are many options.
One is to tune in to ‘Floating Sheep’ who are Dr Matthew Zook (Associate Professor at University of Kentucky, USA) and Dr Mark Graham, Research Fellow at Oxford Internet Institute, UK.
What do they do? Well, they map and analyse user-generated Google Map placemarks to provide a glimpse of what aggregated internet users think about particular places. Where are people posting placemarks about traffic, things to do, weather… anything really.
They explain the purpose on their website: ‘There is an increasing amount of data on the Internet that is geo-coded to a particular spot on the earth. This has huge implications for how we interact with our surroundings and each other’.
They take this cloud of user-generated (crowd-sourced) data as ‘cyberscape’ which provides an additional layer of interaction. They go so far as to claim that in addition to the 5 human senses, we can now ‘access cyberscapes of information as a digital sixth sense’.
As most of what is generated comes from people, it’s not limited to ‘stale monotony or security of business directories… people can document their memories, feelings, biases and reactions to places and share them with the world’.
They say that as cyberscapes become crowded, sorting mundane from worthwhile is crucial. Code, such as Google’s search algorithm, ranks and orders data so some things are emphasised and others moved to the periphery. This produces new places or digiplaces in which people are aware of their physicality in ‘mutually reinforcing ways’.
They have a specially written software program to search Google Maps placemarks based on specific keywords. It’s way of making pure data into something visual by tying it to a map of the world.
Well, check out some of their maps. Top 10 at present are The Beer Belly of America; The Price of Weed; The Great American Pizza Man; Mapping Christianity; Visualising the Abortion Debate; Church, bowling, guns and strip clubs; Allah, Buddah, Hindu and Jesus; Baptists, bibliophiles and bibles; Google’s Geographies of Religions and Mapping Escorts!