Category Archives: mapping

some thoughts on mapping


Map of scientific paradigms. by Kevin Boyack and Richard Klavans

Mapping is a useful abstraction for exploring ideas, and not just for navigation through the physical world. A recent exhibit, Places & Spaces: Mapping Science, (at the New York Public Library of Science, Industry, and Business), presented maps that render the invisible path of scientific progress using metaphors of cartography. The maps ranged in innovation: there were several that imitated traditional geographical and topographical maps, while others created maps based on nodal presenation—tree maps and hyperbolic radial maps. Nearly all relied on citation analysis for the data points. Two interesting projects: Brad Paley’s TextArc Visualization of “The History of Science”, which maps scientific progress as described in the book “The History of Science”; and Ingo Gunther’s Worldprocessor Globes, which are perfectly idiosyncratic in their focus.
But, to me, the exhibit highlighted a fundamental drawback of maps. Every map is an incomplete view of an place or a space. The cartographer makes choices about what information to include, but more significantly, what information to leave out. Each map is a reflection of the cartographer’s point of view on the world in question.
Maps serve to guide—whether from home to a vacation house in the next state, or from the origin of genetic manipulation through to the current replication practices stem-cell research. In physical space, physical objects circumscribe your movement through that space. In mental space, those constraints are missing. How much more important is it, then, to trust your guide, and understand the motivations behind your map? I found myself thinking that mapping as a discipline has the same lack of transparency as traditional publishing.
How do we, in the spirit of exploration, maintain the useful art of mapping, yet expand and extend mapping for the networked age? The network is good at bringing information to people, and collecting feedback. A networked map would have elements of both information sharing, and information collection, in a live, updateable interface. Jeff Jarvis has discussed this idea already in his post on networked mapping. Jarvis proposes mashing up Google maps (or open street map) with other software to create local maps, by and for the community.
This is an excellent start (and I hope we’ll see integration of mapping tools in the near future), but does this address the limitations of cartographic editing? What I’m thinking about is something less like a Google map, and more like an emergent terrain assembled from ground-level and satellite photos, walks, contributed histories, and personal memories. Like the Gates Memory Project we did last year, this space would be derived from the aggregate, built entirely without the structural impositions of a predetermined map. It would have a Borgesian flavor; this derived place does not have to be entirely based on reality. It could include fantasies or false memories of a place, descriptions that only exists in dreams. True, creating a single view of such a map would come up against the same problems as other cartographic projects. But a digital map has the ability to reveal itself in layers (like old acetate overlays did for elevation, roads, and buildings). Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what a collective dreamscape of New York looked like? And then to peel back the layers down to the individual contributions? Instead of finding meaning through abstraction, we find meaningful patterns by sifting through the pile of activity.
We may never be able to collect maps of this scale and depth, but we will be able to see what a weekend of collective psychogeography can produce at the Conflux Festival, which opened yesterday in locations around NYC. The Conflux Festival (formerly the Psychogeography Festival) is “the annual New York festival for contemporary psychogeography, the investigation of everyday urban life through emerging artistic, technological and social practice.” It challenges notions of public and private space, and seeks out areas of exploration within and at the edges of our built environment. It also challenges us, as citizens, to be creative and engaged with the space we inhabit. With events going on in the city simultaneously at various locations, and a team of students from Carleton college recording them, I hope we’ll end up with a map composed of narrative as much as place. Presented as audio- and video-rich interactions within specific contexts and locations in the city, I think it will give us another way to think about mapping.

reflections on the hyperlinked.society conference

Last week, Dan and I attended the hyperlinked.society conference hosted at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communication. An impressive collection of panelists and audience members gathered to discuss issues that are emerging as we place more value onto hyperlinks. Here are a few reflections on what was covered at the one day conference.
David Weinberger made a good framing statement when he noted that links are the architecture of the web. Through technologies, such as Google Page Rank, linking is not only a conduit to information, but it is also now a way of adding value to another site. People noted the tension between not wanting to link to a site they disagreed with (for example, an opposing political site) which would increase its value in ranking criteria and with the idea that linking to other ideas a fundamental purpose of the web. Currently, links are binary, on or off. Context for the link is given by textual descriptions given around the link. (For example, I like to read this blog.) Many suggestions were offered to give the link context, through color, icon or tags within the code of the link to show agreement or disagreement with the contents of the link. Jesse discusses overlapping issues in his recent post on the semantic wiki. Standards can be developed to achieve this, however we must be take care to anticipate the gaming of any new ways of linking. Otherwise, these new links will became another casualty of the web, as seen with through the misuse of meta tags. Meta tags were key words included in HTML code of pages to assist search engines on determining the contains of the site. However, massive misuse of these keywords rendered meta-tags useless, and Google was one of the first, if not the first, search engine to completely ignore meta-tags. Similar gaming is bound to occur with adding layers of meaning to links, and must be considered carefully in the creation of new web conventions, lest these links will join meta-tags as footnote in HTML reference books.
Another shift I observed, was an increase in citing real quantifiable data be it from both market and academic research on people’s web use. As Saul Hansell pointed out, the data which is able to be collected is only a slice of reality, however these snapshots are still useful in gaining understand how people are using new media. The work of Lada Adamic (whose work we like to refer to in ifbook) on mapping the communication between political blogs will be increasingly important in understand online relationships. She also showed more recent work on representing how information flows and spreads through the blogosphere.
Some of the work by presented by mapmakers and cartographers showed examples of using data to describe voting patterns as well as cyberspace. Meaningful maps of cyberspace are particularly difficult to create because as Martin Dodge noted, we want to compress hundreds of thousands of dimensions into two or three dimensions. Maps are representations of data, at first they were purely geographic, but eventually things such as weather patterns and economic trends have been overlaid onto their geographic locations. In the context of hyperlinks, I look forward to using these digital maps as an interface to the data underlaying these representations. Beyond voting patterns (and privacy issues aside,) linking these maps to deeper information on related demographic and socio-economic data and trends seems like the logical next step.
I was also surprised at what was not mentioned or barely mentioned. Net neutrality and copyright were each only raised once, each time by an audience members’ question. Ethan Zuckerman gave an interesting anecdote that the Global Voices project became an advocate for the Creative Commons license because they found it to be a powerful tool to support their effort to support bloggers in the developing world. Further, in the final panel of moderators, they mentioned that privacy, policy, tracking received less attention then expected. On that note, I’ll close with two questions that lingered in my mind, as I left Philadelphia for home. I hope that they will be addressed in the near future, as the importance of hyperlinking grows in our lives.
1. How will we deal with link rot and their ephemeral nature of link?
Broken links and archiving links will become increasing important as the number of links along with our dependence on them grow in parallel.
2. Who owns our links?
As we put more and more of ourselves, our relationships and our links on commercial websites, it is important to reflect upon what are the implications when we are at the same time giving ownership of these links over to Yahoo via flickr and News Corp via