Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Geography of Wikipedia


  Image above: Europe at night - the concentration of light as well as information


The spatial examination of Wikipedia

Associate Professor Mark Graham from the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford  has used gotagging to reveal that Wikipedia is not quite so equal after all. Wikipedia is often seen as a great equaliser. Every day, hundreds of thousands of people collaborate on a seemingly endless range of topics by writing, editing and discussing articles, and uploading images and video content. 

As Mark Graham says in his excellent paper;

Graham goes on to explain that "despite Wikipedia’s openness, there are fears that the platform is simply reproducing the most established worldviews. Knowledge created in the developed world appears to be growing at the expense of viewpoints coming from developing countries. Indeed, there are indications that global coverage in the encyclopedia is far from “equal”, with some parts of the world heavily represented on the platform, and others largely left out."

He found that Europe and North America account for a staggering 84% of the “geotagged” articles. Almost all of Africa is poorly represented in the encyclopedia, too. In fact, there are more Wikipedia articles written about Antarctica (14,959) than any country in Africa. And while there are just over 94,000 geotagged articles related to Japan, there are only 88,342 on the entire Middle East and North Africa region. 

The follwoing chloropleth maps clearly show the spatial inequity of Wikipedia articles ....and much more.

Total number of geotagged Wikipedia articles across 44 surveyed languages.  
All the maps shown on this posting are from: 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

  Even though 60% of the world’s population is concentrated in Asia, less than 10% of Wikipedia articles relate to the region. The same is true in reverse for Europe, which is home to around 10% of the world’s population but accounts for nearly 60% of geotagged Wikipedia articles.

Number of regional geotagged articles and population. Graham, M., S. Hale & M. Stephens. 2011. Geographies of the World's Knowledge. Convoco! Edition.
There is also an imbalance in the languages used on Wikipedia.

Dominant language of Wikipedia articles (by country).

In total, there are more than 928,000 geotagged articles written in English, but only 3.23% of them are about Africa and 1.67% are about the Middle East and North Africa.

Number of geotagged articles in the English Wikipedia by country. 
As Graham perceptively says in relation to the importance of Place:

"All this matters because fundamentally different narratives can be, and are, created about places and topics in different languages."

The following maps shows that even in theArabic Wikipedia, there are geographical imbalances. There are a relatively high number of articles about Algeria and Syria, as well as about the US, Italy, Spain, Russia and Greece but substantially fewer about a number of Arabic speaking countries, including Egypt, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia.

Total number of geotagged articles in the Arabic Wikipedia by country
By mapping the geography of Wikipedia articles in both global and regional languages, we see that parts of the world, including the Middle East, are massively under-represented – not just in major world languages, but their own. Many people think that Wikipedia is a modern technological opportunity for anyone, anywhere to contribute information about our world to promote global/regional interconnection and global equity. However that doesn’t seem to be happening in practice. Wikipedia might not be reflecting the world through an equity and non-first world ethnocentric lens, but in fact creating new, uneven, geographies of information. This is another great example of how mapping something provides an insight into what actually is happening.

Thanks to Alaric Maude for pointing me towards this fascinating article on the geographies of Wikipedia.

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