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Mapping and maps as the contextual representation and abstraction of an environment is a very diverse, complicated and very challenging disciplin. With the current ongoing trend of spatialisation the understanding and suitable interpretation , but also creation of maps has become more important.

Martin Dodge presents together with Rob Kitchin and Chris Perkins The Map Reader: Theories of Mapping Practice and Cartographic Representation, a Wiley-Blackwell publication. With this substantial reader the editors are presenting a very comprehensive discussion of the topic in five section: Conceptualising Mapping, Technologies of Mapping, Cartographic Aesthetics and Map Design, Cognition and Cultures of Mapping and Power and Politics of Mapping.

Imhof Laufen Relief Shading
Image taken from linkingelephants / Relief shading example by Eduard Imhof showing a detail map of Laufen.

On these topics the editors brought together a very prominent list of contributors. This ranges from Bruno Latour, Eduard Imhof, David Harvey to Mei-Po Kwan, to name a few. The over fifty specially edited excerpts from key, classic articles and monographs are introduced carefully and with a lot of detail.

The editors not only introduces each section with a specific essay to introduce the topic, but also each essay or book exert. This explains where it comes from and what the wider context is of the tet to follow. Further more each essay is accomplished with references, but also a list of further reading, plus a list of publication internal links ‘see also’. This refers the reader to related chapters in the same book extending or continuing the discussion. It would have been nice to have page numbers with this section to make it more convenient for the reader to directly jump between the chapters.

Mapping is currently a dramatically fast changing field and with the introduction and extensive use of new technologies it probably even speeds up. Maps are dynamic, online, interactive and probably crowd sourced these days.

The publication acknowledges these changes without being drawn into the buzzyness of these developments, providing key readings and background information. Some of these texts are quite old. Only a dozen or so were originally written this century. However, this provides a substantial background with a lot more relevance than simply having some bibliographical references. In this publication one has the real thing the editors are referring to. Somehow it is like reading a text, plus also reading the references as they are discussed.

This makes for a tour de force of mapping, but mainly provides what the book is promising, an ‘coherent edited compendium of key scholarly writing about the changing nature of cartography over the last half century’.

The publisher offers chapter pdf’s of the book for download on their Wiley-Blackwell page.

Imhof Laufen Relief Shading
Image taken from the view from the blue house / The Map Reader Book Cover.

Dodge, M., Perkins, C. & Kitchin, R. eds., 2011. The Map Reader: Theories of Mapping Practice and Cartographic Representation, Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

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The main buzz word of the 2011 discussion in urban and spatial research is networks. Networks start to appear everywhere and everything is linked in to most other things. This is however, in fact not new. The network discussion has started at least ten or fifteen years ago.

It is very fascinating how network are entering the repertoire of scientists and with the tools to construct analyse and draw them more and more data is analysed towards its network structure. Some of the platfomrs like Gephi or Cytoscape, but also the integration of network analysis capacity with existing software such a GeoTime in version 5.1 makes this emerging branch accessible to a wider research community. The basic elements of nodes as the actors and links as the activity are a pretty simple, but very powerful way of describing very complex structures.

Some three interesting examples of recent weeks shall be presented in the following. The examples chosen are very divers, but show how the term and the idea is unfolding in many disciplines leading to new discoveries of previous unknown aspect. This is not to dismiss anything known previously, but to add another puzzle piece to the picture from a ‘network’ perspective.

15m social network
Image taken from 15m.bifi.es / The figure represents the evolution of the network of Twitter users that exchange messages during the 10 days following the beginning (May 15, 2011) of camp in Puerta del Sol in Madrid, Spain. Each node in the network represents an individual, and the node size is proportional to the total number of messages he/she sent or received in the period analyzed. Two nodes are connected if they have exchanged at least one message. The colors encode the “age” of the node: the first active users are represented in yellow, while black color is used for the latecomers..

Social network analysis i probably the biggest and most obvious branch of network analysis. Since the concept of social connection is part of our everyday experience this is the area easies accessible for a general audience. With the data from digital social networks becoming available as for example the NCLn maps using Twitter show or also the Facebook global connection by Paul Buttler it is opening new possibilities for social sciences. The overwhelmingly massive amount of detail could potentially provide a different understanding of social mechanisms.

The project by he BIFI (Institute for Biocomputation and Physics of Complex Systems) is focusing on Twitter data collected between end of April and beginning of May 2011 during the youth movement 15m in Spain. The researchers have collected data over a period of three weeks as the activities are unfolding on Twitter across the country. The visualisation show how the information spreads across the digital social network, more and more groups joining in pushing the converation and the use of specific # hash tags as indicators. In total, 581.749 messages coming from 87.569 users were identified and used for the study.

Clip taken from 15m.bifi.es / video is a visual representation of the tweets exchanged between users involved in the 15M movement. All the information received/generated reflect the actual spreading dynamics in the period analysed.

Another obvious source of network information is to be found in science itself, mapping out the collaboration across the world. The institutions or the individual research groups can act as nodes and a collaboration is establishing a link between the nodes. Similar scientific citation are another established source of network data.

A lot of this work has been collected and presented in the MIT publications Atlas of Science by Katy Boerner. An online version of a research collaboration from 2005 to 2009 network is computed by Olivier H. Beauchesne at Science-Metrix, Inc. At wired explains “analysed the extracts of all of these articles to find where there was collaboration. So if a Cambridge University researcher published a paper with a colleague at the University of Arizona then that would create the pairing of Cambridge and Tuscon.”

global science collaborations
Image taken from flowingdata / Map showing global science collaborations. Click for full screen interactive version.

In a third example scientist have discovered network of trees. In which the threes are actively exchanging and scientists believe that this network provides an advantage to connected trees over unconnected tree of the same species in the same area. The soundfoundation explains: “Graduate student Kevin Beiler has found that all trees in dry interior Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca) forests are interconnected, with the largest, oldest trees serving as hubs, much like the hub of a spoked wheel, where younger trees establish within the mycorrhizal network of the old trees.” The original presentation can be found here. It is pretty amazing that networks form such a fashion between plants previously thought of as static and dull in a spatial activity sense.

Tree network
Image taken from abject.ca / Map showing connected and unconnected trees in the study area.

The networks can extend to many other areas and the built environment being on of them. Just like the trees the buildings are al interconnected with a network of cables and pipes, services and goods, linking across the city and the country. In this context one of the obvious example is the transport network and how a bus service links to a tub service bringing you to your destination via a short walk some gates and Oyster card operated barriers. At CASA, Jon Reads is currently working with some Oyster Card data visualising and analysing public transport networks across London. There is definitely more to come in this area in the next few weeks and month.

London public transport network
Image taken from Simulacra Bog / Map showing Central London Detail of public transport network based on TfL segments.

Networks will be with us for the foreseeable future being stronger an stronger embedded in out everyday thinking of objects and actions. It is definitely linking into a growing awareness of connectivity very much in line with the current sustainability debate as well as the of similar age system thinking theories.

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What is the material architecture is made of? Is it concret, glass and steel? Mortar, bricks and timber Stone, fabrics and plastic? All of them or none of them? So many different ways of putting this, but there must be something just beyond the physicality of the materiality of architecture, something that holds it together and creates an atmosphere as the sum of all pieces.

For Lebbeus Woods architecture is in essence light, mater and energy put in combination, mastering the elements spatially. He is mainly interested in geometry and light, where geometri is the relationship between light, matter and energy, in reference to Einstein’s E/m=c2.

Woods Berlin Underground
Image taken from the Fun Ambulist / Lebbeus Woods project Berlin Underground.

In a 2011 reprint of the 1989 publication oneFiveFour by Lebbeus Woods and published by Princeton Architecture Press some of Woods’ projects are showcased. Foremost, these are A. City, Centricity and Berlin UNderground. It’s a beautiful black and white print of projects, sketches and writings unveiling an, at times, futuristic or star wars like scenery of buildings, as a vison for a city. There is a lot of movement in the sketches implying a strong sense of process and making. Most of the elements are partially finished, waiting to be extended and developed further. It’s a sort of invitation. Woods is not proposing those structures as static objects everything is in the making, on offer for collaboration?

Woods Berlin Underground
Image taken from the Fun Ambulist / Lebbeus Woods project.

Woods Berlin Underground
Image taken from the Fun Ambulist / Book Cover OneFiveFour.

Woods, L., 1989. One Five Four, New York, N.Y: Princeton Architectural Press.

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With the possibilities of new computer technologies and the availability of rendering power physical models in architecture have lost the role as the main tool for spatial and physical shaping and testing of ideas.

It is convenient with a few clicks to simulate a rough 3D sketch in some free sketch tool providing bulky and unfitting standard elements. And for the architect it is easy to project ideas over these unfitting representations, mentally covering up and extending on the shortcomings of the method. Where this method can’t provide any help is with the physicality of materials the depths and the tactility. For this a real physical representation in 3D is needed.

Model making is a wide ranging field from sketch models to working models to models produced by a professional model maker. Similar is the application range for models, they can come it at every stage of the design process in various forms, scales and detail.

Book Model Making p29
Image taken from Model Making / Book page p29 showcasing the composite stack, where different materials are combined, prepared individually put together and sanded into shape.

The new book Model Making, of the Princeton Architectural Press series Architectural Briefs, is by Megan Weber. She is the founder of zDp Models, a San Francisco -based model making firm working for a range of clients in the bay area and beyond. This includes Apple, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, SOM, Gensler and EDAW.

The book is designed as a basic reader guide to model making and model material introduction. It takes the read through a whole range of options arranged by material. Each step is arranged by material, necessary tools, technique, technology, range of architectura concepts it is suitable for and some alternatives. This forma provides a good overview, for both inspiration and guidance. Further sections discuss the tools, additional techniques and specific aspects such as scale, surface treatment and architectural concepts.

Book Model Making p28
Image taken from Model Making / Book page p28 demonstrating the composite stack, where different materials are combined, prepared individually put together and sanded into shape.

The question is not whether one technique is better than the other one. This would be an exhausting an not very productive discussion. It is more a question of how do the different methods work together and where are they complementary. The process of designing is very individual depending on the team and the project but the tools can consistently be available and provide the methods for both developing and testing. Architectural models are definitely together with the drawings the essential tool and brings the ideas for the forst time into physical form, models are real.

For real world inspiration the V&A has an extensive collection of architectural models. It is definitely worth a visit and browsing through the range of historic and contemporary structures.

Book Model Making cover
Image taken from Model Making / Book cover.

Werner, M., 2011. Model Making, New York, N.Y: Princeton Architectural Press.

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Space in the city is subject to transformation on different time scales. It is being built and rebuilt constantly and not only by diggers and cranes, but also though the decisions and makings of individuals programming the space.

Theories and practice on this have been neglected for some time and it has been deemed old fashioned to pick up on them. However, more and more the discussion around the production of space and the making capacity of individuals also regarding the conception of space, has gained momentum. A number of aspects probably have lead to this, including the availability of new technologies which requires more dynamic and more subjective conceptions of space.

Fun Palace
Image taken from SLCL.CA / Cedric Price ‘Fun Palace’ diagram. “Automation is coming. More and more, machines do our work for us. There is going to be yet more time left over, yet more human energy unconsumed. The problem which faces us is far more than that of the ‘increased leisure’ to which our politicians and educators so innocently refer. This is to underestimate the future. The fact is that as machines take over more of the drudgery, work and leisure are increasingly irrelevant concepts. The distinction between them breaks down. We need, and we have a right, to enjoy the totality of our lives. We must start discovering now how to do so.” – Cedric Price (From Agit-prop to Free Space: The Architecture of Cedric Price).

In his new book ‘ReplayCity – Improvisation als urbane Praxis’ Christopher Dell brings together an refreshed view on these practices and conceptions. The book is published by Jovis and is only available in German at the moment. The book is organised in three parts, the first one on the city and urban practice, the second on e on improvisation and space and the third part on music and space.

Dell is arguing that the cities have become more complex also because of size and number of people living together, but also has identified a shift in the questioning of the city. He points out that the question no longer is ‘What is the meaning of city?’ but now would be ‘ What produces the city?’

One of the topics for example that is discussed in the book as part of the improvisation and everyday negotiations in space is the aspect of the politics of space.Here it is the discussion around the use of order as structure, form and function of space as defined by individuals, groups or organisation. This does to some extend tie in with Hagerstrands three basic conceptions of space and time where he focuses on restrictions and constraints. This is a much more negative definition Hagerstrand proposes and its great to have it reformulated here by Dell.

The book sources the great thinkers of the past ranging from Kant, to Lefebvre, to the Situationists with Guy Debord and de Certeau. It however also features Peter And Alison Smithson with CIAM or Cedric Price and other great names of the architecture scene of the mid twenties century, very much related for examples to the publication ‘Radical Games‘.

Image taken from metronature / John Cage’s A Dip in the Lake is the exploration of a city by means of a ‘random’ soundmap that leads performers, listeners, or participants to places they may never have been before. The score identifies up of 427 locations within a city. The ‘locations’ are either very specific (such as the intersection of two streets), or more general (such as ‘a park’ or ‘Lake Ontario’). Recordings are made at each of these locations, and divided into 10 groups of 2 (quicksteps), 61 groups of 3 (waltzes) and 56 groups of 4 (marches). These groups of recordings are then mixed live by the performers.

The discussion is cleverly organised and the improvisation terms as well as practice is used to discuss the wider questions of space and city ranging all the way to the design of cities. The book puts forward a very clear theoretical base and argues without loosing sight of the goal consequently along the activities and actions of citizens as the driving element of spacial production. Dell manages to bring the reader to think about the city as a dynamic pice that is constantly shaped and reshaped. This is not a new idea at all, but it has not been presented in such a consequent and updated form for the past thirty years. Dell would not put it this way but essentially what he talks about is the congruence of form and activity as Carl Stinitz put it in the Hypothesis to his article in 1968 ‘Meaning and the congruence of urban form and activity‘: “There is a high overall level of congruence between form and activity. Congruence is defined as consistency between the physical form characteristics of an environment and the attributes of its activities”. And this is definitely an upcoming topic that will, as a concept, be extremely useful especially in connection with the available technology of distributed mobile computing and sensing.

Image taken from pro-qm.de / ReplayCity book cover.

Dell, C., 2011. Replaycity: Improvisation als urbane Praxis, Berlin: Jovis Verlag.

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The different manifestations of the city and cities are something that slowly is gaining ground. Today planners and project managers have started to think of the subject they are working with as being fluid and to some extend ephemeral in nature. There is no one solution, thats already hard, but everything keeps changing.

This understanding is the basis for the Jovis ‘Multiple City: Urban Concepts 1908-2008‘ publication by Sophie Wolfrum and Winfried Nerdinger. They argue that “the complex and multi faced city becomes the multiple city”. This is also based on the observation that there is no sovereignty of interpretation of individual position.

This leads to a very interesting position of multiplicity which is present through out the book. The argumentation is constructed in sixteen chapters all addressing different aspects. Usually for urban concepts, they are simple and aggregated. You get to read about the three point plan or as Kevin Lynch divides the elements into five groups, but having so many is unusual.

However, all of the proposed aspects today are well known concept, both theoretically and practically. Take for example the ‘Netzstadt – Network City‘ coined also by Franz Oswald and Peter Baccini at ETH in Zuerich in the 1990s or the ‘Patchwork City’ concepts as well as ‘Urban Icon’
and ‘Telepoli’ which recently with availability of new data and technologies has a sort of revival (eg see John Reades) are all very familiar key words.

This is however the point. Multiple City reflects on current urban development against the background of urban concepts over the past 100 years. It is possible to trace the history of multiple manifestations, parallel strategies and diametrical developments.

For example the chapter Situational Urbanism, Performative Urbanism discusses theories such as ‘la derive’ developed by the Situationists with Guy Debord and continues the though process with a contribution by Ian Borden ‘Performance, Risk and the Public Realm’ of course on skateboarders.

L'architettura della città
Image taken from Library ETHZ / Aldo Rossi, L’architettura della città, 1968, Kat. Nr. 7.10

Another chapter “‘Tessuto Urbano, the city s collective memory’ Sophie Wolfrum combines three concepts into one that beautifully works in this context. Those are Maurice Halbwachs ‘The Collective Memory’, Also Rossi’s ‘L’Architectura della Citta‘ and Karl Schloegel‘s ‘Im Raum lesen wir die Zeit (In Space we Read Time)’.

The book is set in the context of the hundredth anniversary of the Department of City Planning at the TU Munich in 2008. The department was founded by Theodor Fischer in 1908. He was a visionary city planner and contributed extensively to the expansion projects of the Munch urban Area.

Palm Jumeirah
Image taken from eikongraphia / THe Palm Jumeirah in Dubai features in the book Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown in the chapter ‘City as Image, Urban Icon’.

This is picked as the starting point for the book. Instead of just looking back, the editors let the authors developed the sixteen key concepts taken from the past 100 years into virulent topics of todays cities. This approach goes beyond the normally dominating topics of sustainability and mobility, which are of corse part of many of the discussed topics. But the book manages to introduce new perspectives and especially establish links between them. With this the ‘Multiple City’ really comes to live and a picture of many possible multiplicities emerges showing the complexity urbanity can be thought of today.

The publication is in German and English, some preview pages can be found HERE.


Wolfrum, S. & Nerdinger, W., 2009. Multiple City: Urban Concepts 1908-2008: Stadtkonzepte 1908-2008 Bilingual., Jovis.

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There are new books out on architecture. However this round is on three architecture reading books. Those are not he type of books with a lot of photographs documenting buildings and situations.

Reading architecture is sort of a special area of architecture. In this field architects tend to fall into two groups, the ones that look at books an the ones that read books. There are probably better definitions for such a grouping but this one suits the purpose.

Picture books are quick and easy, it dosen’t take a lot of effort and it is simple to jump in and out. They serve well as inspiration as well as reference.

But lets start this slowly and gentle with a Lars Mueller Publisher publication ‘Patterns and Structure – Selected Writings‘ by Guy Nordenson. You can’t miss it, as soon as you pick it up, even in the paperback version the structure sits on the cover. It has a real good feeling to it. You get to feel the structure not only read about it.

The book presents collected writings by Guy Nordenson, the structural engineer and professor of architecture and engeniering at Princeton University, covering the period 1972 – 2008. Nordenson writes in a very accessible way about the broader field of engineering and architecture and eventually also commenting on exhibitions and the popular debate around planning. This provides a great insight in a span of 35 years of productive work and extends a personal view to an entire discipline.

The content is structured in five categories inspired mainly by engineering topics, Seismic Design, Pattern and Materials and Tall Buildings. However the two chapters, on Design and Collaborations already point to a open discussion where Nordenson engages beyond his own discipline and starts to build up the connections.

Exactly these bridges between disciplines is what we benefit from, now 30 years on. The built environment has become tremendously complex and planning has become interwoven and interrelated to an extend were disciplines are no longer useful as units. In Nordenson’s writings we can also find the built up to this and might be stating to understand were we are at now.

In this sense from ‘Patterns and Structures’ to interdisciplinary planning and building processes over the past 35 years.

Journeys is a new Actar publication by architects for architects on ‘How traveling Fruit, Ideas and buildings Rearrange our Environment‘.

The core topic here is migration, traveling and movement. The different authors explore these topics in different ways and aspects, painting a rich picture with a lot of details and depth.

Even though the context is set rather fictionally and ephemeral the applied methods of documentation and analysation make this publication rather present and real. The documented examples range from knowledge transfer, reconfiguration of communities, and vagabonding seeds to animal species migration.

Pulling a structure across the ice to Conche, Newfoundland
Image taken from CCA / There are new books out on architecture. However this round is on three architecture reading books. Those are not he type of books with a lot of photographs documenting buildings and situations.

Very exemplar is the story the great reconfigurations and movements in Newfoundland around 1965 where communities moved and took their houses with them. Not every body can take their house with them jsut like this, but locally the architecture has adapted to the need to follow fish populations to remote locations in order to keep fishing and has evolved into a rather flexible construction. THis enabled families to pull their house across the ice or even float it across the bay.

Journeys is a riche collection of aspects and stories around movement from leaving to arriving, from take along to leaving behind. The publication accompanies the exhibition with the same name at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA). It is still on, the dates are 20 October 2010 to 13 of March 2011 in case you are in Montreal during this time. Have a look at the preview below.

Now we are all warm and can take on the third and definitely heaviest book of the three readings. Cognitive Architecture is a new 010 Publishers book edited by Deborah Hauptmann and Warren Neidich. It goes with the subtitle ‘From Biopolitics to Noopolitics. Architecture & Mind in the Age of Communication and Information‘. Basically this subtitle means it is critically commenting the current debate in the field.

However the current debate is very complicated and divers since none can agree on some topics and theories, everybody has an individual view. This is probably a result of the communication and information age could be the assumption and in this sense the title says it al.

There is more to this and the 588 volume focuses on the body-mind-world discussion with respect to the whole range of thinker and theorists that have already set out cornerstones of this debate. This ranges from the Foucauldian discourse of biopolitics and power to the dualism of Cartesian and Spinozan philosophy and from the Deleuze to Debord or Cage.

The essays are group in the topics Plasticity and Potentiality, Epigenic Reconfigurations, Administering Atention, The Noo-Sensorium and Capitalism and the Mutating Intellect.

Putting all these important, but last century philosophers first does however not mean that the discussion here is directed backwards. Rather the important names are a starting point as well as an anchor point for exloring new teritories. As the title outlines Facebook and Twitter play a similarly important role as Neuroscience, Wexler and edible Architecture.

The book origines in a conference helt at the Delft University of Technology in 2008 and presents the current discurse on cognitive architecture in a very specific and scientific context, but is therefore definitely presenting the latest of this current discusion.

And this discussion is definitely very broad as a lot of development and research currently focus on the self and through virtual gadgets on the mind. The mind-body discussion this publications focuses on is something that the whole location information community is about to explore, just that they don’t know yet. The way the physical body experience related to the mental and the presented virtual interaction is definitely theoretically guiding the spatial discussions about the cities we live in the coming years.

To conclude on the rather suggestive introduction the description given does not suite very. THe three books here demonstrate, that text boks serve well as inspiration, especially long term, ready is as much effort as you make it to be and jumping in and out is no problem especially with edited books. So no more excuses get to read more.

Nordenson, G., 2010. Patterns and Structure: Selected Writings 1973-2008: Selected Writings 1972 2008, Lars Muller Publishers.

Borasi, G. ed., 2010. Journeys: How Travelling Fruit, Ideas and Buildings Rearrange Our Environment, Barcelona: Actar.

Hauptmann, D. & Neidich, W., 2010. Cognitive Architecture: From Bio-politics to Noo-politics: architecture & mind in the age of communication & information, Rotterdam: 010 Publishers.

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Wrapping up the second Ecological Urbanism discussion hosted by Annick Labeca, Taneha Bacchin, DPR-Barcelona and urbanTick.

Image by Krystian Czaplicki / Thruth – london england (2008).

Click the image to read this post on DPR-Barcelona

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A post by DPR-Barcelona, contributing to the second Ecological Urbanism discussion hosted by Annick Labeca, Taneha Bacchin, DPR-Barcelona and urbanTick.

Image taken from earth.geologist / Polarising microscope, wild M21.

Click the image and read this contribution on Urban Lab Global City.

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With the rise of individual online activity in chat rooms, social networking platforms and micro blogging services new datasources for social science research has become available in large quantities. The change in sample sizes from 100 participants to 100,000 is a dramatic challenge in numerous ways, technically, politically, but also ethically.
In this emerging context, because of its virtual and remote nature, the guidelines have to be reworked to meet the arising implications and establish fair, responsible and ethical management of such large quantities of information, containing potentially largely personal information of individuals.

Issues and concerns surrounding privacy and ethics have been raised recently around the data mining projects develop here at CASA. Most prominently at the CRESC conference in Oxford where it sparked a heated, but very interesting debate.

The questions arise over to what extent the users of online services agree to ‘their data’ being used for further research or analysis; potentially useful information which they often unknowingly generate while online. The lot of Survey Mapper and New City Landscape maps (NCL) generated from tweets sent with included geo location are working with data collected remotely through the internet without a direct consent from the ‘user’.

With the NCL maps for example we are working with around 150,000 twitter messages sent by about 45,000 individual twitter users. The data is collected through the public twitter API which is provided as an additional service by twitter. Using the API, twitter packages the outgoing data stream of tweets for third party developers of twitter applications. The data served through the API is believed to be exactly the same as it is used for the main twitter online page.

The implications in the case of twitter, and likly with other similar services lies in the perception of private and public. With twitter the user can set up a personal profile and start sending 140 character messages. These messages are generally undirected statements that are sent out to the world using the twitter platform. To get other peoples messages delivered onto the personal twitter account page one has to start ‘following’ other users. This needs to happen in order for other users to see one’s messages, they have to start ‘following’. Each user can manage the list of followers manually.

However, while this setting creates a sense of closed community and could, probably does, lead one to believe the information or data sent using this platform can only be read and accessed by the circle of followers (e.g. friends), this is actually not the case. Every twitter message sent, unless deliberately sent as private message, is public.

For example last week the first person was sent to curt, see the Guardian, because he tweeted a joke to his friend: ‘To bow the Robin Hood Airport sky high’. The twitter user was planning to fly out, but the airport was closed because of snow. How this message got him into trouble is not quite clear. The news article only states that an airport staff had by chance found the message using his home computer. Is he a follower of the tweeter or was he searching for the term ‘blow’ and ‘Robin Hood Airport’? However, this sounds a bit set up. But try the search. Now after the media attention the scanners will bring up loads of tweets containing the terms. So this airport staff will be very busy reading all the messages or any investigation unit filtering tweets will face some difficulties.

This is not, however, a unique case to twitter. The issue arises in a number of fields related to user generated data, ranging from Google to facebook, from Microsoft to Apple and from Oyster card to Nectar Card. Information is the basic material this bright new world is built of and the more one leverage it the bigger the value (see for instance ). The data generated by users on the web is constantly being analysed and pored back into the ocean of data. To some extend this is fundamental part of the whole web world.

How does Amazon know that I was searching for cat flap the other week, even if I was not searching it on Amazon? Or why does my webmail show ads for online degrees in the sidebar, while I am reading an email sent from a university account?
The information the user generates on the internet is leaving traces by the click and beyond. Search histories can be accessed and analysed and snippets can be located in the past. However this phenomenon is not limited to the past. It travels beside the user in the present, even arriving before hand at the shores of potential service providers almost like a rippling wave in the ocean of the web.

As described above using the example of twitter, the issue with privacy is that it is perceived in one way and handled in another. Maybe the comparison with public space could make for an interesting case. More and more public spaces are merging into corporate spaces in the city. Shopping malls start to enter the domain of the space perceived as ‘public’. Even though this is a privately owned mall and someone is making a lot of money from you being there, it successfully camouflages itself as a public space where people happily spend the money since it is so ‘convenient’. They are provided with everything they are demanding, including the selection of the peers thought the target group of the mall as well as a mix of additional factors, such as social group, economic as well as location based aspects. In this ‘easy’ setting one does not have to deal with the implication and sharing aspects of the real public space, where conflict of interest have to be solved between the parties and cannot be solved by the house rule in the appearance of the private security guard.

It could be argued that the web services are quite similar to what is described above. We are not surfing the ‘public’ internet a such, even though most websites are free to use, but they are actually private sites owned by someone and often offering a service. And of course the service provider will want to make some money. If not directly from the user, probably through a third party that offers money in exchange for something, mostly the directing of users to certain information.

In this sense the user is provided with a free service in exchange for letting himself/herself be directed to potentially interesting information and adverts.

In economical terms this is a pretty good offer and should be a win-win situation for everyone involve. But, is it?

Facebook has a number of webpages dedicated to the topic of privacy. For example one to explain the different settings categories or one for the privacy policy. The changes over the past years since the launch of facebook in 2004 have always been commented with loude voices of concern, louder more recently. Matt McKeon has put together a personal view of the evolution of facebook privacy over the years.

Image by Matt McKeon, via imgur / the Evolution of Privacy on facebook, Changes in default profile settings over time.It does actually change and automatically jump through the years, you have to be patient with this one.

Twitter also has a privacy page where they attempt to explain the company’s privacy guidelines and considerations. It states: ” We collect and use your information to provide our Services and improve them over time”. In this paper twitter clearly states that the concept of the service is to publicly distribute messages. It further states that the default setting is set to public with the option to make it more private. This is not true however, for the location information as in this case the user has to activate this feature if one chooses to include this information. In this sense every user who’s location information is mapped on the NCL maps has chosen to share this information with the word. Nevertheless there is an option to opt out of this and delete the location information of all messages sent in the past: “You may delete all location information from your past tweets. This may take up to 30 minutes”.

Twitter makes it – not perfectly – but clear what the implications are with using the service: “What you say on Twitter may be viewed all around the world instantly”.

Image by Diaspora / the project Logo as a dandelion, to symbolise the distribution of the seeds as uses for the basic concept of the new social network.

Sailing on the wave of complaints over the treatment of privacy on facebook and other social networking sites a bottom up project has risen, DIASPORA*. A self acclaimed perfectly personal social networking platform developed by four guys, with funny enough one of the goes under the name ‘Max Salzberg?’. It reads all like a spoof as it was published on NYT earlier in May this year. But the project took of with the donation of over $10,000 within 12 days and some $24,000 within 20 days. By now they are fully funded with over $200,000 using KickStarter. This was back in May 2010 and now the developer code was published on September 15 2010. It looks cool and maybe it will bring the change, but this is probably decided by other features other than that the privacy issue. Since the big hype this discussion has dramatically calmed down, but it was definitely a good kickstart for the Diaspora* project and it shows how much people care for their privacy.

The data of interest for a whole range of commercial and academic or political bodies is not confined to only the actual message or information sent. Each account or profile contains a lot of additional information, such as name, age, gender, address, contact details, interests, birthday, shoe size. All of which can be extremely valuable, not just for marketing purposes. In addition, the very big things are the connections and networks that can be constructed from the data. Who knows who is contacting whom, when, how often and where. This is the real aspect of change with these personal information – known in internet law and policy circles as Personal Identify Information (PII). For the first time we can actually observe large-scale social interaction in dramatic detail in real time.

Even more so it becomes an implication with now almost all services integrating actual location data, either by using the integrated GPS module if used on a smart phone or for example IP or Wi-Fi access point data. Service providers know not only with whom one is connected but also where one actually is physically.

The biggest discussion around this was stirred up by Google at the launch of its Google Latitude service, discussed HERE earlier, and the Google Privacy Statement can be found HERE. The service would offer the option to distribute one’s location to a list of friends who could follow one’s movement in real time.

Concern rose over the possibility that a jealous husband could potentially log in to the service and activate the service on his wife’s mobile without her knowledge and get his wife’s position in real time delivered onto his screen. This would be actually possible but is a ridiculous scenario. There are numerous providers of such a service to be found on the internet who have actually specialised in this sort of service. However, the Google service is one for the masses and freely accessible for everyone with internet. Google reacted by sending a scheduled reminder email every week once the service is activated.

The implications of the detailed knowledge of private information and especially location information is that the identification of individuals for third parties becomes possible and potentially this information can be used to harm the individual.

This issue was brought to the pubic attention by the online platform ‘pleaserobme.com‘ which displayed information collected from social networking site of people who stated that they are actually not at home. Implying that it would now be the opportunity to burgle their house. This was made possible through the message embedded location information.

One major factor in this discussion is the scale of resolution. Having the information is not the same as being able to use it. It is a question of accessing, or making it available. There might be a degree of anonymity in the fact that the data pool is so vast that the individual personal information is actually no longer visible. This is game deciding when the actual output of the private information are visualisations.

For example with the NCL maps, even though they are based on individual twitter messages because the data has been aggregated and the resulting visualisation is a density surface generated from the tweets, the individual tweet no longer features in this data. And even if, for example, we show the location of an individual message as in the LondonTweet clip, the resolution of the clip in pixel is so low that it becomes nearly impossible to determine a definite location. The blurred pixels display more of a potential area. In addition, we are also dealing with the inaccuracy of the GPS of between 5 to 20 – maybe 100 – metres in a dense urban environment. It becomes impossible to pinpoint the exact location of an individual. Combine this with a population density as we have here in London and it is impossible to identify an individual.


Images by urbanTick / This shows a zoom (part 1) in on a animation of tweets in Google Earth as to demonstrate how tricky it is to read an actual location from this, even more so if one takes the GPS accuracy into account.

In conclusion it can be said that new guidelines clearly have to be developed for the changing nature of data availability in the digital age. Both commercial companies and academic researchers have to take extra care in handling and using digital personal data. They need to be aware that just because it is accessible this does not mean it can be used. However, there also has to be a change of mindset on the user side. They cannot just make use of services provided to them without contributing anything. If the service is based on public sharing and they want to use it they have to buy in to this information economy. Similarly with good search results. If people want the best possible service to quickly find something relevant to them in the ocean of data they might have to provide a little bit of information about themselves and what they are looking for. Economies – information no less than traditional – operate upon an exchange.

As discussed above in relation to physical public space, recently people seem to be very willing to accept corporate provisions and probably the discussion has to start there with the question of how dependant on these dominating private service providers do we want to be, both virtual and real and how much of our personal information in this context is actually still really private and how much do we just want to make it private.

However these aspects and links only touch on the topic and there are a lot more aspects that need to be discussed in detail, please feel free to comment and/or contribute.

Suggested Reading:

Dutton, William H. and Paul W. Jeffreys, editors. 2010. World Wide Research. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Rogers, Richard. 2004. Information Politics on the Web. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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