Mapping Wikipedia: Geolocated Articles as a Proxy of Culture and Attention

By Elijah Meeks | November 29, 2011

When Jon Christensen proposed we explore the possibilities of mapping culture in urban areas, I immediately thought of Eric Fischer’s work mapping Twitter and Flickr users in an attempt to describe how we talk about certain things but photograph others. In a stroke of good timing, I’d recently seen Claudia Engel, academic technology specialist for Anthropology, demonstrate using the Drupal Feeds module to pull in geolocated articles from DBpedia, the database version of Wikipedia. I thought, why not map the places that had Wikipedia articles associated with them, to see what patterns emerged.  The results of this excursion are presented below.

DBpedia is the ongoing attempt to transform Wikipedia into a semantically rich and queryable database of human knowledge.  It stores much of the categorical information found in Wikipedia articles using RDF triples–simple links for every snippet of data, from the death date of a famous (and sometimes even real) person to the season number of every Simpsons episode, to the latitude and longitude of over half a million articles on a wide variety of subjects.

Jon is the director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West, and he brought with him two undergraduate research assistants,  Jenny Rempel & Judee Burr.  I showed them how to perform simple spatial queries to get Wikipedia articles located in San Franciscoand we discussed what this data may mean and the thorny issues that we may need to account for in its use.

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