Mapping the Cultural Buzz

Posted: April 8th, 2009 | 1 Comment »

A couple of weeks ago at the Association of American Geographers meeting in Las Vegas, Elizabeth Currid (USC) and Sarah Williams (Columbia University) presented their paper The Geography of Buzz: Art, Culture and the Social Milieu (full aper). As described in Mapping the Cultural Buzz: How Cool Is That?, their work takes snapshots from more than 6,000 events from the data mining of 300,000 photos from Getty Images to categorize them according to event type, controlled for overly celebrity-driven occasions and geo-tagged at the street level. They exploited these photos as proxy for ‘buzz-worthy’ social contexts. As a result, they were able to quantify and understand, visually and spatially, how this creative cultural scene really worked. Based on these evidences, they can argue that those not conventionally involved in city development (paparazzi, marketers, media) have unintentionally played a significant role in the establishment of buzz and desirability hubs within a city.

Culture Buzz
Density of “fashion” events in New York
Relation to my thesis: After Anthony Townsend’s Augmenting Public Space and Authoring Public Art: The Role of Locative Media, the geography of buzz provides another instantiation of the value of digital footprints to describe the city. However, this use of photos as proxy of human time-space activity raises issues in not to confound behaviors with endorsement. It is one of the limitation of my work on the NYC Waterfalls. Nevertheless, Currid and Williams work certainly strengthen the value of my work on Tracing the Visitor’s Eye, with quotes that could come from straight out of this blog:

“We’re going to see more research that’s using these types of finer-grained data sets, what I call data shadows, the traces that we leave behind as we go through the city,” she said. “They’re going to be important in uncovering what makes cities so dynamic.”

They also provide another argument for the discussion of the contributions of my research work in the context of human-space relationship:

“People talk about the end of place and how everything is really digital. In fact, buzz is created in places, and this data tells us how this happens.”

Finally, an excellent reference in their bibliography that coins data shadows:

Zook, Matthew, Martin Dodge, Yuko Aoyama, Anthony Townsend, “New Digital Geographies: Information, Communication, and Place”, In Geography and Technology, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004

One Comment on “Mapping the Cultural Buzz”

  1. 1 Christophe said at 2:08 pm on April 9th, 2009:

    Digital data = amazing and storytelling visualization = best urban understanding. What else ?