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Understanding the Geography of Internet Use

I came in a little late to the next session at AoIR 2007, and Alex Halavais has already started. He's starting by talking about a series of search engine tests he's done using a set of 25 random English nouns, using Google and Yahoo! in a number of their country-specific versions. He coded the first 100 results of these searches for their country location (mostly assuming that the ccTLDs were accurate) and examined the whois records.

The result has that in most cases here, links were mainly to sites in the U.S. (except for Australian search engine versions, interestingly), and otherwise to the home country. The question, then, is how Google decides where to guide people - shouldn't localised search engine versions be more strongly localised in pointing to domestic sites?

Up next is Darren Purcell, presenting a paper co-authored with Emily Duda. Their interest is in borders as social constructs; borders are continually made important through a pedagogy of space. Borders enable identity and constrain the 'other'. One element here is extensibility, which impacts on the geography of facebook groups. Context and groundedness matters; knowledge is spatial, and understanding of borders is contextual. ICTs allow for new sites of pedagogy.

Darren now introduces the idea of critical geopolitics; within this exists popular geopolitics as a subset (in addition to practical and formal geopolitics), which focusses on the role of media in teaching us how to see place and space (usually from an elite perspective). However, Darren suggests, using Facebook as a data source moves away from the focus on elite media makers. Whet's important is not only location within a set of spatial relations, but also control of the sites, flows, scales, and spaces that comprise that geometry. Facebook enables new forms of control by different actors.

One example here is the American Border Patrol group on Facebook, whose Webcams claim to be actively monitoring the U.S.-Mexican border (and whose members monitor the Webcams and call in border violations to the official border guards); this enhances the extensibility of the participating individuals (and the group has also achieved some mass media coverage). Such work is no longer mundane; enhanced extensibility leads users to develop a greater connection to the border despite their distance from the actual border (and a number of users were located in states at some distance from the border, but who had some other personal experiences with allegedly illegal immigrants).

Darren now runs through a number of examples for the (sometimes very troubling) statements made on some of the Facebook groups which support or fight against this project. This is a form of geo-graphing, or earth writing - groups examine and rework the image of the border. What's necessary is to look more widely at this and similar projects on Facebook, as well as to examine how such online membership and action translates to offline participation.

Suely Fragoso is the final speaker in this session. Her interest is in the hyperlinks between Brazilian Websites and sites of other nationalities. The Internet really started in Brazil only in 1987, and went public and commercial in 1995. Penetration remains low, at 21%, but use amongst this population is extremely high; the .br domain has a surprisingly high number of hosts, too (comparable to Australia - but of course not all .br domains are Brazilian, and not all Brazilian sites have a .br domain). At the same time, .br is at least representative of the social actors of Brazilian nationality on the Web. Sites in the .br domain have a surprisingly high degree of international connectivity, and Brazilian sites are fairly central and highly visible on the Web (and appear to receive more international links than they send).

Why this prominence of inlinks to Brazilian sites? Suely developed a sample of 102 key Brazilian Websites across the .br ccTLD, and used Yahoo! to identify inlinks to these sites from key countries with close relations to Brazil, from sites on the five generic TLDs, and from elsewhere. Additionally, she used a crawler to locate and count the outlinks from these 102 sites. General .br sites (large universities and science and technology organisations) sent some 7468 outlinks; sites sent 1513 outlinks; sent 502 outlinks; sent 406 outlinks; others (,, and sent considerably less. On the other hand, .br received 31,805 inlinks, 15,912, and others less again.

Overall, the inlinks:outlinks ratio is 6.55:1 (or 68,516:10,473); inlinks come and outlinks go predominantly from .com, .org, .net, and .edu, but after this, sources of inlinks are largely .de, .ar, .es, .it, and .uk domains, while most outlinks go to .uk, .de, .ca, .fr, .ar - on this basis, Brazil is closer in connection to Germany and the U.K. than to Argentina or any other of its neighbours (or to former colonial power Portugal). On a continent-wide level, interestingly, the ranking of continents according to interlinkage with Brazilian sites is identical to their ranking according to available Internet bandwidth (if generic TLDs are assumed to be mainly North America-based) - but the high number of inlinks coming in to Brazilian sites from nations with better bandwidth still does not follow logically from such data...

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