GIScience, Neogeography and Culturally Sensitive Websites

By Fiona Ferbrache

The opening paper to the current edition of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers introduced me to a geographical concept that I had not encountered before: neogeography.  While the term is not a new one, its contemporary meaning (defined by Turner, 2006) refers to the use of technology, digital tools and web-based data sets to create new forms of geographical representation e.g. web-mapping.  In the opening paragraph of his paper: Geographic information science, Haklay provides another example of contemporary neogeography, and evaluates the links between neogeography and GIScience to assess the extent to which the former is, or might become, an integral part of the latter.

Haklay’s article reflects on new (technological) methodologies being developed to address specific problems or ways to solve research challenges.  Methodological development, he argued “can eventually lead to the development of theoretical understanding” (p.478).  How we use technology for what can be achieved resonates with a BBC commentary concerning the way in which culturally sensitive use of the internet can help us reach out to a global community more efficiently.

What the BBC article argues is that Western standards and the English language have become the ‘norm’ for online information – “a colonialism of sorts” (do you consider this an accurate interpretation?).  The risk is that webpage producers become complacent about their audience and its needs.  For instance, beyond consideration of language, the article indicates that Chinese internet users tend to scan webpages in ways that Western users would not, thus influencing the impact that particular page designs have on different populations.

The solution? Conscious efforts to personalise online experiences by tailoring sites that are culturally sensitive to particular audiences.  One organisation already adapting their online presence is Coca-Cola (see, for example cocacola.fr/co.uk/com.cn).  Using technology and digital tools to enhance culturally contextualised representations of a brand – I wondered whether this was perhaps like the idea of neogeography? What do you think?

 Mordechai Haklay, 2012, Geographic information science: tribe, badge and sub-disciplineTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 37 477-481

  Viewpoint: English is dead, long live ‘glocalisation‘, BBC Online

Andrew Turner, 2006, Introduction to Neogeography, O’Reilly

One thought on “GIScience, Neogeography and Culturally Sensitive Websites

  1. Ciaran

    This is an interesting concept, I’ve always thought of the web as a ‘thing’ that overrides space, certainly traditional understandings of space, such as locale or region. The fact that, say, I’m in the UK matters less on Facebook, as I can connect, and overlap, seamlessly to networks in California, Texas, Japan or Australia. In reality, the web is tailored to our location, gender, age and interests. If we accept, then, the definition of neogeography as ‘the use of technology, digital tools and web-based data sets to create new forms of geographical representation’, then it’s extremely useful in making sense of what the web is: a patchwork of representational spaces.

    Reply

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