Thursday, April 5, 2007

Books, World History & The Digital Age

**Note: Credit for all original research, data plotting & illustrations, is given to David Petrou & Matthew Gray; both software engineers for Google**Book Map
You know how when you look at pictures of the planet from space, you can see "maps" of the population from the city lights and see where the Earth is highly populated? Well, using that idea two engineers at Google have developed a program that has mapped the world based on specific locations named in all published novels that have been scanned and recorded by Google Books; a newer service from Google that lets you find information from pretty much any book ever published and scan/search for keywords, view summaries, and even read whole books if available and released from copyright protections.

This is some pretty cool stuff, even if you are not a bibliophile like myself. Above is the current world map of the book universe. Each pixel intensity (blue: lowest; red: highest) is based on the number of times it's specific location is mentioned in any of these books. Shockingly (or not) this gives us a quite detailed map of the world...

Some parts of the world have not been given much representation (are Canadian authors not even writing about themselves?) but most of it is pretty detailed. The next cool thing is filtering the map based on publication dates. Matthew Gray notes that you can see some pretty interesting trends, also. The westward expansion in population in the US in patently obvious; ergo it's mention in the literary world. You can also see the colonization of India and Africa, if largely from a British literary perspective...

1800'sFrom books published before 1800 AD.

1830's From books published before 1830 AD.

1860'sFrom books published before 1860 AD.

1980's From books published before 1890 AD.

It continues to amaze me how the digitization and condensation of pretty much all human knowledge into useful, practical and most importantly searchable databases (ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US) yields ever increasing and delightfully unexpected uses.