Traffic Flow Maps
the flows of goods, people, diseases and the like between cities
and countries has long been an important part of cartography. If
you look in any good atlas you will find a range of different flow
maps, but what you won't see are maps of the communication flows
of the Net. This is because no one really knows, comprehensively
and reliably, how much information and communications flows between
cities and countries and few people have tried to map these flows.
group that has tried is TeleGeography , which has produced
arguably the best flows maps of the Net thus far, based on the volume
of international telephone traffic between nations. Below is an
example of one of their hand-crafted telecommunications traffic
flow maps for the European region.
map shows countries with traffic flows between them represented
as smoothly curving red lines. The thickness of the lines is proportional
to the annual volume of traffic between those two countries, measured
in millions of minutes of voice telecommunication. (Note: only the
principal route pairs, above a set threshold, are shown, to avoid
cluttering the map.) Circular symbols, located on the capital city,
encode the country's total annual outgoing traffic to all other
countries. It is clear from the map that the UK, Germany and France
dominate traffic intra-European flows, forming a powerful triangle
at the heart of the continent.
and the First TeleGeographer
is 'telegeography'? Well, it is a successful telecoms research company
based in Washington DC, started by Gregory C. Staple in the early
1990s. It has also been defined as a new domain of study in a dictionary
style as follows,
\ n (1990) abbrv. of telecommunication geography [fr.
Gk tele, far off, at a distance and L. communicatus,
pp. of communicare to impart + fr. Gk geo (earth) +
graphein, (to write)] 1. a new branch of geography
that maps the pattern of telephone traffic and other electronic
communication flows; 2. places created by or perceived solely
via telecommunications (e.g., a computer network address);
3. the telecommunications artefacts (radio antennae, terminals,
signs) on a site; 4. the balance of telecommunications power
in one country or region vis-à-vis another (cf. geopolitics,
a recent email interview for Map of the Month, I asked
Greg Staple about his interest in maps and his motivation for starting
TeleGeography. Staple became a nascent telegeographer whilst working
at a small London think-tank in 1988 and one of his key inspirations
was provided by Stuart Brand's 1987 book The Media Lab .
In the book Brand noted the paucity of data on and maps of information
flows, in contrast to the wealth of statistics on the movement of
all manner of material goods. When Staple read about this, he said,
"Well the picture just came into my mind with his words. And
I knew I had to take a stab at it. At the time, I was a few streets
away from one of London's best stocked book stores and I had had
the same frustrating experience; the information society was everywhere,
but you couldn't find a map of who was connected to whom to save
". When Staple returned to telecoms law practice in
the US he kept working on the problem, gathering data, making contacts
and with the encouragement of Hugo Dixon, a telecommunications journalist
at the Financial Times, began analysing and mapping international
telecommunications traffic. After several years work TeleGeography
was formed as a company in 1993 and by the mid 1990s useful and
comprehensive traffic flows maps were being published annually.
has a passion for good cartography and its application in the venture
of mapping cyberspace - see for example his 1995 article "Notes
on Mapping the Net: From Tribal Space to Corporate Space" .
In another email answer he set forth his belief that, "
of cyberspace or any information space can be of enormous help.
We are just beginning to figure out the 'how' and the 'why' though.
Currently, cybermaps are of limited navigational value, but they
are beginning to help us track the Net's changing day-to-day topology."
traffic flow maps are but one of the high-quality and innovative
maps of the Net developed and published by TeleGeography, along
with a range of comprehensive reports. More recently they have been
mapping Internet bandwidth between countries, which also provides
a useful proxy for information flows . In addition, Staple
the purely aesthetic dimension of cybermapping
new genre for the arts
shouldn't be ignored either." This
can clearly be seen in TeleGeography's recent spin-off venture Peacock
Maps  which is selling the glorious 'Whole Internet' posters,
based on the research by Bill Cheswick and Hal Burch in Bell Labs's
Internet Mapping Project .
Dreams of a TeleGeographer
is happy that after ten years of work and development, telecommunications
flow maps are at last beginning to be included in mainstream atlases
, although, they only provide a partial view of the totality
of information flows using the multitude of media available today.
Staple notes, in his email answers, that we are still some way from
meeting Brand's 1987 musing on the 'dream' information flow map,
want [the] map to be animated, depicting the flows in time
series, showing where are the ebbs over time and where the
floods and where the ancient streambeds, and how rapidly the
torrent is growing. Other maps could show what is borne on
the currents: what kinds of information are increasing, decreasing,
Media Lab, by Stuart
Brand (Penguin 1987), page 245).
from around the world are working to create these maps.