Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sarah Williams & The "Buzz Theory"

While speaking about her work at the Spatial Information Design Lab, Sarah Williams introduced the term “Spatial Data Traces”, or digital information registered by people in places that are left behind. She gave several examples of projects illustrating these data traces, the most compelling of which I found in the “Buzz Theory” project. The formulation of this project was rooted in the theory of “clustering”, a term we are not unfamiliar with from our readings by Richard Florida and Elizabeth Currid. The theory states, in short, that location and concentration is integral in developing a specific field-focused community. Silicon Valley, for example, is thriving due the clustering of engineers, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in one area. The location of the “Buzz Theory” project began in Los Angeles, or more specifically, on the internet. Using the image repository site Getty Images, Sarah and her team mined for arts and cultural events happening in the area. They then divided the events by typology, finding that certain types of events developed “enclaves”, or their own concentrated areas. The team’s findings helped to make an interesting observation: the arts and cultural events were more common in commercial than creative areas. This supports the assumption that the Arts, though produced in creative enclaves, is celebrated by the public in commercial sectors. In addition, Sarah concludes that Getty Images is a market-driven site, used by those wanting to promote a commercial event. I was fascinated by this form of research- where the source of data and mapping of data serve to illuminate each other. Getty Images, though a provider of hard data, is made bias by its users. To recognize this, and use it to further your results, is what sets the research apart. When studying culture, why not use cultural data, and let the source and the results play off one another?

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