The Rest of the World

vanishing point

Vanishing Point consists of a map of the world connected to a database fed by news coming from several international newspapers. The visibility of each country on the map results from the quantity of media coverage the country receives, so those countries that do not make the news disappear progressively.

Some countries, such as Taiwan, are completely invisible:

vp Taiwan

While others are (not surprisingly), well covered in the newspapers of the seven most industrialized nations.

vp USA

Fortunately, thanks to the internet, we are no longer so dependent on such limited news sources. Still, while we have access to thousands of newspapers from all over the world, language remains a barrier. That’s where sites like Global Voices can step in and fill the gap. Ethan Zuckerman calls the bloggers linked to in the Global Voices news aggregator, “bridge bloggers.” These are bloggers who are able to cross not only a linguistic divide, but also a cultural one. As he wrote in an article for Anthropology News [AAA members only]:

Bridge bloggers have one foot in each of two worlds: the world they live in and the one their readers inhabit. To convey events and ideas to a global audience, authors need to speak in a language—literally and figuratively—that a global audience can understand. It’s unsurprising that most bridge bloggers have lived and worked abroad, or are expatriates writing about their adopted country.

Zuckerman encourages anthropologists to blog precisely because they are often perfectly suited to exactly such a task. However, not all anthropologists are interested in explaining “their people” to the rest of the world. Some, like Alireza, have chosen to no longer blog in English, opting to blog only in Persian. While others, like this Norwegian anthropologist, have made a conscious decision to blog in English.

In the end, I’m not sure how much of a difference it will make. For highly motivated people, the information is out there and sites like Global Voices can be a useful tool. But most of the most popular blogs are still narrowly focused on information technology (with a concomitant obsession with the ever-exotic high-tech Japanese), or with American politics (and, justifiably, Iraq). Moreover, “bridge bloggers” often only cross national boundaries – not those boundaries of class, race and gender that often divide us within countries. True, there are some homeless bloggers (now in subsidized housing!), but I’m sure a map of the United States divided by class would show as much invisibility at the bottom as one sees in Africa on the Vanishing Point map.

(Thanks to Mike of Ishbaddidle for the link!)

UPDATE: Here is a link to an earlier post I wrote about various ways of mapping the news. And here is a new site that lets you see the front page of thousands of newspapers (also thanks to Mike).

UPDATE: World Changing points out that Ethan Zuckerman had himself tried doing something similar, drawing on the BBC, although he discontinued it last year.

One thought on “The Rest of the World

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  2. Actually, I’ve been doing something quite similar for over two years now, tracking the BBC, New York Times and about a dozen other sources, including Blogpulse and Technorati. Unfortunately, my maps are far uglier than the pretty ones being built by the Vanishing Point folks – you can check out the last couple of years of data at

    As for the question of whether projects like Global Voices can change how blogs work… I think they’re succeeding already. Global Voices is now one of the top 200 blogs tracked by Blogpulse in terms of citations per month – clearly it’s getting linked to a great deal not only by scholars like you, but folks who are finding it a useful set of alternative perspectives. And it’s increasingly a starting point for mainstream journalists as they try to figure out what this blogging thing means in other nations. I’m fairly confident that it’s going to have a major impact on maps like the ones presented here in the next few years…

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