Peoplemaps is a project by David Troy with assistance from Bill Mill and others. It was designed to reveal the underlying social connections, groups, and communities within a specific geographical region. They used data from from social networks, like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and AngelList.
The maps he produces, however, are not geographical — rather, they describe the relative orientation of communities in a city or region. Each dot represents a person (or user account), each line represents a relationship, and each color group represents a community of interest. Communities at opposite ends of a map have the least in common.
The layout of the map is determined by relationships — they act like springs, bringing people closer together.
By arranging the maps in this way, we can determine how people choose to sort themselves, and study the patterns in human arrangement that arise between different cities — and we can also see patterns like segregation and other unhealthy patterns of arrangement. For specifics about the methodology and theoretical foundation, please see The Math Behind Peoplemaps.
On his TED Talk, David comes to several conclusions:
“Well, I think the first thing that we can try to understand is that segregation is a social construct. It’s something that we choose to do, and we could choose not to do it, and if you kind of think about it, what we’re doing with this data is aiming a space telescope at a city and looking at it as if was a giant high school cafeteria, and seeing how everybody arranged themselves in a seating chart. Well maybe it’s time to shake up the seating chart a little bit.
The other thing that we start to realize is that race is a really poor proxy for diversity. We’ve got people represented from all different types of races across the entire map here – only looking at race doesn’t really contribute to our development of diversity. So if we’re trying to use diversity as a way to tackle some of our more intractable problems, we need to start to think about diversity in a new way.
And lastly, we have the ability to create interventions to start to reshape our cities in a new way, and I believe that if we have that capability, we may even bear some responsibility to do so.
So what is a city? I think some might say that it is a geographical area or a collection of streets and buildings, but I believe that a city is the sum of the relationships of the people that live there, and I believe that if we can start to document those relationships in a real way then maybe we have a real shot at creating those kinds of cities that we’d like to have.”