Digital Divide in User-Generated Content

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Mark Graham:

"Profound digital divisions of labour are evident in all open platforms that rely on user-generated content.

On Flickr, countries in the north are covered by much thicker clouds of information. Google's databases contain more indexed user-generated content about the Tokyo metropolitan region than the entire continent of Africa. While on Wikipedia, there is more written about Germany than South America and Africa combined. In other words, there are massive inequalities that cannot simply be explained by uneven internet penetration rates. A range of other physical, social, political and economic barriers reinforce the digital divide, amplifying the informational power of the already powerful and visible.

That's not to say the internet doesn't have important implications for the developing world. People use it not just to connect with friends and family, but to learn, share information, trade, and represent their communities.

Consequently, it's important to be aware of the internet's highly uneven geographies of information. These inequalities matter to the south, because connectivity – though a clear prerequisite for access to most 21st-century platforms of knowledge sharing – is by no means a determinant of knowledge production and digital participation.

How do we move towards encouraging participation from and about parts of the world left out of virtual representations? The first step is allowing people to see what is, and isn't, represented. After that, there is also a clear need for plans like Kenya's strategy to boost local digital content, or Wikimedia's Arabic Catalyst project, which aims to encourage the creation of content in Arabic and provide information about the Middle East.

It remains to be seen how effective such strategies will be in changing the highly uneven digital division of labour. As we rely increasingly on user-generated platforms, there is a real possibility that we will see the widening of divides between digital cores and peripheries. It is crucial to keep asking where visibility, voice and power reside in an increasingly networked world." (