Geographies of Knowledge and Information in Europe: Mapping the Data-Driven Contours of the Digital Single Market
The Digital Agenda presented by the European Commission proposes to realize the potential afforded by Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in order to encourage innovation, economic growth, and progress1. The Agenda constitutes one of the seven pillars of the Europe 2020 Strategy, which is the Union’s ten-year jobs and growth strategy.
The main objective of the Digital Agenda is to create a digital single market, where people and businesses can take advantage of digital opportunities and position Europe as a leader in the digital economy2. The priority areas of the digital single market strategy include better access for consumers and businesses to digital goods and services across Europe, fostering an appropriate environment for digital networks and services to flourish, and creating a European Digital Economy and society with growth potential. Amongst the other priorities of the Digital Agenda are investment in research and innovation, and promoting digital literacy, skills and inclusion.
Mirroring these political priorities and visions against the geographies of knowledge and information within the continent paints a sobering picture of the regional distribution of knowledge and skills central to the visions of a digital union and economy.
Academic articles published in a country approximate the level of formal research originating from a country. Using geographic data from Natural Earth3, the below figure maps the geography of peer-reviewed academic articles through author affiliation locations in the Web of Science citation database, produced by Thomson Reuters. The data has been collected by Juan Pablo Alperin who has kindly shared it to be featured in this analysis4. While many academic articles are available and accessed online, they may also be read in paper form, which makes this dataset only partially digitally mediated.
The map highlights the distribution of high and lower values of academic articles standardized by population. The dark shade of Western Europe suggests higher numbers of articles while countries in Eastern Europe host the lowest numbers of articles per 1000 inhabitants. Comparing the total numbers of published articles reveals the prominent position of the United Kingdom and Germany and the two countries together account for more articles than all of Eastern Europe, the Baltic, and the Nordic countries combined. The five Nordic countries have more articles than Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries combined.
In order to compare the geography of academic articles depicting more formal kinds of knowledge against indicators of fully digitally-mediated content, two sources of digitally based content are next mapped within the European continent. While less frequently measured and used as an indicator of innovation and growth potential, activities in collaborative software development and registration of top-level domain names indicate participation in the digital economy and society and offer a visual contour of the human capacity and skills that the Digital Agenda calls for.
GitHub is one of the world’s biggest and best-known hosting services through which users can develop software and share code. User activity on the GitHub code-hosting platform indicates the prevalence of collaborative coding within a country. The below figure maps the geography of GitHub commits, which are individual units of content contribution to projects hosted on the platform. Collaborative coding activity thus represents programming skills and complex knowledge related to ICTs. The data has been collected and processed by Stefano De Sabbata who has kindly shared it to be featured in this analysis5.
The map highlights the distribution of high and lower values of GitHub commits standardized by population. The dark shade of Western Europe suggests higher numbers of commits while countries in Southern and Eastern Europe host the lowest numbers of commits per 1000 inhabitants. Comparing the total numbers of GitHub commits reveals that Western Europe doesn’t fully dominate the ranks as after the United Kingdom, Germany, and France, Russia ranks fourth in terms of total number of commits. Similarly, the Eastern European countries combined have more commits than the United Kingdom. In stark contrast to the above comparison of academic articles, the Eastern European countries and Baltic countries combined have two times as many articles as the five Nordic countries combined.
The number of top-level domain names (TLDs) registered by inhabitants indicates the quantity of web content created within a country. While the data doesn’t distinguish between different types of websites, the registration of TLDs proxies the availability of information, services and goods online. The below figure maps the geography of TLDs which include country-code TLDs (ccTLDs) such as .de for Germany or .rs for Serbia, generic TLDs (gTLDs) such as .com or .net, and infrastructure TLDs (iTLDs) that have been introduced for Internet infrastructure purposes. The data has been collected and processed by Matthew Zook, who has kindly shared it to be featured in this analysis6.
The map highlights the distribution of high and lower values of TLDs standardized by population. The dark shade of Western Europe suggests higher numbers of TLDs while countries in Southern and Eastern Europe host the lowest numbers of TLDs per 1000 inhabitants. Comparing the total numbers of TLDs reveals that Germany dominates the web in terms of websites as it has 30 percent more TLDs than the United Kingdom, which ranks second. Eastern European countries combined have similar amount of TLDs and the United Kingdom. Nordic countries combined have only about one third of the amount of TLDs that Eastern European countries combined host. France and Russia both have more TLDs than the Nordic countries combined.
These geographies shed light into the regional distribution of the content and skills that form parts of the digital economy and society that the Digital Agenda and Digital Single Market envision to nurture in Europe. Comparing the distribution of collaborative coding and domain registrations to the geography of academic articles reveals that countries, which do not produce a high level of formal research content, may be significant participants and producers of digital content. However, the dominance of the strong European economies is clear across all of the three variables discussed here. As the digitally-oriented strategies are debated, implemented, and monitored across Europe, measuring information and knowledge production through both traditional as well as novel avenues will aid in understanding the pulse of the developing digital economy.
If this blog post caught your interest, make sure to keep an eye on the publications section of the Geonet project website, as the project team has a forthcoming paper studying the drivers of digital content creation across the world with a focus on Sub-Saharan Africa. If you are interested in the European context in particular, loop into the discussions at the Seminar on How to Use the Opportunities of the Digital Union in Order to Fight Social and Regional Injustices, where Professor Mark Graham will discuss these themes.
 “Digital for Europe – Digital Agenda for Europe – European Commission.” Digital Agenda for Europe. Accessed January 27, 2016. https://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/digital-europe.
 “Digital Single Market – Digital Agenda for Europe – European Commission.” Digital Agenda for Europe. Accessed January 27, 2016. https://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/en/digital-single-market.
 “Natural Earth,” 2016. Accessed January 27, 2016. http://www.naturalearthdata.com/.
 “Juan Pablo Alperin – Faculty, Staff, and Industry Guests.” Simon Fraser University – Publishing Program, 2016. http://publishing.sfu.ca/master-of-publishing/faculty/juan-pablo-alperin/.
 “Dr Stefano De Sabbata – Lecturer in Quantitative Geography.” University of Leicester, Department of Geography, 2016. Accessed January 27, 2016. http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/geography/people/stefano-de-sabbata
 “Matthew Zook | Geography.” University of Kentucky, 2016. Accessed January 27, 2016. https://geography.as.uky.edu/users/zook.