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Gender and the GeoWeb: divisions in the production of user-generated cartographic information

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The GeoWeb presents an opportunity to expand the array of potential contributors describing the earth through digital geographic information. However, the adoption of user-generated geographic information has not been uniform, resulting in an uneven distribution of content and more nuanced digital divides. This paper uses a survey of Internet users to measure the gender divide in the contributions of cartographic information to the Internet and examine the impact of this divide within the context of OpenStreetMap and Google MapMaker. This paper argues that in both publicly available basemaps the gender divide results in men serving as the gatekeepers of local knowledge leading to gendered user-generated representations. As these digital basemaps are reproduced and utilized by almost every mobile application or web-based map, the gender divisions in the creators and content are endlessly reproduced.

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Fig. 1
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  1. Google Earth also describes this project with the Suri on their Outreach page:

  2. This survey was also distributed in an Italian language version. The Italian survey results are not included here as they are part of another project. However, the results of the Italian survey are consistent with the English version and support the findings presented in this paper.

  3. In order of number of survey responses received: United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada, Spain, Austria, Argentina, Netherlands, Finland, New Zealand, Switzerland, Australia, Israel, India, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Mexico, Portugal, Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Czech Republic, Malaysia, Mauritius, Republic of Korea, Romania, Samoa, Serbia, United Arab Emirates, Zimbabwe.

  4. Of the 11 individuals that used the “other” category for their gender, only three completed the survey. As this was not statistically significant at any level, only the results for those classifying themselves as “male” or “female” are provided in this paper.

  5. Significance based on a Chi Squared test. Chi-Square compares the frequency of two or more groups to determine the significance of the accuracy between the expected distribution and the observed distribution. Healey (2011) defined Chi-Square as follows: \(x^{2} = \sum {\frac{{(f_{o} - f_{e} )^{2} }}{{f_{e} }}}\) where f o is the observed frequency and f e is the expected frequency.

  6. describes a baby hatch as “A baby hatch is a place where mothers can bring their babies, usually newborn, and leave them anonymously in a safe place to be found and cared for. A baby hatch is also known as ‘safe haven’.”


  8. See: for more discussion on “Bordelle, Kondomautomaten, Swingerclubs, Strichertreffpunkte” (a German OSM forum on “Brothels condom vending machines, swingerclubs and hustler meeting”).


  10. It should be noted that while a large number of OSM contributors come from German speaking countries this debate is not simply about linguistic differences. “Kindergarten” is a German word but in both German and English speaking countries there are different words that classify the age-range for child-care providers (such as day-care, after-school program, pre-school, nursery or kindergarten in English and Kindertagesstätte, Tagi, Crèche, Kita, Horte, Kinderkrippe, Schulhort, Schülerläden or Kindergarten in German). From

  11. Unfortunately there is no way to determine the gender of all those who voted on the proposal as only their username is visible and linked to self-made user page with limited demographic information.

  12. See for comments and complete voting results.




  16. This only includes users who volunteered for this site and also agreed “I am okay with Google sharing all of the above information publicly.”



Volunteered geographic information




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I would like to extend my gratitude to Antonella Rondinone for her assistance with the survey. Matthew Zook, Matthew Wilson and Agnieszka Leszczynski contributed excellent ideas that improved the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Monica Stephens.

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Stephens, M. Gender and the GeoWeb: divisions in the production of user-generated cartographic information. GeoJournal 78, 981–996 (2013).

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