Thursday, June 07, 2007

the Ghost Map

O'Reilly Radar > Where 2.0:'s New Features and the Ghost Map

Steven also spoke about his book The Ghost Map and how it inspired The book covers the infamous cholera outbreak of London in the 19th century. The outbreak was stopped by two men (Whitehead and Snow) who used their social network to create a map of the cholera deaths. Through this work they identified an infected water pump and saved many lives. If you want to learn more quickly here's a video of Steven talking about Ghost Map.

Snow and Whitehead would not have been able to actually solve the mystery if the following circumstances hadn't occurred:

  • Open data archives - They had access to the local death records and were able to create a "Victorian Mashup".
  • Density - London and its neighborhoods were dense. This density allowed the disease to spread. The density also allowed a pattern to emerge that ultimately led to stopping the pandemic.
  • Local Amateurs - Snow was a physician and an amateur cartographer. Whitehead was a local vicar, but he knew everyone. Many bloggers are today's local amateurs.
  • Pattern Recognition - Plotting the data on the map was obviously key. Without it they would not have been able to center in on that single pump.