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  • The Economist

Geography and the Net: Putting It in Its Place

The Internet is perceived as being everywhere, all at once. But geography matters in the networked world, and now more than ever.

Mr Townsend notes that cities are, in a sense, vast information storage and retrieval systems, in which different districts and neighbourhoods are organised by activity or social group. A mobile Internet device, he suggests, will thus become a convenient way to probe local information and services. Location will, in effect, be used as a search parameter, to narrow down the information presented to the user. Mobile devices, he says, “reassert geography on the Internet.”

At the moment, Internet users navigate a largely placeless datasphere. But in future they will want location-specific information and access to their personal data, wherever they are — and wherever it is. This will be tricky to pull off, and impossible without taking geography explicitly into account. It is undoubtedly true that the Internet means that the distance between two points on the network is no longer terribly important. But where those points are still matters very much. Distance is dying; but geography, it seems, is still alive and kicking.

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