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Researchers Redraw the Map of Great Britain Using Social Networks

December 11, 2010

What if the borders of our cities and states weren't based on political history, but instead on real social relationships?

That's the question behind a research project by the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based architect Carlo Ratti. Ratti, who is also the director of MIT's SENSEable City Lab, looked at data from about 12 billion anonymized landline calls in the United Kingdom. When he found two people who talked on the phone frequently, or for long periods of time, he assumed they had a close relationship. Ratti then then identified clusters of people with strong ties and drew a new maps of Great Britain based on these social networks.

Many of the regions on Ratti's new maps were the same as current geographical boundaries. London, for instance, has a strong social network. But others were unexpected. Ratti discovered a social region that encompassed parts of Wales and the West Midlands.

The image above shows three of Ratti's social network maps, each using a different number of regions.

For Ratti, these new boundaries reflect "more natural ways that people interact across space."

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