I must say that despite the feelings of the man using a monome to play the html data of websites as sound etc… on my last posting here, i do think the NYTimes have a severely impressive web presence. One need look no further than their interactive map of Baghdad:

[Assessing the ‘Surge’: an interactive map of Baghdad from nytimes.com]

The map itself is a result of a project ‘to study the ground-level effects of the American troop buildup’. As one’s mouse hovers over the neighbourhoods lying either side of the undulating Tigris, connections are made between the map and surrounding text and image. As my cursor wavers over Saydia in the south, i see the region connect to an image of a smiling girl’s face and Saydia: Thousands Flee Active Battle Zone. Not only can I click on a particular neighbourhood to venture into on-the-ground journalism, video and photojournalism but i can also view the map in terms of who inhabits which areas, displaced neighbourhoods, Sunni majority and strong Mahdi army presence. Geographically aware and able. Now we are actively participating in the journalism we view, no longer passive recipients.

How far could one take this? Next of course, please, vantage point mobility, the ability to zoom in and see the street level, to tilt and angle oneself to catch a particular glimpse of the four golden minarets at Kadhmayn;  then palimpsestic maps of infrastructures begin to appear: electricity grids and aqueducts and their lines of communication. Movements of people across the city over a day, a year, a decade, ever since Werner Herzog filmed from above the Iraqi oil fields being sent aflame in Lessons of Darkness. A map of the city shifting over time, rising out of the sands before your very eyes; and the subsequent destructions, captured for posterity.

[from Herzog’s Lessons of Darkness]

The only aspect now missing is the ability to alter the map, the possibility of effecting change. Consider the following: a man, lets call him X, is a voyeur, he places himself at train stations and on trams, above balconies and under bridges, watching keenly all the varied passers-by. Inconspicuous, he seems to himself. Every step he takes, however, leaves an imprint. As do his no-longer-furtive glances. What if interactive maps were malleable in this sense, each place you visit somehow your mark is left upon, a barely visible stamp of your past presence there. Then we could see and hear of viewers movements across the map, paths taken and returned upon. More extreme still and we have a landscape entirely alterable, viewers able to construct small compounds and tap into the electricity grid, shape hillocks and breathe life into the space. I do not, of course, recommend this for Baghdad.

Nor have I said much of the substance of this particular interactive map, which you really should check out yourself since I have no ability to relate to you the complexities of all the information that can be gathered from this particular well. Do, however, permit me end with the words of a small girl, seemingly proud to have been displaced due to her family receiving a letter with a bullet in it:

No matter what, Iraq is so beautiful… Iraq will remain beautiful, no matter what. (Sung) Baghdad of poets and pictures. The gold of time… and its perfume scent.

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