Mapping the Internet with MargieMap

Thank you to Carmen Bourlon for returning with another wonderful article.

Internet in the United States

Internet is fickle, but required. Without the Internet our children wouldn't be able to complete their school work. Many of us wouldn't be able to work, and others would be unable to communicate with their friends and families. The Internet in it's wondrous way of connecting people has converted communication, knowledge, and contact into a tiered system where money and affordability dictate access.

Who doesn't have Internet at home

A study from Illinois revealed that nearly a third of individuals go without Internet access at home. The reasons people forego Internet range from the recurring cost of Internet or a computer, or a lack of infrastructure.

Of those without Internet, nearly two-thirds revealed cited cost for foregoing Internet is cost, and even further one-third cited cost as their number one reason for not having Internet at home citing the monthly recurring cost, or the cost of a computer.

Infrastructure can be another issue — a full 15 percent of individuals surveyed said that Internet is not available where they live.

Perhaps most importantly, nearly a quarter of those without Internet would like to have access at home to keep up with entertainment, but also to "[get] health care information, [and keep] up with family and friends..."

A lack of Internet literally places people in silos where they are unable to communicate with the outside world.

The importance of libraries

Unfortunately cost and infrastructures are difficult and expensive problems to solve. Fortunately the public library offers an alternative. While it would be possible for someone to utilize a coffee shop or bookstore which offers free wifi, there are barriers. A subset of individuals from the study cited the cost of a computer as a reason to forego internet — so wifi will not help. Additionally there are expectations to buy things in for-profit establishments.

A public library offers a free (at the time of service) experience. Typically a computer is available for use, which negates the issue of not having a computer. Additionally the wifi is free to use without expectation of buying coffee or a meal. And, of course, being in a library means knowledge is all around you in many forms — from the Internet, to the books on the shelves, to the Librarians ready to assist your search.

Enter: MargieMap

MargieMap visualizes income data for the south-central United States

Taking all of this into account, MargieMap set out to visualize the link between income and library access. While the study in Illinois showed cost as a reason people forego in-home Internet, another study from Pew Research showed a link between income and Internet access.

MargieMap used data from the American Community Survey to find income data for each census tract in the United States. The ACS is performed each year by the Census Bureau. The list of each library was curated by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Mapbox provides the maptiles, and some simple Node scripts converted the csv data into GeoJson format. This is what made the data usable by Mapbox. GeoJson is essentially a collection of latitude and longitude points making up a line, point, or polygon. The points allow the polygon to be plotted on a map and a properties object allows metadata about the polygon, line, or point to be accessible.

For MargieMap, each orange dot represents a library, while the legend shows the income data — heavy blues represent the lowest incomes and the blues fade and turn into a pink as incomes rise.

Findings from MargieMap

Using turfjs, I was able to determine how many libraries are in a given county or census tract.

Finding a latitude and longitude point in a polygon is simple with Turf. I used their pointsWithinPolygon function.

Here are some findings using Turf:

The 10 counties with the lowest income (ascending) for 2017, along with the libraries in each county, were:

  1. McCreary County, Kentucky - 0 Libraries
  2. Holmes County, Mississippi - 5 Libraries
  3. East Carroll Parish, Louisiana - 2 Libraries
  4. Greene County, Alabama - 1 Library
  5. Sumter County, Alabama - 2 Libraries
  6. Jefferson County, Mississippi - 1 Library
  7. Clinch County, Georgia - 1 Library
  8. Tensas Parish, Louisiana - 2 Libraries
  9. Wolfe County, Kentucky - 1 Library
  10. Stewart County, Georgia - 1 Library

The 10 counties with the highest income (descending) for 2017, along with the libraries in each county, were:

  1. Loudoun County, Virginia - 9 Libraries
  2. Fairfax County, Virginia - 22 Libraries
  3. Howard County, Maryland - 7 Libraries
  4. Arlington County, Virginia - 9 Libraries
  5. Douglas County, Colorado - 7 Libraries
  6. Hunterdon County, New Jersey - 11 Libraries
  7. Los Alamos County, New Mexico - 2 Libraries
  8. Morris County, New Jersey - 38 Libraries
  9. Santa Clara County, California - 45 Libraries
  10. Somerset County, New Jersey - 16 Libraries

It's very interesting to note how the high-income areas seem to be more likely to have library access than lower-income areas - even though a lower-income area is more likely to need library access.

MargieMap highlights how incredibly important offline apps are becoming. Using a library like Electron or implementing a service worker in an app makes business sense, but - perhaps more importantly - it makes people-sense. Writing offline-friendly apps is one of the kindest things we can do for our users, and one of the few things that will have a positive impact on every user.

The contributors to JavaScript January are passionate engineers, designers and teachers. Emily Freeman is a developer advocate at Kickbox and curates the articles for JavaScript January.