Interactive map aims to show every person in U.S., Canada

Posted at 10:04 AM, Jan 25, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-25 10:04:53-05

Census Dot Map

By Brandon Griggs 

(CNN) — Do you ever feel like the place you live is just a dot on a map? Well, if you live in the U.S. or Canada, Brandon Martin-Anderson just made you a dot on a map.

The MIT graduate student has built an interactive online map that displays one dot for every resident of the United States and Canada, as counted by the most recent censuses. That’s 341,817,095 dots.

Hover over your town or city, and black smudges on the map gradually dissolve into dot clusters and then individual dots as you zoom in.

“The reason why it (the map) keeps getting shared around is that it intersects with everyone’s personal narrative,” said Martin-Anderson, a researcher at the MIT Media Lab. “People want to be a piece of something larger.”

Martin-Anderson wrote a Python script to generate points from census block-level counts of people, then wrote another script to sort the dots. The project took him about a week’s worth of full-time coding, he said in an interview with CNN.

The map contains no identifying labels, roads or geographical features, so it can be hard to pinpoint locations. Martin-Anderson says he wanted “an image of human settlement patterns unmediated by proxies” such as arterial roads or city and state boundaries.

“All you have to do is throw 300 million points onto a page, and all these patterns pop out,” he said. “People live wherever there is agriculture, and agriculture happens wherever there is rain.”

Indeed, the map illustrates his point: The eastern, lusher half of the U.S. is peppered with black smudges, while the west has vast stretches of white.

Martin-Anderson is not the first to build a dotmap of population patterns — the U.S. Census has been doing them for years — but he may be the first to assign one dot for each person. Coincidentally, Foursquare, the location-based networking app, published a similar interactive map last week that shows the locations of 500 million user check-ins around the world.

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