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Spatial metaphors of the internet: Resources

August 13, 2014

As someone who does work on online communities and spatial informatics, I’m very much aware of the extent to which we tend to use spatial metaphors to talk about web-based technologies. I asked around the Social Media Collective (including our mighty network of esteemed colleagues) for favorite critiques of the intertwining of space and the internet, and thought I’d share the list of sources here.

Abrams, J. & Hall, P. (Eds.) (2006). Else/where: Mapping new cartographies of networks and territories. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Design Institute.

Bederson, B. B., & Hollan, J. D. (1994). Pad++: A zooming graphical interface for exploring alternate interface physics. Proceedings of the 7th annual ACM symposium on User interface software and technology, pp. 17-26. Retrieved from

Chun, W. H. K. (2006). Control and freedom: Power and paranoia in the age of fiber optics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (See Chapter 1 in particular)

Cohen, J. (2007). Cyberspace and/as place. Columbia Law Review, 107, 210-256. Retrieved from

Dodge, M. (2001). Cybergeography. Environment and Planning B: planning and Design, 28(1), 1-2.

Donath, J. (2014). The social machine: Designs for living online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (See in particular chapter 3).

Druick, Z. (1995). The information superhighway, or the politics of a metaphor. Bad Subjects, 18. Retrieved from

Gandy, Jr., O. H., & Farrall, K. N. (2009). Metaphoric reinforcement of the virtual fence factors shaping the political economy of property in cyberspace. In A. Chadwick & P. N. Howard (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Internet Politics, p. 349. New York, NY: Routledge.

Graham, M. (2013). Geography/Internet: Ethereal alternate dimensions of cyberspace or grounded augmented realities. The Geographical Journal. Retrieved from

Harnad, S. (1990). The symbol grounding problem. Physica D: Nonlinear Phenomena, 42(1), 335-346. Retrieved from

Harrison, S., & Dourish, P. (1996). Re-place-ing space: The roles of place and space in collaborative Systems. In Proc. of CSCW ’96. Retrieved from

Hunter, D. (2003). Cyberspace as place and the tragedy of the digital anticommons. California Law Review, 91(2). Retrieved from

Kerr, O. S. (2002).The problem of perspective in Internet law. Geographic Law Journal, 91. Retrieved from

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lyman, P. (1998). The poetics of the future: Information highways, virtual communities and digital libraries. Presented at the Lazerow Lecture Series, School of Library and Information Sciences, UCLA. Retrieved from

Mansell, R. (2012). Imagining the internet: communication, innovation, and governance. Oxford University Press.

Markham, A. (1998). Life online: Researching real experience in virtual space. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press.

Nelson, L. D., & Simmons, J. P. (2009). On southbound ease and northbound fees: Literal consequences of the metaphoric link between vertical position and cardinal direction. Journal of Marketing Research, 46(6), 715-724. Retrieved from

Schubert, T. W. (2005). Your highness: Vertical positions as perceptual symbols of power. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 89, (1). Retrieved from

Stefik, M. (1997). Internet Dreams: Archetypes, Myths, and Metaphors. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Turner, F. (2005). Where the counterculture met the new economy: The WELL and the origins of virtual community. Technology and Culture 46 (3), 485–512. Retrieved from

Wilken, R. (2013). An exploratory comparative analysis of the use of metaphors in writing on the Internet and mobile phones. Social Semiotics, 23(5), 632-647. Retrieved from

Wyatt, S. (2000). Talking about the future: Metaphors of the Internet. In N. Brown, B. Rappert & A. Webster (Eds.), Contested futures: A sociology of prospective techno-science, pp. 109-26.  Aldershot: Ashgate Press.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 13, 2014 11:28 pm

    Great list! A few more…

    Dourish, P., & Bell, G. (2007). The infrastructure of experience and the experience of infrastructure: meaning and structure in everyday encounters with space. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 34(3), 414-430.

    Light, J. (1999). From city space to cyberspace. In M. Crang, P. Crang & J. May (Eds.), Virtual Geographies (pp. 109-130): Routledge.

  2. August 14, 2014 1:56 am

    Read this -you’ll love it
    Arora, P. (2014). The Leisure Commons: A spatial History of Web 2.0. London: Routledge

    Arora uses public parks as a metaphor to discuss the Internet/online spaces.

  3. August 14, 2014 11:06 pm

    A few more:

    Sally Applin and Michael Fischer have a series of papers on PolySocial Reality(PoSR), the multiple, sometimes overlapping, network transaction spaces that people traverse synchronously and asynchronously with others to maintain and use social relationships; a conceptual model for the global interaction context within which people experience social interactions whether immediate or mediated by technology. More at

    The full suite of papers is available here:


    Applin and Fischer (2011) “A Cultural Perspective on Mixed, Dual and Blended Reality”

    Applin and Fischer (2012) “PolySocial Reality: Prospects for Extending User Capabilities Beyond Mixed, Dual and Blended Reality”:

    Applin and Fischer (2013) “Thing Theory: Connecting Humans to Location-Aware Smart Environments”


  1. URLs of wisdom (16th August) | Social in silico

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