Thursday, 27 December 2012

Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain

"As a child, I devoured the information in my parents copy of Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain, published by the Readers Digest in the mid-sixties. Inside its black, embossed covers, was a rich and magical world of Green Men, Stone Circles, Witches, Giants, Haunted Houses and Seasonal Customs. Single-handedly, it engendered my life-long interest in the folklore traditions of these Islands" - Simon Costin, The Museum of British Folklore.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Phantom Settlements, Trap Streets, Paper Towns...

Argleton was a phantom settlement that appeared on Google Maps and Google Earth but does not actually exist. The supposed location of Argleton was just off the A59 road within the civil parish of Aughton in West Lancashire, England, which in reality is nothing more than empty fields. Data from Google are used by other online information services which consequently treated Argleton as a real settlement within the L39 postcode area. As a result, Argleton also appeared in numerous listings for things such as real estate, employment and weather, but although the people, businesses and services listed are all in fact real, they are actually based elsewhere in the same postcode district. As of 30 January 2010, Argleton was no longer in Google Maps.

< One of Roy Bayfield's photographs from the location of the non-existent Argleton. View more of his photographs here.

The anomaly was first noticed by Mike Nolan, head of web services at nearby Edge Hill University, who posted about it on his blog in September 2008. In early 2009 it was investigated further by Nolan's colleague, Roy Bayfield, who walked to the area shown on Google Maps to see if there was anything special about it. Bayfield commented about it on his own blog and described the place as being "deceptively normal" as well as extrapolating the concept of a non-existent place using the tropes of magic realism and psychogeography; the story was later picked up by the local media. By November 2009, news of the non-existent town had received global media attention, and "Argleton" became a popular hashtag on Twitter. As of 23 December 2009, a Google search for "Argleton" was generating around 249,000 hits, and the domain names (with the message, "What the hell are they talking about? We, the good citizens of Argleton do exist. Here we are now!") and (a spoof website describing the history of Argleton, famous "Argletonians" and current events in the fictional village) were claimed. Other websites were selling merchandise with slogans such as "I visited Argleton and all I got was this T-shirt" and "New York, London, Paris, Argleton".

On 18 September 2010, the BBC Radio 4 programme 'Punt, PI' hosted by Steve Punt, investigated the case of Argleton...

One possible explanation for the presence of Argleton is that it was added deliberately as a copyright trap, or "paper town" as they are sometimes known, to catch any violations of copyright, though such bogus entries are typically much less obvious. It has been noted that "Argle" seems to echo the word "Google", while the name is also an anagram of "Not Large" and "Not Real G", with the letter G perhaps representing Google. Alternatively, it has been suggested that "Argleton" is merely a misspelling of "Aughton", although both names appear on the map. "Argle" is also a somewhat common metasyntactic variable, the kind of placeholder names used by computer programmers. "Argle-bargle" is a term for an argument. Professor Danny Dorling, president of the Society of Cartographers, considered it more likely that Argleton was nothing more than an "innocent mistake".

A spokesman for Google stated that, "While the vast majority of this information is correct there are occasional errors", and encouraged users to report any issues directly to their data provider. Data for Google Maps are provided by Netherlands-based Tele Atlas, who were unable to explain how such anomalies could get into their database, but said that Argleton would be removed from the map. It was finally removed sometime around mid-November or early December 2010.

Agloe, New York was invented on a 1930s map as a phantom settlement. In 1950, a general store was built there and named Agloe General Store, as that was the name seen on the map. Therefore, the phantom settlement actually became a real one.

Beatosu and Goblu are two non-existent Ohio towns that were inserted into the 1978–1979 official state of Michigan map. The names refer to the slogan of University of Michigan fans ("Go Blue!") and a reference to their archrivals from the Ohio State University (OSU).

Peter Fletcher, a Michigan alumnus and chairman of the State Highway Commission, inserted the fake towns of "Goblu" (near the real town of Bono, Ohio off State Route 2) and "Beatosu" (near Archbold, Ohio, just south of Interstate 80/Interstate 90/Ohio Turnpike at exit 25). In a 2008 interview, Fletcher explained that a fellow Michigan alumnus had been teasing him about the Mackinac Bridge colors: green and white, the colors of Michigan State University. Fletcher noted that the bridge colors were in compliance with federal highway regulations, so he had no choice in that matter; he did, however, have more control over the state highway map. Fletcher said that he thus ordered a cartographer to insert the two fictitious towns. Road Pig, a member of the Dreadnoks, from the fictional G.I. Joe series, is recorded as having been born in Goblu, Michigan.

A trap street is a fictitious entry in the form of a misrepresented street on a map, often outside the area the map nominally covers, for the purpose of "trapping" potential copyright violators of the map who, if caught, would be unable to explain the inclusion of the "trap street" on their map as innocent. On maps that are not of streets, other "copyright trap" features (such as nonexistent towns or mountains with the wrong elevations) may be inserted or altered for the same purpose.

Trap streets are often nonexistent streets; but sometimes, rather than actually depicting a street where none exists, a map will misrepresent the nature of a street in a fashion that can still be used to detect copyright violators but is less likely to interfere with navigation. For instance, a map might add nonexistent bends to a street, or depict a major street as a narrow lane, without changing its location or its connections to other streets.

Trap streets are routinely denied and rarely acknowledged by publishers. This is not always the case, however. A popular driver's atlas for the city of Athens, Greece, warns inside its front cover that potential copyright violators should beware of trap streets.

In an edition of the BBC Two programme Map Man, first broadcast 17 October 2005, a spokesman for the Geographer's A–Z Street Atlas company claimed there are "about 100" trap streets included in the London edition of the street atlas. One such street, "Bartlett Place", a genuine but misnamed pedestrian walkway, was identified in the programme, and will appear in future editions under its real name, Broadway Walk. It has been suggested that Google Earth placed Sandy Island (New Caledonia) as the geographical analog to a Trap Street, although historical evidence implies that it originated as a cartographical error and Google simply passed the error along.

In a 2001 case, the Automobile Association in the United Kingdom agreed to settle a case for £20,000,000 when it was caught copying Ordnance Survey maps. In this case, the identifying "fingerprints" were not deliberate errors but rather stylistic features such as the width of roads.

In another case, the Singapore Land Authority sued Virtual Map, an online publisher of maps, for infringing on their copyright. The Singapore Land Authority stated in their case that there were deliberate errors in maps they had provided to Virtual Map years earlier. Virtual Map denied this and insisted that they had done their own cartography.

Further information here, here & here.