The Subjective Database of Alibaba
What is Alibaba’s goal in publishing research, and how did you work with AliResearch as an information designer?
The information available from AliResearch differs from a standard open data set. The data is not presented as a classic database, but can be extracted from research reports on critical issues for the Alibaba system, such as the cross-border economy, Taobao villages, or the future of e-commerce. While the reports published by AliResearch could be considered valuable per se, it is clear that they are not neutral: their conclusions promote Alibaba by creating a positive, unquestioned image of technological innovation in the service of globalisation and ubiquitous e-commerce. The AliResearch Institute website envisions a “golden era of DT times”, where DT [data technology] is the evolution of IT [information technology]. I tried to capture the Alibaba Group’s univocal techno-optimism by representing a world using only their own data, presenting it as a carefully curated collection. In this way, the project imagines how Alibaba sees itself and the future of the global economy as a unique convergence.
Your globe disorients the viewer in a few ways: south is on top, the oceans dominate in bright orange, and the scale is overwhelming. What does your design say about Alibaba?
I chose to play with familiar elements, such as scale, colour and orientation, in order to challenge the automatic reading of the information. An unusual setup can induce a sense of doubt in the viewer towards what they are being shown. At the same time, the design depicts the world of Alibaba—a huge-scale phenomenon with global repercussions, the oceans a massive field of orange—the signature colour of Alibaba Group’s e-commerce platforms—to put the emphasis on the shipping routes, and a reversal of the conventional map orientation associated with European exploration and colonial imperialism. This approach considers how hegemonic visions and global visualisations are interlinked.
What was the most surprising information you discovered through AliResearch?
One of the most intriguing pieces of data, which I included as anecdotal information on the globe, was a list of exceptional destinations for packages sent through AliExpress. These included 155 orders from Greenland (” located in the northernmost part of the earth”), 30 from Lesotho (“a country located in the south of Africa and with the world’s highest average elevation”), 15 from the Vatican (“the world’s smallest country”) and 18 from Syria (“in chaos”).