Tag Archives: maps

Making your own way: user-generated map-making.

How many of us, when giving directions, have resorted to a Biro, a napkin and a map that looks like a starfish with some body issues? I myself have lost many a friend on the relatively simple route between restaurant and pub, solely down to my shocking lack of artistic skill and flawed sense of direction. Making maps, I decided, wasn’t for me.

Image: Daily Telegraph

As Sean Gorman of geographical data tool GeoCommons puts it – “the public often saw the end product of the map creation process, but was largely reduced to scribbling on paper when it came to creating maps of its own”. Maps were definitely something made by specialists and consumed by the masses. But now, that’s changed.

My very own, slightly terrible, MyMap

Internet mapping has embraced the user-generated element. The most obvious example is the ‘MyMaps’ service that allows Google account holders to add ‘pins’ that remind them of favorite or useful locations. GoogleMaps is also one of the many mapping services that lets users correct their details, though via a screening process; if you think your house or business has been mis-pinned, you can get in touch and change it.

So far, so good – but correcting where your house is on a map is a teeny bit boring.

Praise be, then, for the good people of OpenStreetMap. This is a fully cooperative, user-generated map of the ENTIRE WORLD, and its contributors are scrupulously, scarily accurate.  They have even held events where citizens take to the streets with handheld GPS devices – the Atlanta Citywide Mapathon, for example. First-timers were encouraged to go out and map their neighbourhoods, as well as joining in group activities such as adding points of interest to public areas like parks.

So a nice mix of community engagement and generating content there – Atlanta has an ongoing, and vocal, OpenStreetMap community dedicated to getting more people involved in personal cartography – and good luck to them.

But the great thing about user-generated mapping is that it can be almost anything you want it to be and not just a record of street names and geographical features. My personal favourite is the Global Poetry System (GPS – geddit?), a map that allows people to upload site-specific poetry either that they’ve found on a wall or a piece of public art or that they’ve created themselves. Which gives rise to little gems such as this:

Image: Lily Briscoe

On a slightly more serious note, user-generated mapping has infiltrated the headlines too. For example, there’s the Solidarity Map of the TUC March for the Alternative – people who weren’t able to make it to the march itself could log on and show where they were, just to give the demonstrators extra support. And then there’s the current efforts to crowdmap the spread of radiation from the Fukishima power station in Japan. Based around data-hub site Pachube, various interactive maps allow those equipped with Geiger counters and other radiation-detecting devices to upload their findings and allow the creation of images such as this:

Image: Usman Haque - Pachube

Maps aren’t just static objects now. They’re responsive and fluid – crisis mappers even helped rescue efforts in disaster zones such as Haiti by updating their charts of the area to show problems on the ground. They’re doing it now in Libya to help humanitarian organisations respond better to demand.

Maps aren’t the bosses of us any more – Internet cartography is anything we want it to be.



Watch Out For The Cuts – Chart Yours Online

We all know that this year’s Budget was not a rosy one. It means a lot of cuts for a lot of people in the coming year.

Our very own Your2pence-er Rebecca Bell looked at how the media covered the event on the big day, but looking into the future Channel 4 News has launched a user-generated microsite which lets people build a UK wide and ongoing picture of the impact of the budget.

Channel 4 cuts map, letting you chart the cuts in your area

Screengrab of Channel 4 cuts map, letting you chart the cuts in your area


Why? Well for Channel 4 it’s a bit of data collection and newsgathering from right across the country without having to life a finger.

It lets people mark out the cuts in their areas and by sector – see the map on the left – as well as letting them link local sites and blogs to the map by using twitter #c4cuts, or submitting online.

The reasoning behind the map

Ed Fraser, commissioning editor for Channel 4 News online, said:

“People want the experiences from their region to feed into our journalism, and they want to be involved in creating a comprehensive picture of how these big announcements play out for them.

“With time, we’re hoping this will be a revealing map of how cuts are being made, and how they are affecting communities across the country. It will be used to inform our web users, but also our coverage.”

One of a kind?

“Wow! How novel!” I hear you say, “The first of its kind”. Well not quite. There are actually several sites already dedicated to cuts which Channel 4 didn’t use.

These include both where are the cuts and false economy’s ‘Breaking Britain’ maps shown below. Like the Channel 4 map, these allow users to post cuts and savings in their areas.

Where are the cuts screen grab

Screengrab from Where are the Cuts


Where are the cuts say…

“The cuts you see on this site display have all been collected from official sources or entered directly by members of the public. There’s no ‘official’ list of what’s being cut where, so we need your help to build up the map.”

“So, if you know about a service that’s been cut near you – like a library, or a bus route – or have read about some redundancies at your local council, or that there’s suddenly less money for a research programme at a university, you can help build up the Where Are The Cuts? map.”

Screengrab from False Economy

False Economy lets you see the cuts per region and then allows even more detailed analysis by breaking down the cuts further by area.

Added to this, the site also allows people to post their own testimonies on the site,  letting them explain not only what the cuts are, but how it affects them personally.

Users can add their own testimonies. Screengrab from False Economy


Tracking the maps’ success

And how successful are these UGC maps at the moment? Well at time of uploading this blogpost, Channel 4 had around 127 reports, wherearethecuts 1,171 and falseeconomy around 450. Not great you may think, but lets face it, with tough times ahead and as the cuts go deeper, more people may feel the impulse to upload the cuts in their areas.