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Brain Off » State of the Map Scholarships, Looking forward :: Mikel Maron :: Building Digital Technology for Our Planet

State of the Map Scholarships, Looking forward

“The SOTM was the opportunity to meet more closely all those people sharing experiences, knowledge, experience and passion for a common project. To feel the real sense of comunity. To have seen the result of working together, of uniting all our efforts.” – Jorge Batista

“The experience has convinced me that the OSM organizational model is valid. I had a meeting today with the people from maps.afrigis.co.za. OSM does not have access to the same (government) datasources as them” – Nic Roets

The scholarship program is meant to be a starting point. What comes next is yet to be seen. What’s needed to get there is now much more clear. And here is where some interesting divergences happen from our prior experiences with OSM.

GPS units are much more expensive in developing countries, due to scarcity and import duties, and sometimes just impossible to procure. We need to find a better way to distribute these units. The OSM Foundation already runs the GPS ToGo program, and distributed GPS units to several of the scholarship winners.

There’s a need to map marginal areas. Conflicts and informal settlements are unfortunately much more common in developing countries. Already for many slums, OSM is the only source available, from tracing Yahoo imagery. However, the resolution of Yahoo imagery, and lack of POIs and names collected via on-the-ground surveying limit the usefulness of OSM. Most anyone who lives outside these areas is very wary of visiting in order to map, probably with good reason. So, the only way to map a slum is by giving the tools of mapping to residents of the slum. From Brazilian Favelas, to Cairo slums, to the Transistrian independent region of Moldova, there’s great opportunity to map the unmapped. JumpStart International, who sponsored the mapping of Palestine, are already looking to help in efforts to map Kibera (Nairobi’s and perhaps Africa’s largest slum), and parts of South Ossetia.

We can start to acquire satellite imagery for areas that are hard to reach, like conflict zones, or in many cities simply without good coverage in Yahoo Maps. The experience of Gaza, where we acquired high resolution aerial imagery relatively inexpensively, and combined with low tech tools like Walking Papers can remove issues around GPS units.

Developing countires require localisation more urgently. There are generally fewer English speakers, and so the website, the wiki, and the map itself need translation. Already a great amount of infrastructure is in place for localisation, but there’s more to do. Producing alternate, local tile sets is still very difficult, and arguably something that the main site should do, and we have been discussing solutions. There are also ways to engage with the very active web translation community, by building new interfaces; this is an idea I discussed with David Sasaki at SOTM, another long time online acquaintance I finally got to meet in person.

Localised renderings are crucial. Many applications are seemingly only possible if there’s free data and motivated people. Transport maps, such as the ones produced for Chennai, are a rarity in developing countries, and OSM can easily introduce some efficiencies to usually chaotic transit systems. Useful services like this will be key.

And as SOTM is likely to remain a distant event for many mappers in the world, there’s interest in organizing regional conferences that carry on that spirit.

“I was impressed by the diverse array of applications and use cases where OSM data is being employed, the potentials for all kinds of exciting future geo-enabled mobile applications, and above all the enthusiasm & energy of the OSM crowd.” – Abdelrahman

Other ideas and needs are more generally a focus of OSM. We are working on a framework to set up Local Chapters, and everyone was interested in having some legal backing to their promotional and advocacy activities. The issues are diverse and complicated, so having as many perspectives on what constitutes a membership organization in different jurisdictions is very valuable. All are looking for advice on setting up local legal entities. Considering the small size of the group, and natural affinities, there was some discussion of initially starting with a Latin America wide local chapter.

With an official presence, groups can approach potential data donors, like governments, national mapping agencies, and cadastre departments. Many businesses collect geodata, and may be willing to share or help collect data. University and education programs can make great use of OSM, so local mappers are looking to make contacts with education ministries and produce promotional materials for schools.

Promotion. In the media, in different activity groups, conferences .. promotion has always been one of the most chaotic and creative parts of OSM. And there’s a real need to distill down collective wisdom here .. how to frame a story to gain media attention, sponsor events, and promote with recreation groups. And along with greater promotion comes the need to make the process simpler; simpler editing tools and new, non-tech heavy ways to contribute, like Walking Papers and OpenStreetBugs.

And as these projects grow, we want to measure the progress. This has also been a chaotic part of OSM, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be. Just for instance, all of our stats are global, and could easily be broken down by country.

Finally, let me just say personally, this was such an excellent project. Who wouldn’t be happy making other people happy?! After a very short couple months, rapidly organizing the application process, then tickets and visas, it was just incredible to have everyone together, in person.

The only sad excpetion was Anas Maraqa from Palestine, who was denied a last minute visa with little explanation. We all missed him at SOTM, and I hope next year works out differently.

Hoping we’ll be able to do it again next year, with a little more lead time. It was very successful for all, and we’ll soon see the results.

This year is not yet over. There’s still some funding for follow up activities. We’re working to figure out what shape this will take.

Sincere thanks to the Open Society Institute for making this all possible, Hotel Residence le Coin for a welcoming home in Amsterdam, Gloria Roa for helping with arrangements, and Erica Hagen for support all around.

1 Comment

  1. Julio Costa Zambelli said,

    August 18, 2009 @ 3:45 pm

    Thanks to Mikel, Gloria, Erica and the Open Society Institute for all this. It was great to be in Amsterdam listening, talking and learning with tons of great people.

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