From Mappomania to Mappopedia: The fruit of competitive web mapping services and amateur cartographers
July 30th, 2007

Thanks to Stuart Silverstone for the NY Times article link.

Two years ago, major Internet players like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and others started a “war” on search and mapping services with the goal of “eventually dominating the potentially lucrative market for local advertising on maps.” All along, as the NY Times articles says, “these companies have created tools that are allowing people with minimal technical skills to do what only professional mapmakers were able to do before.” And that was the birth of Geowebbing industry, the child of a collaborative effort between web companies and citizens with a passion for mapping.

Amateur mapping is about “drawing on digital maps and annotating them with text, images, sound and videos,” “collectively creating a new kind of atlas that is likely to be both richer and messier than any other.” It’s a simple revolutionary process of selecting, adding and communicating information (as said by Matthew H. Edney, director of the History of Cartography Project at the University of Wisconsin in Madison). It’s Geotagging, associating information, pictures and media content with pinpoints on the maps. It’s merging maps and blending outside sources to obtain “mash-ups.” It’s a wikipedian process of collective knowledge with millions of contributors.

This new way of mapping, with multiple layers of information about a specific location is also turning the Web into a medium where maps will play a more central role in how information is organized and found. Like in any other initiatives on the Web these days, smart mobs are taking charge over areas unexplored by the conventional services, agencies and institutions, filling in the interstitial spaces in the mapping body, empty spots that the official cartography services have missed, especially on the levels of localized and specific information. Amateur cartography on the Web can update all the new information and also personalize its organizing process and output.

The NY Times article abounds in examples that range “from the useful to the fanciful and from the simple to the elaborate,” with an accuracy that cannot be taken for granted: adding different statistics to already existing maps of a city (“its hotels and watering holes, its crime statistics and school rankings, its weather and environmental conditions, the recent news events and the history that have shaped it”), but also graffiti maps, vandalized sites maps, horse racing maps, maps of hikes, runs, mountain bike rides and other adventures.

There are already millions of amateur maps and this started to get the attention of the academic circles that aim to get moving their own mapping projects like the New Orleans journalistic project of Dan Gillmor, director of the Center for Citizen Media, which consists in adding “photographs, videos and interviews to a map-based project documenting the house-by-house reconstruction of a section of New Orleans.” So, we would have a map with a narrative structure, a map that tells a story. On the other hand, the key corporate players on the Internet are working on their mapping technologies so that multiple layers of data could be viewed on a single map, that we would be able to search through all online maps, and also have 3D maps of the world.

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