Saturday, March 22, 2008

9 Great Map Resources (Links, Recommendations, How-to)

Being able to read, interpret and analyze mapping and other geospatial data is a set of critical skills for the intelligence studies student (and the intelligence professional!). Fortunately, there are a number of great mapping resources on the internet and the list keeps getting larger all the time. Everyone seems to have their favorites but here are a few of mine:

Finding Places. Locating some small and dusty spot somewhere in the world is often one of the most difficult things to do. The classic tool to make this process easier is the "gazetteer". There are two easy to use ones on the web, The World Gazetteer and the Global Gazetteer. Both provide location data and alternate spelling data along with a variety of other info including population figures and cloud cover. Of the two, I prefer the Global Gazetteer for its simple interface. Probably the most authoritative gazetteer is kindly provided by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency but the interface is complicated and the search can be slow. If all I have is a quick "where is such and such" kind of question, I usually use one of the other two.

Full Maps. Beyond Google Maps, Mapquest and other mapping sites, it is often more convenient to have a general reference map of a place or a region. Both the CIA and the UK's Foreign Office provide reference maps but, for me, the best maps come from the UN. There are three good places to look for these maps. The UN Cartographic Section has a great collection of general maps that is very easy to navigate. The UNHCR also has an excellent collection that is specifically focused on areas where there are humanitarian crises. The best place to go to see not only UN maps but also other maps from other contributing agencies (such as USAID) is the ReliefWeb Map Centre, however. ReliefWeb also has a variety of situational maps, as well as general reference maps, that are always incredibly useful. Because all three institutions are UN affiliated, there is some inevitable overlap but I have found maps on some sites that I can't find on the others.

Historical Maps. The best single place to go for historical maps is the venerable Perry-Castaneda Map Library. They have all sorts of good stuff there including some current maps as well as a number of historical maps of various regions.

Map Insights And Commentary. One of the best places to go to find out all sorts of interesting tidbits about an area is the Google Earth Community. You can search for just about anything and can be almost assured of finding out something you didn't know or that you wouldn't think anyone would take time to map out. For example, enter "SAM Sites" (that's Surface to Air Missiles not Sources And Methods, BTW...) and you will be surprised at what you find (Crowdsourcing at its best...). You can access the community through Google Earth but I like the online version because (unless the file is too large) you have the option to map the referenced overlay into Google Maps and this can save some time. For more insight, into Google Maps at least, there is the amazing blog, Google Maps Mania. Not only does it keep you up to date on what is happening in the world of Google Maps but it has an incredibly useful index of Google Maps mash-ups and tools in the right hand column.

Related Posts:
Terrorism Threat Map (AON)
Famine Early Warning System (USAID)
Good Resource On International Energy (EIA)
Excellent African Map Source (Le Monde Diplomatique)
High Priced Oil Adds Volatility To Power Scramble (NY Times)


Anonymous said...

Well the SAM site stuff is fine to look at if you install the overlay but what really helps for understanding is going to the blog from the people who gathered it all together.

Kristan J. Wheaton said...

No question about it -- it is an extremely cool site. Really good work. Thank you for pointing it out.

Do you know of any more like this out there?


Anonymous said...

That is one of the better ones that are not in my RSS reader lists of other intel related sites you likely already are well aware of like Kents Imperative and such.

But I do like the analysis that site puts into explaining the ranges and types of radars used and such.

Much more insight than just looking at something most would not even understand.

Anonymous said...

Having said that, here is a site you may want to have a look at for semantic combination of stuff gathered off the web.

Put in any search string like google with the operators allowed like + or - and stuff and watch it come back with your search results in narrative format with all the links available for you.

Anonymous said...

Durn going senile forgot the link

Anonymous said...

For example , on a topic you are familiar with, just put in for your search string the words (with the quotes to identify them as a string)

"fusion center"

Then look at your output.

They have this for introduction, but for some examples of their enhanced personal service go to this page

and click on one of the topic areas at the bottom of the page and then select a recent story output to view the more in depth version of their work.

It really looks like an assistant put the summary and footnotes together for you, but it is totally automated and if nothing else makes and excellent jumping off point for further research rather than looking at pages of search results only for a search engine and then trying to sift it all out.

Anonymous said...

Another quick hint.

After you see the results of your first look with the "fusion center" search string, scroll to the bottom of your result output and you will see an extended search box.

Put the exact same "fusion center" in that box and it will search an even greater depth of relevant links for a more complete report.

Combining that with search string refinement can lead to some impressive results.