Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Intelligence And Crowdmapping

I realized today that, while I had written in the past about the idea of crowdmapping, I had never actually used that term in a post before.

That was a mistake.

Don't get me wrong, Group editable maps have been around for some time and are quite successful.  We have used CommunityWalk, for example in a number of projects and it has served its purpose excellently.

CommunityWalk Map - North Caucasus Violence Sep-06 to Nov-06

Likewise, automatically edited maps are also quite helpful.  The comprehensive map at RSOE EDIS, for example, just recently got some new competition with Google Public Alerts.

Crowdmapping, though, is something a bit different.  Here, dozens and sometimes hundreds of people are providing information from a variety of sources (including the web, of course, but also through SMS and Twitter) that are then mapped in real time.

Right now, this space is occupied almost exclusively by Crowdmap.com, an offshoot of the much admired Ushahidi project.  It is not too hard to see a time, however, when other companies and organizations will enter this space with competing offerings.

I, along with a small group of intrepid students, have been experimenting with this system for a few months and, while managing the input has proven to be more challenging than expected, the potential (and the relative sophistication of Crowdmap) is enormous.

The best way to get a sense of the value of a crowdmap, however, is to look at them.  Below are three of my favorites:  Syria Tracker (a map tracking eyewitness accounts of missing, killed or arrested people in Syria in English and Arabic), China Strikes (a map tracking instances of labor unrest in China), and Energy Shortage (a map tracking reports of energy related issues worldwide).  You can see all of these maps below (Syria Tracker is live; the other two maps need to be clicked on to get to the live versions).