Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Recommended Article on Cybercartography

Thomas Hill, Vassar librarian and the Library Café host, mentioned a terrific piece in first monday, the "Peer-reviewed Journal on the Internet," called " Many, many maps: Empowerment and online participatory mapping, " by David L. Tulloch and I thought I'd pass it along to recommend it and make some comments.

In the article Tulloch talks about public participatory or community-generated mapping as he discusses three different on-line mapping applications that he is terming cybercartography. As a little aside we had Sébastein Caquard give a talk about cybercartography a few years back. Caquard is referenced, along with his colleague, D.R.Fraser taylor, as coining the term.

Tulloch uses three points of reference in his discussion - Google Earth and Google Maps API and their many fans, the CommonCensus Map project, and Second Life as a way of changing the environment. He argues that these free, online, web-based, utilities empower individuals and make accessible spatial information and will succeed at democratizing spatial data, through access and creation, especially for marginalized groups.

In discussing Google Earth and Google Maps , Tulloch talks about the robust on-line community of users who put up all their KMLs and KMZs that they find interesting. As a reflection of the web itself, some of these "maps" are very worthwhile but some are just silly. But we can all go to the bulletin board and search the files and see what's been done. I just took a look at the board and there are 755,041 registered users. That's a lot of geography going on and that doesn't include all the anonymous users of the site who just want to download KMLs. Tulloch says that the popularity of these web-based mapping tools is based on "their price and their exceptionally user-friendly design." Absolutely. He also gives props to the Keyhole Corporation, the original developer of Google Earth. Oh, and of course, there's the access to Google Maps API for anyone to make their own mash-ups.

Oddly, Tulloch does not mention other virtual globes out there, NASA World Wind, Celestia, Virtual Earth come to mind, but add those to the growing list of cheap and easy on-line access to geospatial information.

With the CommonCensus Map Project, an American expat living in Brazil without formal geospatial technological training has created a unique way of mapping the U.S. by having visitors to the site enter their zip code and choosing a metropolitan area that they closely identify with. As Tulloch writes:

"It is quite telling that an individual can single-handedly develop such an interface and collect these data from over 40,000 participants (while living thousands of miles away) without the imprimatur of a geography degree or the support of an NGO. Allowing this massive audience to actively participate in the collaborative mapping of boundaries for their landscapes is an act of empowerment."

And in his final example, Tulloch discusses the use of Second Life as a development space for creating a park using public participation. The architects of this park are all local Queens community residents who have been invited to join in with their avatars and teleport to Democracy Island.
By the way, with 4,352,860 "residents” Second Life has a considerably higher number of users than the Google Earth BBS. I'm not a Second Lifer (and it's not that I'm cynical like SOME people) but I am a huge Google Earth fan and my dream is to teleport an avatar in the "real" world of Google Earth. But it looks like I/we might be able to do that real soon with Unype.

One thing that Tulloch touches on throughout this article and I think is critical when using these web-based mapping tools or supporting their use, if you happen to be an academic computing type such as myself, is the aspect of using geospatial technologies without any standards in place. He states it nicely in his concluding remarks:

"...spatial technologies bring with them a more complex set of problems for which most Internet users are unprepared. Whether it is a problem with spatial map projections and coordinate systems or a misunderstanding of appropriate scales, it would be easy for a technologically enabled but spatially illiterate individual to assemble a disturbingly inappropriate application for public use."

It seems to me that public participation geographic information system (PPGIS) has evolved out of the earlier environmental justice work. Where researchers used GIS to look at locations of environmental hazards in communities and making assessments of their locations based on race, class, gender, age, income, etc., (a link to a PDF of a paper on GIS in Environmental Justice work ), we now see those same communities claiming the data as their own. Creating the data. Having a stake in the outcome of the research. Or being the one in control of the microscope. This is as it should be.

If you have good references on standards for use of Google Earth in teaching or the use of Second Life in teaching, I'd appreciate that.

No comments: