When open data is not open: World Bank double speak on Google Map Maker?

February 19th, 2012

[Editor's note: Good news! The World Bank has listened and responded with a new blog post clarifying their stance on open data and backed away from Google Map Maker: "If the public helps to collect/create map data, the public should be able to access, use & reuse that data."]

By Nathaniel Vaughn KELSO

In their recent op-ed in the New York Times and on the official World Bank blog, Caroline Anstey* and Soren Gigler** made a compelling case for open data and open government that is fatally flawed. Unless fixed, it has dangerous implications for the future of open data globally. The World Bank’s new policy around map data is needlessly exclusionary: public data should remain publicly accessible.

Over the past two years, the World Bank has made great strides in making its processes more transparent and rethinking the international organization as a development platform and innovation bank.

However, on January 13th, Ms. Anstey and Mr. Gigler muddied that effort by partnering with Google on map data as an end game around many of those “open” goals. Let me be very clear:

The World Bank’s new agreement with Google is a neocolonial wolf handing out shiny blue Map Maker t-shirts.

Google Map Maker expressly prohibits citizen cartographers from using/sharing the very data they add to the map in ways that can help their own development efforts. Users are locked into the Google platform: they cannot export their data or create derivative work, especially commercial projects. Nor can they share that geo data with other online mapping efforts, especially critical during disaster relief.

The World Bank has successfully partnered on map data before, most notably in Haiti with OpenStreetMap (OSM) in response to the major earthquake and the following humanitarian crises.

The Haiti experience shows that crowd sourcing map data works. Most developing countries do not have basic local map data. Timely, accurate geo data showing roads, schools, fresh water sources, health facilities, and more help save lives during an emergency, and in the meantime we all enjoy with up-to-the-minute maps. Regardless if you are in Washington, D.C. or Nairobi, Kenya.

I agree the Bank’s core mission is advanced by improving access to geo data for humanitarian response and development planning. This serves to make development more effective and inclusive by expanding access to basic geo information.

It is appropriate to engage citizens in the Bank’s client countries by inviting them to participate (via mapping parties and online portals) and strengthen the capacity of civil society to “put them selves on the map”. That is an inalienable right and a noble effort by the Bank to facilitate.

But this new agreement falls down on close inspection of the Google Map Maker terms of service. The corporate legalese is contrary to another Bank core principle:

“the right to use that same open data to empower citizens in effective development.”

The Google partnership proposes a new digital serfdom. The Bank should instead embrace the OpenStreetMap model: a system of micro-data grants that empowers a self-sustaining wave of economic development as more data gets added to the map. The citizen map maker should have an ownership share.

I urge the Ms. Anstey and Mr. Gigler to emphasize to the World Bank’s local offices and partner organizations (including the United Nations) that this new agreement with Google is *non-exclusive*, meaning the Bank can and must open data by sharing local geo data with other organizations, like OpenStreetMap.

When the Bank partners to allow citizens to draw their own map, the resulting map data must be free and open. Indeed, open mapping tools and civil society organizations like OpenStreetMap (who innovated first with mapping parties and their online map editor) should be leveraged and grown as much as possible.

Instead, the current agreement allows Google to use local citizens to collect information for free and make exclusive profit. The agreement, specifically the general Map Maker terms or special ODbL terms for the World Bank project, should be rewritten as Patrick Meier*** suggests, to ”allow citizens themselves to use the data in whatever platform they so choose to improve citizen feedback in project planning, implementation and monitoring & evaluation.”

Terms of use like Open Database License (ODbL) promote circulation of geo data for the most good and Google has been receptive in the past to opening up parts of their Map Maker data for humanitarian relief. Let’s complete the circle so this type of license is a core part of a revised World Bank “open” data agreement and have it in place before the next disaster.

The World Bank must reiterate its commitment to truly open data with due speed.

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The author is chief cartographer for the Natural Earth, a public domain map database. His maps have been published in The Washington Post and National Geographic and he is a design technologist at Stamen Design.

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* Caroline Anstey is a managing director of the World Bank.
** Soren Gigler is Senior Governance Specialist, Innovation at the World Bank.
*** Patrick Meier is director of crises mapping at Ushahidi.

Related reading

PR: World Bank and Google Announce Map Maker Collaboration

Open Aid Partnership:

Patrick Meier, Ushahidi’s director of crisis mapping

RWW coverage

Directions Magazine coverage

Google’s Official LatLong Blog

Global Integrity

Does a Google-World Bank Deal On Crowdsourcing Ask Too Much of the Crowd? (TechPresident)

“What Gets Measured Can Be Changed”: World Bank Turns Its Data Catalog Public (TechPresident)

The World Bank Responds to the Google Map Maker Deal (Global Integrity)

 

VPRO: Custom Cartography and The Netherlands From Above (Stamen)

December 1st, 2011

[Editor's note: My first big project at Stamen is live! Team includes: Geraldine, Eric, Mike, Shawn, Sean, and Zach with Jasper and Frederik at VPRO providing the data. Pretty labels powered by Dymo in zooms 7 to 10, open source auto label power!]

Republished from Stamen.

Working closely with Dutch broadcasting heavies VPRO, yesterday we launched Nederland van Boven (“Netherlands from Above”), an interactive map of the Netherlands to accompany the forthcoming broadcast of a series of shows about this fascinating tiny country. As my friend Ben Cerveny is known to say: “New York started gentrifying in the 1970s, but Amsterdam started gentrifying in the 1790s,” and the opportunity to design custom maps for a country that’s essentially all infrastructure was one that we leapt at gladly.

The show runs in a series of episodes starting later this month, each addressing a different aspect of life in Holland. It starts with mobility, answering questions like “where can I live, if I work in Amsterdam and want to be able to finish the newspaper by the time I get to work on the train?” or “How far can I travel in two hours by public transport from Vlissingen?”

Upcoming episodes will deal with other ways of looking at the environment around you: examining the natural environment by comparing distances from buildings, open space, and the density of wild animals, the landscape of danger by examining rates of lightning strikes, flammable locations and the arrival times of ambulances, and the contours of the air around the country, looking at the density of birds, flght paths of planes and the highest places in the Netherlands.

The cartography for the project is custom-made for VPRO, designed to complement the channel’s rich visual branding. Cities fill in based on a custom compilation we derived using a combination of NaturalEarthData and GeoNames sources, and and at lower zoom levels roads become visible and are drawn using data sourced from OpenStreetMap. On the most detailed zoom all roads are drawn and the arterial streets receive names. With roads come more place labels, now from OpenStreetMap and sized by population. Water bodies (black) are drawn using data from VPRO, as are park lands (black stipple pattern), airports, farm locations, pancake restaurants, neighborhood names, and zipcode shapes (the locations of pancake restaurants being as important to the Dutch as the locations of airports and farms, apparently).

The highlight layers are orange, because that’s the national color of the Netherlands. Also, did you know that carrots are orange because that’s the national color of the Netherlands; “in the 17th century, Dutch growers are thought to have cultivated orange carrots as a tribute to William of Orange – who led the the struggle for Dutch independence.” So: orange maps over custom OpenStreetMap cartography, a client who wanted to tell a story and was willing to stretch what it means to design a map, and a country made of canals and land claimed from the sea. Hoera!

Technical bits:

We used open source software, some authored by Stamen, to draw the reference cartography and cache the data files. Web maps are made of small, 256 px by 256 px images, stacked next to each other in a grid and displayed in the browser as a slippy map, allowing the user to pan and zoom. The application logic in Flash allows us to speedily update the map (using the GPU) when the data filters are adjusted. Software utilized includes TileStache, Cascadenik, Dymo, ModestMaps, Mapnik, QGIS, OGR, and GDAL. Much of the data provided by VPRO was generated in ArcGIS in-house and and partners. The place search is powered by the Yahoo! geocoder.

Interact with project »

Betashapes for San Francisco neighborhoods

August 21st, 2011

[Editor's note: A first for me, read this post in Romanian/Ukrainian cyrillic. Thanks Maria!]

First results in using the betashapes script from Schuyler Erle and Melissa Santos. Still some kinks for me to work out relating understanding how the script deals with donut holes and scrubbing the list of Yahoo GeoPlanet neighborhood names in the input. For the US, can just use Census block polygons and avoid OSM copyright funk. Use GeoPDFs on the iPhone and other iOS devices to see yourself in the map, get Avenza’s PDF Maps.app. More images after the jump. Click on an image to see it larger.

More background: Betashapes are based on how people tag (and only if they also geotag) their Flickr photos. The script queries Flickr for photos for specified neighborhood tags (up to 2,500 sample size each ‘hood, these SF neighborhoods calculated from ~250,000 photo locations) and counts up what neighborhood tag is dominant in any city block and then aggregates them into neighborhoods. The neighborhood names and ids are from the Yahoo! GeoPlanet database that has a mix of real and fanciful (minority report) places. If you remove the ones you don’t agree with from the input, they will be ignored on the output. Lots to refine here…

View GeoPDF »
Download betashapes shapefile for SF »
Download SF geodata ingredients »
Download Y! GeoPlanet SF files »

(below) Betashapes using Flickr images and city street grid turned into polygon blocks.
sf_neighborhoods_betashapes

Read the rest of this entry »

The man who coined “Bird’s eye views” and his map of the US Civil War (NY Times)

August 20th, 2011

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[Editor's note: Thanks Gene! Republished from the New York Times. Map from David Rumsey's collection.]

Virginia Goes to the Birds

In late July 1861, the noted lithographer John Bachmann published a captivating visual picture of Virginia, offering Northerners a powerful and intuitive way to follow the ongoing conflict. Of course, there were already lots of maps of the Old Dominion. What set this one apart? Perspective: looking westward with the Chesapeake Bay in the foreground, it offered a bird’s eye view, an intuitive but, for many, novel look at the unfolding conflict. His “wide angle lens” approach enabled viewers to follow not just the actual location of the battles, but the terrain of the conflict and a larger sense of the geography of the eastern theater.

Continue reading at the New York Times »

Natural Earth version 1.4 release notes

August 20th, 2011

Natural Earth has been downloaded more than 250,000 times and is closing in on 1 million page views since launching in the final month of 2009. Thanks!

Over 65 files have changed in version 1.4 of Natural Earth. The most significant edits reflect the July 2011 independence of South Sudan. That country’s administrative level-1 units have also been refreshed, and the disputed area of Abyei is retained.

Mea culpa: A major correction fixes a coding error introduced in version 1.3 that incorrectly merged Panama and Papua New Guinea into a super country in some admin-0 files. Version 1.4 reestablishes them as separate countries.

Because of South Sudan, the admin-0 (sovereign, country, map units, map subunits, scale ranks, scale ranks with minor islands), boundary lines land, disputed areas and boundaries, etc. have all been updated in the 10m, 50m, 110m scale sets.

50m admin-1 states and provinces now includes a version with the lakes punched out, like the 10m has enjoyed since version 1.3.

The 10m admin-1 file now includes a “scale rank” exploded version that will import into a wider range of GIS and CAD software packages that cannot import polygons over a certain vertex count.

Other changes and corrections are detailed below and credited to the correction request author.

Nathaniel Vaughn Kelso and Tom Patterson 19 August 2011
Read full release notes at NaturalEarthData.com »

Does your city have a nickname?

August 16th, 2011

I’m collecting nicknames for big cities, want to help? From the Windy City (Chicago) to Hotlanta (Atlanta), LND (London) to SF (San Francisco). We should be able to type these nicknames into a place search and have the right result come back without fuss. And nicknames are fun. Results will be rolled back into Natural Earth in a future update.

Add your city to the Google Doc: kelso.it/x/18s

News flash: I’m now at Stamen Design in SF

June 24th, 2011

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After mc’ing WhereCampDC June 10th and 11th, I hoped on a plane and flew to San Francisco to join Stamen Design. I’m back in California after 9 years in DC at National Geographic Maps and the Washington Post. Focusing on web mapping: interactive, design, data & tool chain. It’s a small studio with an impressive client list located in the heart of the Mission neighborhood. Keep us in mind for your next mapping project.

WhereCampDC ignite spatial videos

June 24th, 2011

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I helped organize WhereCampDC in Washington, DC, earlier this month on the 10th and 11th of June, 2011. Hosted at National Geographic and The Washington Post, around 275 geo nerds came together to talk about the latest technology and techniques to build maps and engaging spatial storytelling. Big thanks to both organizations for sponsoring, as well as our many other sponsors including the USGIF.

The key to the event’s success, like Practical Cartography Day during the NACIS annual meeting, was focusing on practical tools and workflows to help solve everyday problems; bringing people looking for solutions together with the programmers who build them in a social environment where making lasting personal and professional connections is emphasized to grow the community.

All told, we had 375 attendees (some overlap between Friday and Saturday but still ~275 uniques). That’s $60 a head for costs, all paid thru sponsorships and in-kind donations. We had generous sponsors and splurged on a few budget items. My guess is you could hold one of these for as cheap as $30 a head. The attendance and sponsorship logistics was managed thru EventBrite. The president of NACIS (my professional association), Tanya Buckingham (U. Wisc. at Madison), attended and it looks like we’ll hold another of these where camps in Madison with our annual meeting and in Portland in 2012.

Playing the spirit of WhereCampDC forward, a new DC meetup has formed and already has 85+ members who plan to meet regularly the upcoming year. Since both Kate Chapman and I are now moved out of the DC area, it’ll be up to the meetup folks to organize the next unconference ;) Check them out at: http://www.meetup.com/GeoNerds-DC

Powerpoint and keynote slides from the Ignite Spatial are up, as well as short video clips: http://www.wherecampdc.org/2011/04/friday-ignite-spatial/

Pictures from Saturday’s unconference are here: http://www.wherecampdc.org/2011/04/saturday-unconference-scene/

Here’s one of the videos featuring Javier de la Torre of Vizzuality talking about crowd sourcing “Old Weather”:

Donate your iPhone location logs anonymously

May 2nd, 2011

[Editor's note: Apple and the other big smart phone players have been harvesting your location data to help your phone's GPS locate you faster. There was a big hubub a couple weeks ago about the insecure nature of the iPhone log database. A new website, CrowdFlow.net is crowd sourcing the federation of individual users location files so we get a complete picture. By pooling our logs, we can visualize patterns among these location beacons. Act now as the next update from Apple will remove this 'functionality'. Image above shows the locations around the world so far. Want to view your own tracks without sharing them? Check out Pete Warden's original iPhoneTracker.]

What’s the idea?

You probably know by now that your iPhone collects the position data of wifi and cell networks near by. Google Android devices as well. More background info herehere and here.

We would like to combine as many of these log files as possible, create an open database of wifi and cell networks and thus visualize how these networks are distributed all over the world.

So please contribute your iPhone log files and help us to create an open wifi und cell database.

You can find out more on this project on [their] blog.

How can I contribute?

We are starting with the iPhone.
If you would like to contribute your log file – and you can do that entirely anonymously -
follow these two simple steps:

Continue reading at CrowdFlow.net . . .

Please join me in June for WhereCampDC

May 2nd, 2011

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WhereCampDC is an unconference on June 10th and 11th, 2011 for people fascinated by place and the intersection of geography and technology. Please join us for our first event in the nation’s capital hosted at National Geographic and The Washington Post! We are an eclectic crowd ranging from geospatial professionals, open source developers, imagery analysts, urban cartographers, open data/gov hackers, locative media artists, augmented reality developers, and modeling theorists. The event is free to attend and participation is strongly encouraged.

Please RSVP your attendance to one or both days:

An unconference is a conference planned by the participants and created on the spot. It’s about having a low threshold for participation, bringing ideas into the open, and hearing all voices. It is like the 20% of a traditional conference where the best parts happen. You meet people, make relationships, and get down to what’s important to you. Please share your ideas!

Friday’s evening’s Ignite Spatial lightening talk session is an open-mic style opportunity to share your latest work and interests. We will also announce a special keynote speaker.

Saturday morning we’ll gather at 10 am to plan the day’s topics, demos, activities and start having fun. Sessions are held in multiple breakout rooms simultaneously. Lunch is provided thanks to our sponsors.

Find out more over at WhereCampDC.org . . .