Posts Tagged ‘wikipedia’

Volunteered Geographic Information Workshop Notes

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

This conference, organized by the USGS, happened last month here in DC, thanks Martin! Special import for crises like Haiti.

Also check out: O’Reilly’s Rethinking Open Data: Lessons learned from the Open Data front lines. Read more »

Lots of online presentations and notes, some listed here:

The main site has full listing and notes from breakout sessions . . .

‘Citizen cartographers’ map the microcosms of the world (Wash Post)

Monday, February 1st, 2010

[Editor's note: The Washington Post's Mike Musgrove covers the OpenStreetMap.org phenomenon during a recent meet-up of MappingDC in the nation's capital.]

Republished from The Washington Post. Sunday, January 31, 2010
By Mike Musgrove

On a cold Sunday morning in Washington, none of the two-dozen scruffy students and techie folks crowded into one side of a bustling cafe noticed as Steve Coast, a 29-year-old British programmer, moseyed in and joined their ranks. They didn’t realize it, but there was the man with a plan to map the world.

They were there to do their part, but that’s the funny thing about being the leader of a large, online movement: Everybody knows your name, but nobody recognizes you.

The citizen cartographers, known as MappingDC, had gathered to help complete Coast’s interactive map of the globe — or at least Washington’s corner of it.

“Maps are expensive and proprietary,” said Coast, sipping on his coffee and explaining the core tenets of the project, called OpenStreetMap. “They should be free.”

Coast had the idea for OpenStreetMap in 2004, when he was a student living in London. Coast had a GPS and a laptop, you see, and he figured that with a little programming magic he could build a map of his local haunts that contained more useful information than any service he could find online.

What’s more, he said, “I figured that if I did that, and he did that, and you did that, then, together, we could put together a jigsaw map of the world.”

Since that day, a few hundred thousand people around the planet have pitched in online to enter information about everything from the name of their local library to an area’s handicap accessibility.

In Germany, the country with some of the project’s most enthusiastic participants, volunteers have very nearly catalogued their country down to the last lamppost. During a recent trip to Atlanta, Coast found that users had paid particular attention to the area’s storm drains, perhaps because of recent floods. In Denver, where he lives, Coast has noticed that users are obsessed with noting every footpath and bike trail.

As with Wikipedia, the premise here is that the collective contributions of an enthusiastic community can create a better service than something a corporate entity could put out on its own.

Sure, Google, with its massive resources, has the wherewithal to hire workers to record the street-level images used in its map service. But “a couple of guys driving a truck down a street don’t viscerally care” about whether they captured your neighborhood’s streets exactly right, said Coast, who was in town to attend a conference by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Remember encyclopedias? The problem with those dead-tree tomes was always that the information printed within could go obsolete the day they were published. It’s always been the same for paper street maps, too. MappingDC and OpenStreetMap project members argue that their map is better because it can be instantly corrected. Again, like Wikipedia, the belief is that the wisdom of the crowd will prevail or fix errors.

Continue reading at The Washington Post . . .

Online Maps: Everyman Offers New Directions (NY Times)

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

zooatlantabeforeatlantazooopenstreetmap[Editor’s note: As my music prof was want to remind, the only difference between amateur and professional is one gets paid and the other doesn’t. My hope is Google Maps starts offering user-generated geodata back to the community, like OpenStreetMap.org now does. Left image is before community edits, right is after. Thanks Nora!]

Republished from the New York Times.

SAN FRANCISCO — They don’t know it, but people who use Google’s online maps may be getting directions from Richard Hintz.

Mr. Hintz, a 62-year-old engineer who lives in Berkeley, Calif., has tweaked the locations of more than 200 business listings and points of interest in cities across the state, sliding an on-screen place marker down the block here, moving another one across the street there. Farther afield, he has mapped parts of Cambodia and Laos, where he likes to go on motorcycle trips.

Mr. Hintz said these acts of geo-volunteerism were motivated in part by self-interest: he wants to know where he’s going. But “it has this added attraction that it helps others,” he said.

Mr. Hintz is a foot soldier in an army of volunteer cartographers who are logging every detail of neighborhoods near and far into online atlases. From Petaluma to Peshawar, these amateurs are arming themselves with GPS devices and easy-to-use software to create digital maps where none were available before, or fixing mistakes and adding information to existing ones.

Like contributors to Wikipedia before them, they are democratizing a field that used to be the exclusive domain of professionals and specialists. And the information they gather is becoming increasingly valuable commercially.

Google, for example, sees maps playing a growing strategic role in its business, especially as people use cellphones to find places to visit, shop and eat. It needs reliable data about the locations of businesses and other destinations.

“The way you get that data is having users precisely locate things,” said John Hanke, a vice president of product management who oversees Google’s mapping efforts.

People have been contributing information to digital maps for some time, building displays of crime statistics or apartment rentals. Now they are creating and editing the underlying maps of streets, highways, rivers and coastlines.

“It is a huge shift,” said Michael F. Goodchild, a professor of geography at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “This is putting mapping where it should be, which is the hands of local people who know an area well.”

That is changing the dynamics of an industry that has been dominated by a handful of digital mapping companies like Tele Atlas and Navteq.

Google is increasingly bypassing those traditional map providers. It has relied on volunteers to create digital maps of 140 countries, including India, Pakistan and the Philippines, that are more complete than many maps created professionally.

Last month Google dropped Tele Atlas data from its United States maps, choosing to rely instead on government data and other sources, including updates from users.

“They have coverage in areas that the big mapping guys don’t have,” said Mike Dobson, a mapping industry consultant who once worked at Rand McNally. “It has the opportunity to cause a lot of disruption in these industries.”

Continue reading at New York Times . . .

Great Lakes Infographic (wiki)

Monday, November 16th, 2009

greatlakeswikipedia

[Editor’s note: Shows relative elevations, average depths, maximum depths, and volumes of the North American Great Lakes. Applies business intelligence charting to natural world summarizing a large table.]

Republished from Wikipedia.

Changing Rhode Island’s Name

Friday, October 30th, 2009

[Editor’s note: I thought someone was joking when they mentioned Rhode Islanders are trying to change their state name. Turns out this is for real. Wacky!]

Republished from Wikipedia.

The name Rhode Island and Providence Plantations derives from the merging of two colonies, Providence Plantations and Rhode Island. Providence Plantations was the name of the colony founded by Roger Williams in the area now known as the City of Providence. Rhode Island was the area now known as Aquidneck Island, which now comprises the city of Newport and the towns of Middletown and Portsmouth, the largest of several islands in Narragansett Bay.

“Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” is the longest official name of any state in the Union. On June 25, 2009, the Legislature of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations voted to allow the people to decide whether to keep the name or drop “Providence Plantations” due to the perception that the name relates to slavery. A referendum election is to be held on this subject in the near future.

Continue reading at Wikipedia . . .

read-write mapping: NACIS Conference Keynote by Michal Migurski of Stamen Design

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

[Editor's note: I'm just getting back from the annual NACIS conference and decompressing from backpacking, family and friends in the Golden State. Our great keynote speaker this year was Michal Migurski of Stamen Design who talked up the OpenStreetMap project. Mike has also been kind enough to help out with the Natural Earth Data site which will go live in another couple weeks once Tom and I have polished the data. Without further ado, the keynote...]

Republished from tecznotes.

[clip] I used the opportunity to talk about the fascinating OpenStreetMap project, specifically the ways in which it’s useful to a cartography audience and how that audience could benefit the project. This last thing in particular is what I closed with: I think the online face of OSM’s rendered tiles could use serious input from the NACIS community, particularly at the kinds of medium scales where the highly-detailed data blurs into “features”. Much of this happens by-hand in tools like Adobe Illustrator from what I can tell, a very different workflow from the industrial automation offered by my favorite stand-by, Mapnik.

This is a talk about a new awareness of maps and geography, and a change in attitudes toward maps.

I’m going start with a small detour here to tell you about an online phenomenon that’s going on four or so years now, called Unboxing. Unboxing is a kind of geek striptease, described in one site’s tagline as a “vicarious thrill from opening new gear”.

Unboxing is a response to the meticulous packaging of modern electronics gear, most notably Apple’s range of iPods, iPhones, and Mac computers – careful design is invested in the packaging, and careful appreciation is invested in its removal.

Why unboxing? Two aspects of the trend seem relevant here.

First, it’s a new kind of visibility into the fan club culture around popular electronics, allowing users to elevate their own appreciation of a mass-market good into a social experience. I remember bicycling past the Apple Store and the Cingular store on San Francisco’s Market St. on the day the iPhone was released. There were enormous lines in front of each, and as customers picked up their new iPhones they’d walk out the door, break into a jog, and high-five the remainder of the line. The division between fan and star here evaporates.

Second, the delivery mechanism for this fan-produced culture tends to be online sharing sites like Flickr and YouTube. Both are examples of the phenomenon of the “Read Write Web”, the now-familiar pattern of web-based communities formed around the creation and sharing of social objects like photos and videos.

One effect of these online communities is a new and durable awareness of the process behind creative production. Pages on Flickr or YouTube follow a pattern you’re probably familiar with: title in the upper-left, main “thing” just below that, and to the right at the same level of importance, the person who made it for you. Responsibility and provenance along with all the messiness and point-of-view are built-in assumptions.

In the world of text, we see this same pattern on Wikipedia.

This is the History Flow project from Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda Viegas at IBM, which shows edits to a single Wikipedia article over time as threads and contributions from a group of editors.

Like this one, each article has been beaten into shape over time by a group of people following loose rules of cooperation, so each page has an associated “Talk” page where you can peek into the arguments and negotiations connected to the particular set of facts represented there. You can see the sausage being made. You can also cause the sausage to be made, as we saw with Stephen Colbert’s parody of consensual reality he called “wikiality” and used to make occasional, abusive, hilarious forays into Wikipedia.

This is where we segue into geography.

Around 2004 or so, UK developer Steve Coast started a project called OpenStreetMap, the Wiki world map. Steve was connecting a few emerging threads: the falling cost of GPS hardware since it was made available for civilian use in 1996, the dismal copyright layer wrapped around Ordnance Survey maps, and the lack of a viable crappy-but-free alternative in the UK. It’s hard to overstate how crazy this idea was at the time; everyone knows that collecting worldwide geographic data at the street level is a massive undertaking, out of reach of an enthusiast community like the OSM of the time.

What was the state of online mapping at the time? Not terrible, but not great.

Continue reading at tecznotes  . . .

Limitations on Passport Use (Wikipedia)

Monday, September 14th, 2009

[Editor’s note: I dug up this interesting list of sovereign states who have passport problems at Wikipedia while working on Natural Earth.]

Most countries accept passports of other countries as valid for international travel and valid for entry. There are exceptions, such as when a country does not recognise the passport-issuing country as a sovereign state. Likewise, the passport-issuing country may also stamp restrictions on the passports of its citizens not to go to certain countries due to poor or non-existent foreign relations, or security or health risks.

Continue reading at Wikipedia . . .

The Petabyte Age: Because More Isn’t Just More — More Is Different (Wired mag)

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

Sensors everywhere. Infinite storage. Clouds of processors. Our ability to capture, warehouse, and understand massive amounts of data is changing science, medicine, business, and technology. As our collection of facts and figures grows, so will the opportunity to find answers to fundamental questions. Because in the era of big data, more isn’t just more. More is different.

Republished from the 06.23.08 edition of Wired magazine. View original.

[There are 8 essays; I promote 5 here.]

Tracking Air Fares: Elaborate Algorithms Predict Ticket Prices

wired air lines

“Flight Patterns” shows 141,000 aircraft paths over a 24-hour period. Image: Aaron Koblin

In 2001, Oren Etzioni was on a plane chatting up his seat mates when he realized they had all paid less for their tickets than he did. “I thought, ‘Don’t get mad, get even,’” he says. So he came home to his computer lab at the University of Washington, got his hands on some fare data, and plugged it into a few basic prediction algorithms. He wanted to see if they could reliably foresee changes in ticket prices. It worked: Not only did the algorithms accurately anticipate when fares would go up or down, they gave reasonable estimates of what the new prices would be. Read more.

Feeding the Masses

wired feeding the masses

The Iowa agriculture landscape: Green areas are more productive for soy, corn, and wheat; red are least.
Image: Firstborn

Farmer’s Almanac is finally obsolete. Last October, agricultural consultancy Lanworth not only correctly projected that the US Department of Agriculture had overestimated the nation’s corn crop, it nailed the margin: roughly 200 million bushels. That’s just 1.5 percent fewer kernels but still a significant shortfall for tight markets, causing a 13 percent price hike and jitters in the emerging ethanol industry. When the USDA downgraded expectations a month after Lanworth’s prediction, the little Illinois-based company was hailed as a new oracle among soft-commodity traders — who now pay the firm more than $100,000 a year for a timely heads-up on fluctuations in wheat, corn, and soybean supplies. Read more.

Predicting the Vote: Pollsters Identify Tiny Voting Blocs

wired vote

Infographic: Build

Want to know exactly how many Democratic-leaning Asian Americans making more than $30,000 live in the Austin, Texas, television market? Catalist, the Washington, DC, political data-mining shop, knows the answer. CTO Vijay Ravindran says his company has compiled nearly 15 terabytes of data for this election year — orders of magnitude larger than the databases available just four years ago. (In 2004, Howard Dean’s formidable campaign database clocked in at less than 100 GB, meaning that in one election cycle the average data set has grown 150-fold.) In the next election cycle, we should be measuring voter data in petabytes.

Large-scale data-mining and micro-targeting was pioneered by the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign, but Democrats, aided by privately financed Catalist, are catching up. They’re documenting the political activity of every American 18 and older: where they registered to vote, how strongly they identify with a given party, what issues cause them to sign petitions or make donations. (Catalist is matched by the Republican National Committee’s Voter Vault and Aristotle Inc.’s immense private bipartisan trove of voter information.) Read more.

Visualizing Big Data: Bar Charts for Words

wired big data visualization

A visualization of thousands of Wikipedia edits that were made by a single software bot. Each color corresponds to a different page. Photo credit: Fernanda B. Viégas, Martin Wattenberg, and Kate Hollenbach.

The biggest challenge of the Petabyte Age won’t be storing all that data, it’ll be figuring out how to make sense of it. Martin Wattenberg, a mathematician and computer scientist at IBM’s Watson Research Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a pioneer in the art of visually representing and analyzing complex data sets. He and his partner at IBM, Fernanda Viégas, created Many Eyes, a collaborative site where users can share their own dynamic, interactive representations of big data. He spoke with Wired‘s Mark Horowitz: Read more.

Sorting the World: Google Invents New Way to Manage Data

wired sorting

Used to be that if you wanted to wrest usable information from a big mess of data, you needed two things: First, a meticulously maintained database, tagged and sorted and categorized. And second, a giant computer to sift through that data using a detailed query.

But when data sets get to the petabyte scale, the old way simply isn’t feasible. Maintenance — tag, sort, categorize, repeat — would gobble up all your time. And a single computer, no matter how large, can’t crunch that many numbers.

Google’s solution for working with colossal data sets is an elegant approach called MapReduce. It eliminates the need for a traditional database and automatically splits the work across a server farm of PCs. For those not inside the Googleplex, there’s an open source version of the software library called Hadoop.

MapReduce can handle almost any type of information you throw at it, from photos to phone numbers. In the example below, we count the frequency of specific words in Google Books. Read more.