The People's Map project

Back in the Spring, the UK paper The Guardian wrote an influential article called "give us back our crown jewels" about access to geographical data. If you as a citizen pay (through taxes) for data collection and mapping why do you then have to buy--often at enormous cost--for that data again? And why is it under copyright so that you will be prosecuted for using it without permission?

The Ordnance Survey, the UK's national mapping body, has just such a cost structure in place in order to recover all its costs. The USGS by contrast recovers just 3% of its costs (approx.). US federal maps are also not copyrighted which means other companies can take them and repackage them--and sell them. It also means individual users don't need to worry about posting USGS maps online in blogs or wherever.

But the Guardian article is part of a growing movement--call it the People's Map project--to provide alternative, copyright free versions of the same data. The paper set up a website that documents some of this activity. For example, some people are using GPS and the web to recreate the UK's system of post codes. Other people are carrying GPS receivers on London Underground trains in order to map the whole system (LU are well known for protecting their famous map and sending cease and desist letters).

In geography we have the academia-based People's Geography project, a great idea that has never really taken off. But this emerging series of People's Map projects, being widely distributed and done by thousands of people has a much better chance of changing the data landscape.

Another example is the Counter Cartographies group. These guys are interested in providing alternative ways of showing landscapes and places. They recently made a "disorientation map" that was given out to incoming freshmen at UNC Chapel Hill. The map challenges students' beliefs and gets them to look at their campus and local environment through a slightly disturbing lens. For example, ways in which the economy is based on SLJs (shitty little jobs) and lack of a living wage. Must have been quite a surprise for these students!

Disorientation map zoomify version

The People's Map project is just a name for all these efforts, and while they're not necessarily connected or even aware of each other's existence, they nevertheless share similar goals and hopes. Nobody's in charge of it; it's self-organized.

If the netroots can have an effect on the modern political landscape, can the People's Map project have an effect on the actual landscape?

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