Centre for Internet & Society

Digital maps can hold immense academic value – an article by Deepa Kurup, The Hindu, 3rd Jan, 2010.

BANGALORE: The mash-up story is an old but compelling one, particularly when used for advocacy as in Tunisia where exile Sami Ben Gharbiais used a GoogleMaps mash-up to paint a different kind of landscape.
So random net surfers were startled to find the Tunisian map dotted with a string of prisoner’s names, their biographies, and videos of their family members telling the story of the human rights situation in the country.
Closer home, rights activist K. Ramnarayan is trying to do something similar. Using GPS and simple mapping technologies, Mr. Ramnarayan maps the location and extent of damage that will be created by proposed hydro-electric projects in Uttarakhand.

“We knew that many projects were announced. But it was only when we began mapping, we found that the 550-odd projects were concentrated in three valleys, and could potentially ruin all the State’s rivers,” he says.

Detailed perspectives

Mr. Ramnarayan believes that mapping technology can provide detailed perspectives, enable analysis — GPS devices are easy to use and collated data can be simply added as layers to existing maps — and create better awareness by sharing data online. Using the more accurate GIS mapping can also hold immense academic value.

It is this potential that “Maps for Change,” a collaborative project hosted by Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) and Tactical Tech, endeavours to tap into. Anja Kovacs, a CIS fellow, believes maps are powerful, as they provide the larger picture. For instance, she says, news reports lead one to believe that protests against SEZs are isolated today. Now, put all those protests on a map, and you get the real picture! “Maps for Change” participants are involved in a slew of fascinating projects such as mapping land acquisition patterns in Bangalore, tribal displacement issues and dissident sexualities in Delhi.

Layer of information

So mapping is not a complex cartographer’s job anymore. With cheaper and more efficient GPS devices, in the market and on your cellphones, anybody can map. Pradeep B.V. of MapUnity.org, a site that lets you create your own map, says that ‘neogeographers’ are redefining online maps.

Neogeographers use available online maps such as Google MyMaps or Open Street Maps to add layers of information to a typical mashup.

GIS adds that critical layer of accuracy, and is essential in remote areas which are not mapped by these services. So you collect data (typically latitude, longitude and altitude information), mark your points of interest and upload this on a map, Mr. Pradeep explains.

Using attributes these simple maps can be used, accurately, to tell a story and document several layers of information.

Tracking changes
Say you wish to record access to health facilities in a backward district. A GPS device helps you collate info and create a ‘schema’ of data that can be uploaded directly to any mashup. Open source tools such as JUMP or UDIG can help you work easily with GIS datasets. The map can be interactive, you can track changes and can be as dynamic as you want it to be — for instance, you upload videos of health care facilities or highlight patches of social exclusion.

Link to the original article


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