Tag Archive for 'Crowdsourcing'

Crowdsourcing bicycle routes

If I had to think of a solution to start creating a bicycle routing system, I’d do exactly what The San Francisco County Transportation Authority has done: create smart phone apps, gather information where cyclists are riding, data mine those tracks and build route suggestions on top of that knowledge.

Bicycle routing is in my opinion far more complex than car routing. Car routing is mostly based on well known and documented rules, also known as road traffic regulations. Mix in estimated traffic figures, average speeds and fuel consumptions and you get pretty decent car directions.

For cyclists, a similar rule set exists, but it’s maybe a little more, let’s call it, elastic. Cyclists use short-cuts, turn where cars can’t, go against traffic, ride through parks and on poorly documented trails. High traffic doesn’t mean slowdown for cyclists. They ride by on the bike lane on the right side of a traffic jam at almost the same speed as without traffic. But high traffic creates a security risk some cyclists aren’t comfortable with taking and rather choose a different route.

A perfect route from A to B for speedy messengers doesn’t necessarily mean it’s also an ideal route for kids. For your daily commute you probably pick another route than for weekend rides, even though it connects the same points.

Bicycle routing criteria is manifold, sometimes psychological, hard to measure and to quantify. Researching how cyclists are going, for what purpose and under what conditions, is a very smart way to get started on that topic.

What can Towns learn from OpenStreetMap?

Last week at the Ignite Spatial: Boston event I gave a short talk – 5min, 20 automated slides, 15sec each – about OpenStreetMap and why I think it can be interesting for town administrations to look at the OpenStreetMap model. In a nutshell:

  • OpenStreetMap is successfully based on open crowdsourcing, a horizontal multi-directional work-flow model, to build and maintain the world’s largest free geospatial database.
  • Open crowdsourcing helps to collect local knowledge across your residents, improve local geospatial data, engage residents and provide a 24/7 feedback loop for them.
  • Wide variety of data and information distribution: OpenStreetMap allows output from raw data access for developers to print map renderings for tourists.
  • Built-in data interoperability: no matter how many or in what part of the world people are contributing to the project, it all fits together to one piece.

Bottom line: towns should take a serious look at OpenStreetMap and the underlying model. It’s proven to work in many places and provides some valid points town administrations can benefit from.

There should be videos of all presentations online at some point. My colleagues Holly and Chris talked about our 3D video game/planning participation project in Chinatown and about the 10 most wanted data sets (and one state GIS department at stake) we would like to see to for better planning decisions in the Metro Boston region.

Update: Videos of Ignite Spatial: Boston are now available on YouTube. That’s me, struggling through the format ;-)

Shapes from the crowd

The map development team at Flickr released some interesting new additions to their geo API: shapes – not yet real ESRI Shapefiles, even though they’re on their way (see code.flickr for more information on that).

Flickr shapes are, as I understand it, polygons of aggregated point clouds of photo locations sharing the same location name. For geotagging, Flickr uses a very smart method: once the user has placed a photo on the map, the system sets a place name next to the photo. At the same time Flickr offers name modifications if the user isn’t happy with the proposed name. A list of name alternatives shows up where the user can pick the one which sounds best. That way Flickr constantly receives user feedback on its geodata and can continuously refine its geoname system.

On the other end Flickr makes the collected data through its API available again (see flickr.places.getInfo). I queried Vienna and some neighborhoods to see what the shapes look like in the city I know best. Surprisingly the city boundary is more accurate than I’d have thought. Keep in mind that it’s just the result of people geotagging photos and not surveying an administrative border.

The red line is the Flickr shape, the white line is the city boundary in Google Earth.

To obtain proper Flickr shapes on smaller neighborhoods, a certain critical mass of geotags needs to be achieved. Especially tourist hotpots turn out to be a potential pitfall: there is a high share of users geotagging without good local knowledge. Locals, who usually know the area better, won’t move around tourist attractions and take pictures that much. The relatively small amount of more accurate geotags done by locals will vanish in the mass of inaccurate geotags.

The yellow shape is Stephansdom, probably mostly tagged by thousands of tourists. Although Stephansdom is supposed to be the city center, it’s still only a square around a church within the neighborhood Innere Stadt, the green shape. As the picture shows, the relation and location of both shapes is slightly shifted.

I think some sort of ranking mechanisms can help here – a proper method to determine how accurate and trustworthy a name and corresponding geotag are.

Anyways, the idea of crowdsourced geonames on Flickr is interesting and it’s generally fascinating to watch the development a photo gallery has gone through over the last years. [via geobloggers]

The OpenStreetMap Shapefiles

Yesterday, after reading the post about routeable OSM data, I discovered the download section of CloudMade. By country they offer OSM data in various file formats. Shapefile is one of them. I downloaded the Austrian OSM data as Shapefile (still, after decades, the unbeaten #1 file format when it comes to geodata interoperability btw). There are 3 filesets included: highways, POI and natural.

After loading them into QGIS and having a quick look at the data, I must say that I’m impressed by the data quality and level of detail. Recently I proposed that our public national mapping agency should support projects like OpenStreetMap and provide parts of their road network data to the OSM community. Hereby I take this proposal back, I should’ve had a look at recent OSM updates first. The OSM road network data is, after some initial checks, better than what I’ve seen so far from our national mapping agency for general mapping purposes.

Dear mapping agency,
I’m afraid some of your departments are obsolete by now. You simply missed the train. The community has taken over your job and does it with friendlier, and probably more sustainable, licensing.

What I’ve to figure out now is a simple process how to send data edits on the Shapefile back to the OSM database. There is a good chance that we, while using the data in projects, will work on and maybe improve attributes or features. A smart tool to bridge desktop GIS and the OSM database would be very helpful here.

Another thing is to create more awareness about CC licensing and what community based work means. I’m quite often confronted with share-unfriendly attitudes like “pull down what you can get but don’t give anything in return”. There is very little understanding that sharing your work and data, base data to build individual projects on, creates a bigger benefit for all parties. I guess it’s a relic of times where geodata has been the most precious treasure you had to hide…


… (a computational information design researcher) is playing around with geographic information and creates some really interesting things.

First, a totally low budget weather map by simply analyzing and mapping people’s chats about weather on twitter:

and second, some nice map visualizations, all done with processing:

Twitter Conversations Map

[via Metaportal der Medienpolemik]

Public API impact

A year ago or so, we added a Google Map to a website friends of me are running. The website is about reptiles and amphibians. In one part of the site users can enter details into a form, including the location, when they’ve seen an interesting species. In the meantime their database has grown to a comprehensive collection of (crowd sourced) information like species distribution among our country. It’s not only a hobbyist project, the database means quite a valuable input for species research and protection projects too.

Anyways, before we added a Google Map to the form, user provided location information was very poor. Only a rough location description or coordinate information based on the national topographical map were possible to enter. For national coordinates users had to go to another website, look up the place and copy and paste the coordinates from there back into the form. Definitely not what I would call a convenient solution.

Once we added Google Maps where users could simply pinpoint the location on a map, the collected data turned into something like this:

Herpetofauna Funde in Österreich

Green dots … located with Google Maps (92%)
Red dots … located with a service of our National Mapping Agency (8%)

That says something about the benefit of public available mapping APIs. Especially for projects like this, with no commercial but a strong public interest.

Ordnance Survey heads into a good direction by releasing OpenSpace. OpenSpace is a mapping API, based on public geodata and OpenLayers, the Open Source JavaScript library for mapping. OS is probably the most progressive European mapping agency, so there is hope that others will follow (once they have all fulfilled INSPIRE and are done with metadata updates). It took some time until maps showed up at public authorities’ websites, followed by interactive maps and nowadays you even find WMS here and there. The next evolutionary step is probably public geodata made available through APIs.

During the INSPIRE process it became pretty clear that European mapping agencies don’t favor free public geodata. The API concept could help here: it enables flexible usage of data for users while retaining full control over both, functionality and data, for the mapping agency. Seems like a workable compromise to me.

LBS guerilla tactics

Rainer links to an interesting NYT article about the recently introduced My Location feature in Google Maps mobile. Actually the first thought coming to my mind when I heard about My Location two weeks ago was: “How come that Google knows cell tower positions, almost worldwide?”.

As far as I know it’s one of the best kept secrets among mobile carriers. Christopher Schmidt gave a talk about that issue at the Where 2006 conference, explaining the ignorance of most mobile carriers and showed us his GSM location hack.

According to the NYT article, Google gathers cell location information the same way as Christopher did: users equipped with mobile phones and GPS devices send cell and location information back to a central unit, where it’ll be provided for other users without GPS devices.

Or in other words, Google uses GPS enabled mobile phones, like your 800,- EUR Nokia N95 for instance, to enhance their service. Strangely not every Google employee supports this strategy and dare to sell a N95 on eBay.

However, Rainer points out, and I totally agree, that an API for LBS is needed. We have seen what happened when developers gained access to geographic information through APIs. LBS has been the next big mobile thing for a couple of years now. I think an LBS API could finally make it happen and bring thousands of ideas and map mashups to mobile devices.

One year later

I totally missed that it’s allowed in OpenStreetMap to derive vector data from aerial imagery provided by Yahoo! Maps. Apparently already since December 2006.

Last weekend, when we checked Vienna on OSM, we started wondering how come that it’s suddenly so rich on details. Did we miss a local GPS boom or mapping party?

The last time, it was summer, I collected and edited some tracks in my neighborhood for OSM, Vienna was poorly covered. Some major roads showed up and only a few neighborhoods were mapped more detailed (including parks, cemeteries or water areas for instance).

I didn’t know then that I can actually use the aerial imagery to refine my tracks and relied on the data my GPS unit returned. Reception and therefore accuracy in dense urban areas and narrow streets isn’t the best as you can imagine. Some of my tracks were way off and it was quite a hassle to put them in JOSM to a valid street network together.

However, the boost the Yahoo! aerial imagery gave OSM is impressive. Most parts of the central Viennese districts are already well covered. No wonder, it’s very easy to edit without the need of previously generated GPS tracks, directly via the browser interface.

High resolution aerial imagery + collaborative mapping tools = the real public geodata!

(With some help of the good old Gründerzeit raster, which makes mapping this city pretty straightforward I guess)

Euro 2008 local arrangements

Yesterday Switzerland, today Austria. Seems like somebody is preparing for Euro 2008.

Google released today a localized version of Google Maps Austria. Users are now able to search and find information about local businesses in Google Maps here too. Apparently Google doesn’t make too many efforts acquiring business data. As they claim, all the data is provided by business owners who want to be found on Google Maps and communities (crowdsourcing is the new buzzword). Quite efficient I assume.

However, there is still room for improvement left. I personally know much more Schnitzel-places in the center of Vienna than the Schnitzel search on Google Maps returns yet.

big local Schnitzel search

Google entering the neighborhood business search market will give the local yellow pages top dog Herold some hard times. They recently came up with a brand new mapping application, very well done with beautiful high resolution aerial imagery and based on their comprehensive business data. It will be interesting to follow further development on that issue, especially in regard to strong local community sites like Tupalo or Qype. [via futurezone]

Yahoo! MapMixer and the ©

Mapping and copyrights are two topics traditionally connected very strongly together. At least here in good old Europe people act very sensitive when re-publishing third party maps. Reading a couple of posts about Yahoo!’s new MapMixer, I started wondering how they would deal with that issue. On O’Reilly Radar I found an embedded MapMixer map containing a third party overlay clearly indicating “All rights reserved”. So maybe Brady Forrest actually holds the copyright, has the permission to redistribute or just missed the line

… Don’t upload any map or image that you don’t have the right to distribute …

when he uploaded the map below to Yahoo!’s MapMixer (assuming that it was him who added the map).

Yahoo! MapMixer at O’Reilly Radar

MapMixer is indeed an interesting service, but it’s really hard to find a copyright-free map. Except the ones available on Wikipedia. At least I couldn’t find any, neither do I own as person the copyrights of a map laying around here.

However, in many cases copyright holders won’t bother. And in many cases the service does make sense, like publishing a detailed campus map embedded in the Yahoo! street map to guide visitors.

But I doubt that most mapping agencies and map publishers will be very happy to see their maps popping up at Yahoo!. For instance, if I’d like to make a thousand black&white paper copies of the Austrian topographic map, I’d have to ask permission to do so. For publishing the same base map as image online, what MapMixer basically offers, one has to license the map for redistribution.

Regarding maps, I’d consider the potential user base for this service as rather low. But luckily MapMixer isn’t limited to maps only, users can upload any possible image and put it on the map. So it’ll be interesting to see what finally comes out.