Monthly Archives: February 2017

Open Street Maps A Humanitarian Cause

DH 6010 Humanities and New Technologies: Tools and Methodologies

Assignment One

Alison de Paor – 116105679

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The initial idea of creating real time maps is really fascinating as this is the topic of my thesis.  I want to create an interactive map of my area and include the local school children in the process, I want them to have an input and contribute to the project.


The application Mapswipe is easy to install the only problem I had was, I would have preferred to download it on my laptop and have a bigger screen to navigate.  It was all explained very simply, a lot of smiling faces explaining how they needed help mapping areas which would help in delivering aid, or helping people who are living rurally in unmapped territories.

I found the mapping process simple enough but got the feeling it was very task driven.  You had to map a certain amount before you moved onto the next level and it gave the impression of a game.  I found this a bit odd and it trivialised the object of the exercise which is to the betterment of humankind through relief work.

The driving force for this task was to get involved and make a difference (without being too dramatic) It is a simple way of everyone being able to do something that will benefit a lot of people.  The idea of people all over the world contributing to mapping countries they were never in or have ever seen it quite mind blowing.  The technology is there to make a change by mapping the other side of the world.  This really is an example how technology can be a positive force, and there are people in the world who care enough to take the time to participate.

I did wonder though, if the work had to be validated would it make the work quite tiresome.  To go over the work of so many contributors must be a difficult task, would it put people off contributing.   I felt a certain serious-ness to what I was doing and felt that in being extra careful, did inhibit my contribution to some extent.  I presume with more experience of the task this feeling would dissipate and being more familiar with the process would help.

The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Tasking (HOT) stepped things up a notch.  I found this mapping application to be more ‘serious’ and desperate in their need for information.  They had the menu of certain areas, and specified by necessity for information.

The interface was fine to navigate but all the boxes of certain areas did make it very real.  They were desperate for information on certain sections and it really made it hit home that these are relief people trying to save lives.  This made the task very daunting as I really didn’t feel equipped enough to make those sort of contributions, to something that would eventually be a life or death situation.

All the drama aside, I did get the impression, and maybe wrongly, that this was stepping up a notch compared to Mapswipe.  There certainly was no inclination that this was a game-like exercise, it was portrayed as a more serious application with serious repercussions if it was mishandled.

This lead me to the idea that, if by accident, people misused this information and were more of a hindrance than a help, this could have a serious domino effect and could to some extent be detrimental.  But what if people purposely interfered with this information and mislead people by entering false data, what would the repercussions be then?  The thought of it is too drastic to even think about, but we all know that there are people out there who are capable of it, for whatever reason.

It is the pros and cons of the digital age, it comes down to the conscience of the person pressing the buttons, that make things happen, be it good or bad.  This led me down a rabbit hole of who these people are and what are they really doing with all this information, people like us, are readily providing them.  I felt bad even thinking like this but as we are being reflective, what happens to all these maps?  Who gets to be gate keeper of all this information and for what purposes?

Ok these are relief organisations doing good and saving lives all around the world, don’t get me wrong but let’s be devils’ advocate for a second.  When all the data is logged, and validated what happens to the information?  Do they sell any of this information for economic gain?  If this meant helping even more refugees or people in natural disasters, so be it.  But I can’t help thinking there could be a darker side for this thirst for information…shame on me!

What about the people who are happily living in oblivion in their rural hamlet? Do they get a say if they are spied upon and mapped on a system that they will probably never have access to?  Will they ever see the benefit of people knowing who they are and where they are living?  Is there another reason why these people need to be mapped in the first place?

Sorry to go down such a dark path, as an altruistic exercise I get it, don’t get me wrong, but knowledge is power and it all lies in the hands of the people who hold that knowledge and information.  The terms and conditions aside I would have liked to of known more about what happens to this information and who has access to it, if I have contributed in some way, do we all own it?

With such a heavy conscience, I began to reflect on my own thesis and the topic of mapping a local community.  I was wondering were there parallels in my own field of study and if so was I doing it for the right reason. Hopefully I was thinking along the lines of early years education and bringing their history class to life for them.

Yes, there are advantages to school children knowing about their own history and making a connection to where you are raised and your ancestors are raised.  I think I am looking too closely, this is a different situation, the same exercise (mapping), but for a different reason and a different end game.  Or at least that is how I will wrestle with my conscience of being so scathing about openstreetmaps!

To conclude, although I have been quite negative in my reflection, (apologises), there really is a need for information about rural, disadvantaged and underprivileged areas.  How else will they ever be helped if no one knows about them or what their requirements are.  These people I do believe are extremely charitable and noble in their endeavours and of course we must support them in whatever way we can.

If everyone was weary or negative, like I was at first, no one would be helped and the world would definitely be a poorer and sadder place.  The open street map is an amazing tool and quite straight forward.  It is accessible to everyone and we can all play a part in documenting our communities.  We must believe it is for the greater good and is doing so much to help those who cannot help themselves.

So, on reflection I will make a point of exploring these applications more and not be so suspicious and believe that I am helping in my own way, no matter how insignificant I feel it is.  It is all working towards the bigger picture.  People must start contributing and stop thinking it is up to someone else.  We have been giving the opportunity with these humanitarian applications to help make a difference and it is only right that we take advantage of that opportunity and help.  How could we live with ourselves if we sat back and did nothing!

As for my own research, this project has given me a broader understanding of what can be achieved.  I might be starting small but there is no limit to where you can go with applications like this and hopefully used for the greater good.  With my local community map, we can explore the full extent of what can be achieved and see that there is a genuine advantage to having this knowledge and being able to share it with the generations to come.




I will include a couple of screen shots of Mapswipe and HOT and one of Aglish village, in my blog version – (these screen shots will be removed from the Turnitin version for submitting purposes).




The village of Aglish, County Waterford.