Session 6: Digital and Open Source Mapping

We were joined this week by artist Sandra Crisp who screened her recent video ‘Mapping London’s Subterranean Rivers’, a digital 3D map elevation that reveals the city’s unseen underground and ancient waterways. The group took some time with Sandra to generate our immediate responses to the video, and Sandra also explained her process of analysing her research and data and finding a way to manifest that visually.

Sandra’s video can be viewed online here.

We then went on to look at various examples of online mapping projects, discussing the kinds of virtual communities that grow around these user-generated data hubs, whether that be people sharing personal memory maps on flickr or the intricately woven politically and socially driven maps and tools created by TheyRule.net and debategraph.org, which encourage co-operative and collaborative user participation on a highly global level. Debategraph.org aims to offer a “powerful way for communities to learn about, think through and decide upon complex issues […] by enabling communities of any size to externalise, visualise, question, and evaluate all of the considerations that any member thinks may be relevant to the topic at hand – and by facilitating intelligent, constructive dialogue within the community around these issues.” We have set up our own debategraph on the website under the title ‘(London) Riots’ working directly from the notes we compiled last week around perceptions of the riots in London (see post on Session 5). Sign up with debategraph for free and join our community if you would like to view or add to this graph.

While debategraph.org encourages the development of communities around particular questions and issues, TheyRule has a more overtly political agenda; TheyRule is concerned with mapping some of the relationship of the US ruling class, taking as its focus, the boards of some of the most powerful US companies, showing how many of these boards share the same directors. Some of these individuals sit on up to 7 of the top 1000 companies! It has a very intricate search system allowing you as a user to browse through these interlocking directories and even add your own research if you create a log in to the site. TheyRule is a fantastic example of how mapping can be used as a powerful critical research tool.

We returned to many of the questions raised in our first session surrounding map-making itself and counter-mapping – the power inherent in the process of map-making, selection, filtering; who has access to data and how is it distributed; making visible and repressing information. In this context we made a simple comparison between Google Maps and OpenStreetMap (http://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Google_Map_Maker), the former owned by a gigantic global entity with the power to claim ownership (and profit) over any raw data input by the global community; and the latter an open source tool that allows its users to freely input, reuse, modify and distribute its data, allowing users to inform and improve the system.

We finished the session by spending some time together thinking over the research we have gathered so far over the last 6 weeks and plotting some of these points on an online map…..

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