Wikis can be maps, too

Longtime readers of this blog (and the two of you know who you are) are aware that I love maps. I’m on record as saying the greatest software ever is what is now Google Earth. In presentations about social media, I always emphasize that the way in which people “express themselves” on the internet is often not in blog posts or tweets or sharing-photos or video. For some people, expressing themselves is more about making lists, or bookmarking websites, or helping out on wiki mapping project.

A wiki mapping project? (In this case, I’m using the term “wiki” to mean a collaborative effort to create a common body of knowledge. I’m also using the term here to help in my never-ending quest to help those living outside the technosphere bubble understand there are some incredible wikis on the web that don’t have the name Wikipedia.)

But back to maps.

A long time ago, when Google first added the “My Maps” feature to Google Maps, I demonstrated how people can express themselves by creating a map by putting together this map of the Richland Creek Greenway, a “linear park” near my office and home in Nashville. Since then, I have created several maps and photo collections of other Nashville greenways (but I have a long way to go in the project).

Today, the NY Times has a great feature on how thousands of people are doing something that’s as much “social media” as blogging — but you’ve never heard of them. They are quietly yet passionately adding their human touch and knowledge helping make online maps smarter — and more open. It’s a great story and worth reading.

Great quote:

“Google is increasingly bypassing…traditional map providers. It has relied on volunteers to create digital maps of 140 countries, including India, Pakistan and the Philippines, that are more complete than many maps created professionally. Last month Google dropped Tele Atlas data from its United States maps, choosing to rely instead on government data and other sources, including updates from users.

Here are some of the “mapping” grassroots wiki efforts the article mentions:

Google Map Maker: A Google tool that allows individuals to collaborate on map creation — think “wiki” and “maps” — adding information that can make it onto the version of Google maps we all see. (Read in the article about Faraz Ahmad of Pakistan who has logged more than 41,000 changes.)

OpenStreetMap.com: A nonprofit group whose mission is to make free maps that can be reused by anyone. 180,000 contributors have mapped many countries in varying levels of detail. (Again, think “wiki” and “maps.”)

WikiMapia: An annotation project layered on top of Google Maps. (Again, think “wiki” and “maps.”)