Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Crowdsourced Mapping Helps Fight Ebola

Ten years ago this month Google acquired a mapping company called Where 2 Technologies and began to create Google Maps. Despite the tremendous growth of Google Maps over the last 10 years, there are still areas that are poorly mapped. When Doctors Without Borders wanted maps of the areas in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia that are most affected by Ebola, they turned to OpenStreetMap, a worldwide, crowdsourced mapping project. A recent article from Fast Company Labs details how the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) has gotten volunteers to quickly map cities like Gueckedou in Guinea. This image compares the level of detail between the two mapping services.
OpenStreetMap is on the left, Google Maps on the right. The limitations of this blog page make this hard to see so I manipulated the images to compare them up and down.
Andrew Buck, A volunteer with HOT is quoted in the fastcolabs article as saying that Google's business model is selling advertising and “Starbucks isn't paying for Google to advertise over there so there's very little incentive for Google to improve its maps.”  

In fairness to Google, the OpenStreetMap for Gueckedou much less detailed than Google before the HOT team got mapping.
Since March the team has mapped over 8 million objects. The article has a nice animation showing the edits made in West Africa in the last six months. I was not able to it reproduce here but you can see it on their page.

OpenStreetMap has helped relief efforts by identifying unknown villages, sorting out similar village names, coordinating logistics and allowing relief workers to predict the paths used by infected persons and therefore areas that are more likely to be in need of aid.

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