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open geodata

The OKFestival week closed on September 22nd with an inspiring side event, the Good Map Summit, a seminar organized by Cindy Kohtala and Helsinki Green Map at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. As the organizers put it: “Whether they are interactive location-based technologies or beautifully hand-drawn cartography that captures a place’s uniqueness, maps are everywhere“. Designers, geographers and thinkers gathered in Kiasma to discuss how to use technology to enhance local business, environmental quality and a new sense of community. A special guest was Wendy Brawer from Green Map System, a featured speaker at the OKFest as well.

Good Map summit Helsinki 22.9.2012

The first project presented was Green Riders, a platform which makes possible to freely share car rides. Founded in 2010 by Željko Bošković and his team, this online and mobile service helps people to easily find car rides, with the aim to reduce CO2 emissions. Free for private users, it also has a business edition for companies, which is increasing its activity. One would expect Finland to be one of the less motorized countries in Europe, but it´s not the case: the number of vehicles is rapidly increasing, in 2011 being almost 3 millions over a population of about 5.4 millions (car density per capita is anyway lower in the most inhabited areas of Finland, as this Europe motorisation rate map shows). Italy was the second country with most cars in 2010, after the US. It´s a poor consolation to see that it also has the highest amount of natural gas cars in Europe. France is doing even better than Finland; the less motorized European areas are between Northern Germany and Denmark and the lest ones in Eastern Europe. There is more and more need to track emssions, which in many countries is becoming also obligatory. Instruments are being developed, such as Global Reporting , or the company targeted Carbon Disclosure Project, and Green Riders might be of help as well.

Pekka Sarkola, geodata expert and entrepreneur, guest programme planner for Open Geodata at OKFest, talked about different kinds of socially useful online mapping: Blindsquare is a derivation of Foursquare, the site which helps you to locate services and exchange points in your neighbourhood. It allows people with sight handicap to locate for ex. cafés or post offices by maps they can hear. Other useful ideas are the Light Map,  showing the concentration or scarcity of artificial lightning. Or noise level maps, showing how noisy a place is.

Green Map discussion at Kiasma

But the most interesting platform is Open Street Map, a not-for-profit organization founded in 2005, with more than half a million volunteers worldwide. Using Google Map as a basis, OSM activists tag the maps with all sort of useful information. In emergency situations OSM proofed to be an important tool, locating in real time the collapsed buildings, but also schools, hospitals and so on. In OSM anybody may add his/her own information, add the maps attribute info tags (highway, cycleway, building, residential etc.) – “a democratic, but also an anarchical idea”, according to Pekka. Contrarily to what we may think, “there is a huge work left to do, there are many missing areas, streets, paths” still waiting to be mapped.

Pauliina Seppälä presented Cleaning Day, a citizen initiative “for friends of flea markets and recycling”. A worldwide event, it took place for the first time in Helsinki in May, and a second time on September 8th. The town´s streets, parks and yards filled in with people selling whatever unnecessary they had at home: the idea is to clean up your home and enhance the culture of re-use in the place of that of endless consumerism. Cleaning Day too would not be possible without a customized Google Map, where you can see (and add) the nearest available marketplaces. Second-hand culture is quite popular in Finland, in many Helsinki districts (as in Töölö or Kallio) you can find cozy shops with furniture, clothes etc.

Green Map local food icon

But the funniest moment of the day was a practical one, a walk in Kiasma area to find out where are the points of environmental interest: the task was to tag them on a mobile map, using the Green Map icons, a set of icons developed by Wendy Brawer and her team: an international platform founded in 1995, Green Map gathers people of local communities to make them more conscious about sustainable everyday choices. Map making is not limited to internet users but it is also encouraged as a manifold handicraft activity, by drawing, painting, sewing and so on. Our action too was carried out with non conventional means: we used blueberry organic colours to tag the places of green interest! Thanks to Elissa Eriksson, from Multicoloured Dreams, who provided the colours, and to some patient architects and designers, we cropped and painted the icons on the ground in front of the shops. An ephemereal idea, considering the autumn rains, but the results are still visible on this web map.

Icons making at Lasipalatsi, Helsinki

Part of the idea was also to tag outdoor places suitable for new artworks: the Multicoloured Dreams art group invites people to find their town´s places in need of a more coloured look. Whoever may become a street artist, previously contacting the City Architect for permission. Contributing to own town´s outlook is also a way of caring about it, hopefully diminishing the acts of vandalism and indifference (such as throwing litter on the street, an increasing problem in Helsinki).

As reported at OKFest Sustainability Stream, Green Map initiatives multiply in Europe: Four Bees Hive (4BsHive) is a transnational project involving four river cities, Bristol, Berlin, Budapest and Bistrita. It was made possible thanks to Grundtvig, an EU programme supporting non-vocational adult education. For a recapitulation of OKFest Sustainability Stream have a look here.

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After Simon Rogers´ talk, combining equally classical journalism and data expert skills, the day continued with a number of interesting presentations.

Farida Vis talked more about Reading the Riots, a research about the role of rumours during the London riots in 2011: it is also a research about people´s behaviour in social media, a study case about Twitter (which would deserve further investigation, what Farida promised to do in the future). A fundamental contributor to this work was the Italian data journalist Jacopo Ottaviani, working at Il Fatto Quotidiano and The Guardian. Jacopo´s work focuses on sensitive social issues, such as prisoners´conditions of life in both Italy and the UK: the study in Italy shows prisoners´ main causes of death during the last decade, that in UK focuses about the rate of suicides in British prisons. An example of how data journalism may increase social conscience.

Farida Vis at OKFest

The next speaker was Esa Mäkinen, one of Finland´s prominent data journalists, working for the only daily national newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat (by the way the main one in Scandinavia). It´s interesting to note that HS wants to be a pioneer in data journalism, on the model of The Guardian and other much larger international newspapers. HS has been organizing Data Journalism Hackathons [1] in the last two years, with the idea to find people with technological skills, keen to collaborate for their website: journalists, programmers and designers, meet for a day, working at their own project; the best ones get the possbility to be developed and published on HS website. The next HS hackathon (no.6) will takes place today at the OKFestival!

As it was more times pointed out on Tuesday, data journalism is drawing more and more attention among the readers, who are eventually both attracted by the visualizations and the interactive possibilities (choose freely what to look at, at which country, age group and so on). So it is becoming more commercially appetizing for news agencies, while more traditional reporting forms are rapidly disappearing (see art and music reviews!) Mäkinen said that the HS website has about 1.4 million visitors per day, a remarkable number. Finland is a highly technological country, online apps such as the election machine (helping you to find the candidate more near to your views) have been existing since at least 15 years.

Mäkinen´s team next project is an interactive poll about the brand new building of the Helsinki Music Centre, with questions about its aesthetics and functionality, utility/need for citizens and so on. Looking forward to the results!

The Hungarian Júlia Keserű presented K-monitor, an internet portal aiming to detect corruption levels in the press: she reported about a couple of censorship scandals in her country, where journalists were fired for having revealed links between the finance world and first-row politicians (the Prime Minister or his entourage). The portal aims to detect media ownership control and measure advertiser´ influence.

An inspiring talk was that held by Maya Indira Ganesh and Emma Prest, from the Tactical Technology Collective, an NGO founded in 2003, based in both Germany and India, with regional staff in South Africa, the UK, Jordan and the Philippines. The organization aims to give technological support to rights advocates who work about sensitive social issues, such as sex workers´ conditions in Asia. The research, Sex worker voices, illustrates the acts of violence sex workers endure in West Bengal and Cambodia. In such marginalised communities modern devices as cell-phones are the only means to let others know what happens. The data collected include locations, display of the facts in time (how frequent they are and so on), and especially who are the people involved: in most cases police officers were among the offenders, in first place along with madams, and only in minor percentages customers and landladies. Thanks to this programme sex workers became more aware of the scale and nature of the violence within their communities. They found out that some of the data contradicted their own beliefs. The data also revealed how the stigmatisation of sex workers is reflected in the kinds of violence they face.

OKFestival newsroom

The American researcher Lesley Kadish showed that a dataset may also be composed by historical, archive material, such as diaries, account books, photos from the XIX century (A Christmastime Ledger Book, 1862). The video visualization showed the same landscape (Fort Snelling, Dakota) as it was supposed to look through different historical times.

There were also a couple of open geodata presentations, by the Finnish team Ali Kaapro and Tiia Palvimo, and by the Dutch team of Juha van ‘t Zelfde and Maurits de Bruijn: the latter project, Shippr, was started a few months ago and regards the tracking of ships all over the world. A kind of FourSquare for ships, the idea may have economic, social, environmental implications – as 90% of the world trade happens on the seas. Through dynamic data and locations the application may help to understand better the tangible global economy, in its real time changes. Shippr is now looking for partners, e.g. telecommunication companies such as Sonera. Shipspotting may also be important as a form of citizen journalism, a chance to report facts on a free, voluntary basis. As it came out from the numerous questions, the world of ship traffic is anyway not always a transparent one: if on one hand ship are registered and it´s not so easy to change their names, containers may transport anything, their content does not need to be specified, which gives space to illicit trafficking. One question was also: could you track military ships?

Last but not least, Victor Miclovich from Uganda, talked about the use of technology in developing countries: in extreme situations nets of mobile phones are fundamental to detect the most violent, dangerous areas; or help in case of epidemies such as the Ebola fever, which recently killed many people in Africa in a short lapse of time. Applications such as u report – voice matters or rapidFTR, are useful to find children lost in war areas. Miclovich collaborates with various NGOs, UNICEF and so on.

Miclovich conducted also another project of social relevance in Uganda, to encourage girls and young women to use technology and programming. Girl Geek Series is a series of workshops where girls learn to code and design open-source software: in a male-dominated area, they learn also to work in teams, gain self-confidence and hopefully start a business on their own later on. In spite of their families´ opinions, often not so positive, as in many other areas of the world.


[1] Term combining the words hack and marathon