For this assignment we were asked to review and reflect on Mapswipe and particularly, on Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Tasking (HOT). First we had to download the Mapswipe app to our smartphones as this application is only available on iOS devices or on android phones and tablets. To access HOT, we would have to go on our laptops or online, on our PCs to get full use from the software. Mapping at this stage in the digital humanities is an ongoing digital humanitarian endeavour. There are many places in the world that are very poor and are not mapped yet. Also, disaster mapping is a huge part of OpenStreetMap’s agenda. When there is a natural disaster, humanitarian mapping comes massively into play.
“OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a volunteer-driven, globally distributed organization whose members work to create a common digital map of the world. OSM embraces ideals of open data, and to that end innovates both socially and technically to develop practices and processes for coordinated operation.” 1 Open Street Map depends on the voluntarism of the general online public in that although it is called humanitarian, anyone can go online and get involved with mapping the world. This is what is meant by open data, data that is freely available to anyone on the internet. It is a digital humanitarian vision to map the world but anyone can get involved in projects like OSM.
I started with the Mapswipe application and I found it to be so basic to operate that I got very confused at first. Then the application kept crashing and there was nothing I could do to complete my mission. My mission was to look for houses and buildings and rivers in unmapped and unpopulated parts of the world. I chose Nicaragua. You tap on the screen once, twice or 3 times. So you can only give 3 instructions to the app. It feels like you aren’t doing much interactively with this application and the good feeling you expect to get like you are helping the world doesn’t last long at all. I started to feel like I was on a meaningless mission and because the app kept crashing on me, I kept having to restart my missions from scratch. Mapswipe frustrated me to say the least.
So quickly I turned to OSM. As the GPS was working it directed me to directly to where I am living. So I decided to see if I could map anything around Ballinlough, where I live. I soon saw that almost everywhere was mapped already except my own housing estate. So quickly I made a residential line with the editor around Shrewsbury and also it’s sister estate, Shrewsbury Downs and named my own housing estate with the tag editor. Then, I decided to put the name of our own house on OpenStreetMap. So I put a pointer to 1, Shrewsbury and tagged it with the name of our house, “Rathlus”. Then when I was finished doing this, I decided to put in the adjacent bus stops to our housing estate across the road from each other. I felt I had done a lot in 3 small simple steps. I was proud of myself.
My next endeavour was to answer the mission of the assignment I was given. So I went looking for disaster mapping areas on the OSM website openstreetmap.org. Off I went to Sudan. I ended up looking down on a track road with some small huts dotted around it. This was after zooming in for hours. I found hut after hut after hut. Then I realised a lot of people were living here but they were all living in huts and they were always in small communities of not more than 3 or 4 or 5 huts. So the object of my mission was to put area markers around each hut and to mark it as a house or a building and to put areas around each group of huts and mark it as a residential area. The only problem was the shortcut key: 3 wasn’t doing anything and every time I pressed the area button nothing happened. So I tried in vain and in vain to mark the hut. I spent ages trying to go around the hut with my cursor. Again, I got very frustrated and started to feel my input was having no value.
(…I have started to love this assignment. It was ok/fun doing the practical side of it which is what I have described in the last 750 words, but actually writing about the process I endured to finish this assignment, which is to write it up and put it on my blog, I realise I’m enjoying the whole process of being a digital humanitarian using digital tools to educate myself in how I can influence the world in a positive way. I had to write that as a feeling of excitement came over me!)
Next, I complained to my professor about the Mapswipe app and thought to myself OSM isn’t really working out for me either! So, he suggested going to amnesty.org’s website. What a brilliant idea. I checked it out and straight away, you were given a challenge. A trial. You had to compare two pieces of photography of the exact same area but taken at different times. So, say if this was before and after a humanitarian disaster, think of the Good you could do for the people of disaster struck areas and really, the more people and not just digital humanitarians, who get involved in OSM mapping, the quicker and the faster we can help areas prone to disaster in the world, like Haiti and many other parts of the world.
The above song was written my Michael Jackson as far as I know but it was wrtiten to help Haiti a long time ago. This country has been through SO MUCH. I was a HUGE Michael Jackson fan and his music was really so pure. His music and his entertainment in concert mesmerised me and he was such a huge influence on me in a digital humanitarian way. I saw Michael as wanting to make the world a better place. God knows he tried to say that enough! We still need to help Haiti. It has been through a hurricane and an earthquake. If we even go on Mapswipe or OSM we can help the planet simply by mapping this country alone, and many others.
C’mon let’s get mapping!!!
But the challenge on amnesty.org’s website was to compare and contrast both before and after pictures of disaster hit areas. Anyone with good vision can do this. You look at one picture, you decide is it in a better condition or a worse condition than it was before, is their structural damage or perhaps, is there no change between the two pictures at all? A two year old could do this! Which makes me even more excited about the #digitalhumanities because even children can be #digitalhumanitarians.
Conclusion: The digital humanities (DH) is really in its infancy. The digital is all very new. My poor mother has still not adapted to the digital from the analogue. We are talking maybe, 20 years old, from the start of the free availability of the internet and email addresses. 20 years old is said to be a generation and that would make sense because kids who are 20 are no longer kids. So the digital humanities is around now for the infants and the children in our world and we should let them know all about it from an early age so that the digital humanites will prolong it’s inherent goodness for as long as we have the #digital and the #internet.
Mapswipe and OpenStreetMap (OSM) or HOT – Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Tasking as it is more known in the academic world can be taught to kids and why not? Get your 4 year old on their ipad or iphone or android phone or tablet and away they go, baby digital humanitarians coming of age. And, to me, this is the way to go with the digital humanites as a discipline. Let’s discipline not just the adults but also the kids about DH. And they will grow up to be very conscientious about the planet and hopefully emergency response disaster map tasking like Mapswipe and OSM/HOT can be taught to responsible children and why not?
1. Leysia Palen, Robert Soden, T. Jennings Anderson, and Mario Barrenechea. 2015. Success & Scale in a Data-Producing Organization: The Socio-Technical Evolution of OpenStreetMap in Response to Humanitarian Events. In Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’15). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 4113-4122. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/2702123.2702294