New Map, New Danger

Yesterday, everyone was abuzz about a blog that was listing all the membership details for the BNP, a very far right wing political party in the UK. What was amusing listening to people’s reactions was that everyone’s first comment after “I know/don’t know that person!” was “When’s the first google map’s mashup going to occur?”.

And lo, TechCrunchUK reports about one such BNP map mashup. It’s a garish red pin nightmare of a map.

Quickly and interestingly the owner has taken it down. He says:

I have decided to take down the map. Many people have commented that the map does give a false impression of accuracy, despite my making this clear, and I’m tempted to agree. I do not want to single anybody out and by removing the accuracy from the map it is possible that it ends up incorrectly implying a property contains a BNP member. It has been suggested that an inaccurate map that doesn’t make that clear is worse than publishing the list itself, and I think that’s a reasonable comment.

To replace the monster of a map on that page, there is now a kernel density map of bnp members, which of course mirrors the spread of population in the UK.

Other maps work a bit differently: aggregates numbers by postal district, so individuals cannot be identified. Google spreadsheets are also online, like one that shows number of BNP members per county.

There are some interesting comments on the TechCrunchUK post, which call for more meaningful information, comparison with population density, ethnic minority populations.

The original blog with the list is now taken down, and the mashup too – and quite right too, it’s not OK to identify and vilify people just because they believe in something nasty. The Guardian Blog comments with some concerns “And what if data from the Sex Offenders Register was leaked and put on a Google Map”, (something which is done in the US).

So the release of this data and the use of “neogeo” tools is a prime example where you can point and say, “Yes, that map is dangerous”. I’ve talked about this before – the attitude of “If we let anyone make a map, then it could end the world!”.

But also a prime example where you can say “You can make a much better, useful and helpful map” where you can use that data and compare it to deprivation, population density, voting results, etc. (Of course, this does not justify the release of the data in the first place).

This “New Map, New Danger” viewpoint can be found on recent geowanking mailing list discussions. It’s frequently heard from traditional geographers, the teasingly named “paleogeographers”. It can be a strong argument to restrict access to data and tools. “If people made dodgy analysis about where to X, then it would disastrous!”

The focus seems to be about the tools – things which NeoGeo has helped more people to be able to use. All geographers should be encouraging the development of geography to people. It’s not enough to say, “to make a map is bad” it needs us to teach those to make good meaningful maps.

That’s not to say that people are not advising on how to do meaningful stuff, we are seeing such things now, the Geocommons crew for example are making a good step in this direction.

Where’s Stonehenge on Google Maps?

Maps and OpenStreetMap are in the news again, part silly season, and part reporting of interesting subjects from the RGS conference.

The news boils down to this:

Google maps are missing out on interesting points of interest, which is bad as maps are cool.

OpenStreetMap maps interesting points of interest, cos we like those places.

But, what I find interesting is what Ed Parsons says:

“Internet maps can now be personalised, allowing people to include landmarks and information that is of interest to them.

“Anyone can create their own maps or use experiences to collaborate with others in charting their local knowledge.

“These traditional landmarks are still on the map but people need to search for them. Interactive maps will display precisely the information people want, when they want it.

“You couldn’t possibly have everything already pinpointed.”

Which to me is clearly saying “we are not interested in putting on pubs, churches and places like Stonehenge – the web does that for us” – extra layers, GeoRSS, geotagged photos.

Search for “pubs” on and you’ll find pubs. Search for stonehenge and you’ll find stonehenge. Not much space for serendipity, and exploring a rich map, but it’s a vision of a geoweb that makes complete sense.

More evidence of the lack of competition between the big G and OpenStreetMap – OSM goes beyond the web, and ends up on paper, in people’s phones, whilst cycling and walking, on tourist maps and guide books.

So, now go out and map Bradford – record it’s history!