In later half of the year 2001, Media Lab of MIT, Boston and Department of Information Technology, Government of India formed Media Lab Asia through which was initiated a process to enable and encourage technology innovation for the benefit of rural masses in India. One of the first two projects initiated under Media Lab Asia was “Developing Community GIS on Water”.
The community GIS was developed involving kids and senior members of a village. While the kids used the iPaqs fitted with CF GPS to come up with the digital sketch of the locality, the senior
villagers participated in identifying and discussing the issues concerning their living. The maps developed were also provided to local administrators. These maps were later on integrated with a Health Information System for the benefit of the health workers of the area. A year or so later, all the kids involved in the community GIS were absorbed by a local GIS service provider, who needed manpower to develop map based electricity consumer index for an urban area.
A year later while the above project was in progress, the process of creating community village map using the school kids was replicated in a remote village of coastal region in Southern Maharashtra, called Padlos. The exercise was initiated by asking the villagers to come up with notional map of their locality. The notional map of the village was drawn by a young man in his early twenties, who drew an oval shaped village with the temple also the community place at the centre. In the exercise which followed using the iPaq with CF GPS engaging the school children between the age group of 12-15 years and young men from the village, resulted in a village map which was linear in nature. What was revealing was a settlement which was a part of the village but was far away from the village with no motorable tracks. A fact known to the villagers but they could not represent it on paper and provide it to the local authorities for their subsequent action. This community map formed the first such map on which basis they approached the authorities with their plea to look at the settlement cut off from the main village.
These were neither the first of the community mapping initiatives nor the last. Each time, such activity is undertaken, it strengthens the need of maps for the ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’. It re-iterates that maps are one of the best ways to create awareness on the of natural resource information for the locality. Sometimes it also made me wonder, if the community mapping is needed where the availability of maps at large scale maps is not available. A myth which was broken in coming years.
In Feb. 2005, Google Maps was launched followed by Google Earth after few months. Perhaps the biggest and most powerful of the community mapping was launched. People from across the world could add place marks etc on to it. On 24th may 2006, Wikimapia was launched. By October 2006, over 2,000,000 localities were marked on the Wikimapia from across the world.
The community mapping have extended beyond Web GIS to mobile applications. The nine community mapping initiatives compiled by Rrove Blog[https://www.rrove.com] provide a glimpse of the spectrum it encompasses today: Wikimapia, Wayfaring[Following Everybody], Platial [The People Atlas], Frapper [Social Atlas], Placeopedia [Mapping Wikipedia], Tagzania[Tagging the Planet], Plazes [Knows Where], Yelp [Community Reviews] and Dodgeball [Connecting with Friends]. The community mapping websites are getting their members to map and define places. They are building the attribute data content either in structured format or in unstructured but specific
interest group basis, what is also being termed as ‘crowd-sourcing’. As we are aware that search advertising, which is a fast growing industry in the Internet. Within this market, local search is being looked upon as ‘The Thing’. And, some say in few years it will be one of the largest revenue generating segment in Internet search. Watch for ‘$’ in community GIS! .