10 July, 2010
The slides below are from my presentation in State of the Map 2010 in Girona, Spain. While the conference is about OpenStreetMap, the presentation covers a range of spatially implicint and explicit crowdsourcing projects and also activities that we carried out in Mapping for Change, which all show that unlike other crowdsourcing activities, geography (and places) are both limiting and motivating contribution to them.
In many ways, OpenStreetMap is similar to other open source and open knowledge projects, such as Wikipedia. These similarities include the patterns of contribution and the importance of participation inequalities, in which a small group of participants contribute very significantly, while a very large group of occasional participants contribute only occasionally; the general demographic of participants, with strong representation from educated young males; or the temporal patterns of engagements, in which some participants go through a peak of activity and lose interest, while a small group joins and continues to invest its time and effort to help the progress of the project. These aspects have been identified by researchers who explored volunteering and leisure activities, and crowdsourcing as well as those who explored commons-based peer production networks (Benkler & Nissenbaum 2006).
However, OpenStreetMap is a project about geography, and deals with the shape of features and information about places on the face of the Earth. Thus, the emerging question is ‘what influence does geography have on OSM?’ Does geography make some fundamental changes to the basic principles of crowdsourcing, or should OSM be treated as ‘wikipedia for maps’?
In the presentation, which is based on my work, as well as the work of Vyron Antoniou and Nama Budhathoki, we argue that geography is playing a ‘tyrannical’ role in OSM and other projects that are based on crowdsourced geographical information and shapes the nature of the project beyond what is usually accepted.
The first influence of geography is on motivation. A survey of OSM participants shows that specific geographical knowledge, which a participant acquired at first hand, and the wish to use this knowledge and see it mapped well is an important factor in participation in the project. We found that participants are driven to mapping activities by their desire to represent the places they care about and fix the errors on the map. Both of these motives require local knowledge.
A second influence is on the accuracy and completeness of coverage, with places that are highly populated, and therefore have a larger pool of potential participants, showing better coverage than suburban areas of well-mapped cities. Furthermore, there is an ongoing discussion within the OSM community about the value of mapping without local knowledge and the impact of such action on the willingness of potential contributors to fix errors and contribute to the map.
A third, and somewhat surprising, influence is the impact of mapping places that the participants haven’t or can’t visit, such as Haiti after the earthquake or Baghdad in 2007. Despite the willingness of participants to join in and help in the data collection process, the details that can be captured without being on the ground are fairly limited, even when multiple sources such as Flickr images, Google Street View and paper maps are used. The details are limited to what was captured at a certain point in time and to the limitations of the sensing device, so the mapping is, by necessity, incomplete.
We will demonstrate these and other aspects of what we termed ‘the tyranny of place’ and its impact on what can be covered by OSM without much effort and which locations will not be covered without a concentrated effort that requires some planning.
Usability of VGI in Haiti earthquake response and the 2nd workshop on usability of geographic information
27 March, 2010
On the 23rd March 2010, UCL hosted the second workshop on usability of geographic information, organised by Jenny Harding (Ordnance Survey Research), Sarah Sharples (Nottingham), and myself. This workshop was extending the range of topics that we have covered in the first one, on which we have reported during the AGI conference last year. This time, we had about 20 participants and it was an excellent day, covering a wide range of topics – from a presentation by Martin Maguire (Loughborough) on the visualisation and communication of Climate Change data, to Johannes Schlüter (Münster) discussion on the use of XO computers with schoolchildren, to a talk by Richard Treves (Southampton) on the impact of Google Earth tours on learning. Especially interesting are the combination of sound and other senses in the work on Nick Bearman (UEA) and Paul Kelly (Queens University, Belfast).
Jenny’s introduction highlighted the different aspects of GI usability, from those that are specific to data to issues with application interfaces. The integration of data with software that creates the user experience in GIS was discussed throughout the day, and it is one of the reasons that the issue of the usability of the information itself is important in this field. The Ordnance Survey is currently running a project to explore how they can integrate usability into the design of their products – Michael Brown’s presentation discusses the development of a survey as part of this project. The integration of data and application was also central to Philip Robinson (GE Energy) presentation on the use of GI by utility field workers.
My presentation focused on some preliminary thoughts that are based on the analysis of OpenStreetMap and Google Map communities response to the earthquake in Haiti at the beginning of 2010. The presentation discussed a set of issues that, if explored, will provide insights that are relevant beyond the specific case and that can illuminate issues that are relevant to daily production and use of geographic information. For example, the very basic metadata that was provided on portals such as GeoCommons and what users can do to evaluate fitness for use of a specific data set (See also Barbara Poore’s (USGS) discussion on the metadata crisis).
Interestingly, the day after giving this presentation I had a chance to discuss GI usability with Map Action volunteers who gave a presentation in GEO-10 . Their presentation filled in some gaps, but also reinforced the value of researching GI usability for emergency situations.
5 March, 2010
The Commission on Use and User Issues of the International Cartographic Association (ICA) is currently working on a new handbook specifically addressing the application of user research methods and techniques in the area of geographical information and its applications.
In order to share experiences and interesting case studies a workshop is organized by the Commission, in collaboration with UCL, on the day preceding GISRUK 2010, Tuesday, 13th April 2010.
The programme for the workshop is now completed and the programme and abstracts for the papers that will be discussed during the meeting are available here.
For information on the commission, visit the website of the ICA Commission on Use and User Issues and to register to the workshop follow the instructions on the GISRUK2010 website.
This is call for papers for a workshop on methods and research techniques that are suitable for geospatial technologies. The workshop is planned for the day before GISRUK 2010, and we are aware of the clashes with the AAG 2010 annual meeting, CHI 2010 and the Ergonomics Society Annual Conference. However, if you would like to contribute to the book that the commission is developing but can’t attend the workshop, please send an abstract and inform us that you can’t attend.
In the near future I’ll publish information about another workshop in March 2010 about the usability and Human-Computer Interaction aspects of geographical information itself – see the report from the Ordnance Survey workshop earlier in 2009.
So here is the full call:
Workshop on Methods and Techniques of Use, User and Usability Research in Geo-information Processing and Dissemination
Tuesday 13 April 2010 at University College London
The Commission on Use and User Issues of the International Cartographic Association (ICA) is currently working on a new handbook specifically addressing the application of user research methods and techniques in the geodomain.
In order to share experiences and interesting case studies a workshop is organized by the Commission, in collaboration with UCL, on the day preceding GISRUK 2010.
CALL FOR PAPERS
While there is growing awareness within the research community on the need to develop usability engineering and use and user research methods that are suitable for geographical and spatial information and systems, to date there is a lack of organized and documented experience in this area.
We therefore invite researchers with recent experience with use, user and usability research in the broad geodomain (cartography, GIS, geovisualization, Location Based Services, geographical information, GeoWeb etc.) to present a paper specifically focusing on the research methods and techniques applied, with an aim to develop the body of knowledge for the domain.
To participate, please send an abstract of 1 page A4 at maximum containing:
- A description of the research method(s) and technique(s) applied
- A short description of the case in which they have been applied
- The overall research framework
- Contact details and affiliation of the author(s)
We are also encouraging PhD researchers to submit paper proposals and share experiences from their research. At the workshop there will be ample time for discussing the application of user research methods and techniques. Good papers may be the basis for contributions to the handbook that is planned for publication in 2011.
Abstracts should be submitted on or before 1 December 2009 to the Chairman of the Commission Corné van Elzakker ( email@example.com )
the website of the ICA Commission on Use and User Issues and the GISRUK2010 website
15 October, 2009
Geographical Information Science Research UK (GISRUK) is a research conference that has been taking place in different university campuses around the UK (and once in Ireland) since 1993. Despite the name, it is open not just to researchers from the UK, but also to international participants, who are very welcome.
For me, GISRUK was the first international conference in which I presented a paper eleven years ago, so I have a soft spot for it. It was very friendly and welcoming for a starting research student (which I was at the time). It was especially useful to discover that all the famous academics who attended it were friendly and open to questions.
The papers are rather short, about 1500 words, so there is plenty of time to write one in time for the deadline of the end of November.
17 July, 2009
Chris Parker, a PhD student at Loughborough University, organised a dedicated Volunteered Geographical Information research group site on ResearchGate. While I dislike the term – I usually interpret it as the version of ‘volunteered’ as in ‘mum volunteered me to help the old lady cross the street’ – there is no point in trying to change it. When Mike Goodchild coins an acronym, it will stick; it’s sort of a GIScience law!
If you are interested in user-generated geographical content, crowdsourced geographical information, commons-based peer-produced geographical information, or any other way to call this phenomena (for example VGI) – join the group. It will be good to keep in touch, share information and discuss research aspects.
If you are researching in this area you are also welcome to submit a paper to GISRUK 2010 which will be hosted at UCL – we are keen to have a VGI element in the programme, considering that UCL is the host of OpenStreetMap .
In June, Aamer Ather, an M.Eng. student at the department, completed his research comparing OpenStreetMap (OSM) to Ordnance Survey Master Map Integrated Transport Layer (ITN). This was based on the previous piece of research in which another M.Eng. student, Naureen Zulfiqar, compared OSM to Meridian 2.
There are really surprising results. The analysis shows that when A-roads, B-roads and a motorway from ITN are compared to OSM data, the overlap can reach values that are over 95%. When the comparison with Master Map was completed, it became clear that OSM is of better quality than Meridian 2. It is also interesting to note that the results of higher overlap with ITN were achieved under stricter criteria for the buffering procedure that is used for comparison.
As noted, in the original analysis, Meridian 2 was used as the reference dataset, the ground truth. However, comparing Meridian 2 and OSM is not like with like, because OSM is not generalised and Meridian 2 is. The justification for treating Meridian 2 as the reference dataset was that the nodes are derived from high-accuracy datasets and it was expected that the 20 metres filter would not change positions significantly. It turns out that the generalisation impacts the quality of Meridian more than I anticipated. Yet, the advantage of Meridian 2 is that it allows comparisons for the whole of England, since the file size is still manageable, while the complexity of ITN would make an extensive comparison difficult, time-consuming and lengthy.
The results show that for the 4 Ordnance Survey London tiles that we’ve compared, the results put OSM only 10-30% from the ITN centre line. Rather impressive when you consider the knowledge, skills and backgrounds of the participants. My presentation from the State of the Map conference, below, provides more details of this analysis – and the excellent dissertation by Aamer Ather, which is the basis for this analysis, is available to download here.
The one caveat that will need to be explored in future projects is that the comparison in London means that OSM mappers had access to very high-resolution imagery from Yahoo! which have been georeferenced and rectified. Therefore, the high precision might be a result of tracing these images, and the question is what happens in places where high resolution images are not available. Thus, we need to test more tiles and in other places to validate the results in other areas of the UK.
Another student is currently comparing OSM to 1:10,000 map of Athens, so by the end of the summer I hope that it will be possible to estimate quality in other countries. The comparison to ITN in other areas of the UK will wait for a future student who will be interested in this topic!
28 April, 2009
I have checked on Twitter to see how the follow-up meeting to Terra Future 2009, last Friday, went. It was a very pleasant surprise to see that the idea that I have put forward in February, that the Ordnance Survey should consider hosting OpenStreetMap and donate some data to it, was voted the best idea that came out of Terra Future 2009. With this sort of peer-review of the idea, and with the added benefit of 2 months for rethinking, I still think that it is quite a good idea.
The most important aspect of this idea is to understand that OpenStreetMap and Ordnance Survey can both thrive in the GeoWeb era. Despite the imaginary competition, each has a clear value to certain parts of the marketplace. There are a very clear benefits that the OpenStreetMap community can gain from working closely with the Ordnance Survey – such as some aspects of mapping that the Ordnance Survey are highly knowledgeable about, and vice versa, such as how to innovate in delivery of geographical information. A collaborative model might work after all…
I wonder how this idea will evolve now?
2 February, 2009
Engaging Geography is an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded seminar series, originally conceived by Duncan Fuller, who is sadly missed. The seminars are an appropriate tribute to his memory. The first seminar was held in Newcastle at the end of January and there will be 5 more over the next 2 years. So there plenty of opportunities to join!
The seminar gave special attention to public geographies – such as films that are an output of academic geographical research; photography and exhibitions by artists who deal with geographical issues in their work; and the wide range of examples that are coming out of the work of geography teachers and school geography.
The seminar was thought-provoking with lots of practical demonstrations and discussions about many issues – including how gender influences public geographies, the impact of communication, private geographies and many other issues that were packed into the two-day seminar.
During the discussions, Daniel Raven-Ellison, who runs Guerrilla Geography and Urban Earth, noted that the rapid increase in digital geography (neogeography) where geography is ‘used’ by many is one of the best examples of public geographies. This made me think more about the meaning of public geography and public geographers in the context of neogeography.
I would argue that we should differentiate between systems (websites) that are not based on user-generated content (mash-ups and public mapping sites) and those that require active geographic contribution from the user.
As Byron Antoniou (who is doing his PhD at UCL) noted, within the websites that are based on user-generated spatial content, we should differentiate between geographically explicit systems (OpenStreetMap, Geograph) and geographically implicit systems (Flickr, Wikipedia). The latter can hold geographic information, but that is not their main objective.
So, when users use a public mapping site passively, they don’t engage with the geography of the place fully. They consume a geographical image and, because of the nature of browsing, this image will disappear in the general haze of the many pages and images that they are exposed to. Considering that the average user might view up to 150 pages a day, this is no more ‘public geography’ than a map in a newspaper. Even the programmers that construct mash-ups are not ‘public geographers’ – they are concerned with the automation of the representation, and very rarely consider the visualisation carefully. Not surprisingly, the exceptions (such as London Profiler) have been created by people with a deeper understanding of geography.
In geographically implicit systems, there is some engagement with geography, but it is limited and might even be mechanical. For example, if GPS information is used to automatically geotag an image on Flickr or Picasa, the user is not actively engaged with the geography of their image. The engagement can be higher for example when a person creates a memory map, or manually locates the image position on the map, as it forces the person to recall the real world geography and match it with the map.
Finally, geographically explicit systems are, in my view, mostly public geographies. Because of the task that they were designed for, contributors are aware of the geography that they engage with both in the digital form and in the real world. For example, when a participant captures a road in OpenStreetMap, she is forced to consider the real world characteristics of the street as well as its digital representation. Thus, a meaningful engagement with space and place is an integral part of working with these systems.
Yet, because of participation inequality, even in geographically explicit systems only a small group of participants (about 10% or maybe less) are becoming deeply engaged with the process and working with the system for a period of time that allows them to develop a fuller geographical understanding of projections, scale, place, space and other ‘deep’ geographical concepts.
So while it might seem that there is an explosion of digital mapping information and applications, the number of public geographers – while growing – is quite small.
1 October, 2008
As I’ve noted, the AGI GeoCommunity ’08 was a great conference, but it was especially pleasing to end up with the paper that I wrote with Kate Jones being selected as runner-up for the best paper competition by the conference team (and I kept myself at arms length from the judging!). Maybe it is a sign that the message about the importance of usability and interaction is starting to gain traction within the GIS community, though I should also note that Clare Davies from the OS raised the issue in the AGI conference in 2005 – so it’s still one usability paper every 3 years!
While you can download the full paper from here, or look at the presentation below, the short explanation of the argument behind the large monitor is actually raising a very significant and overlooked aspect of interaction with GIS.
Inherently, the issue is that interaction with maps is all about the context. You can’t design the position of a telephone pole if you can’t see the other poles, and you can’t understand where you are in relation to a local tube station without seeing it. This is where the abysmal resolution of current computer monitors causes a problem. Because the information density (the amount of information that you can cram into a specific area, say a square inch) of a monitor is low – it’s 10 times lower than a printed map – it’s actually very rare that you can put all the information that the user needs on one screen.
This is why all GIS developers are giving too much attention to zoom and pan operations, as they are perceived as the solution to this problem. However, and this is the most important point – zoom and pan are never part of the user’s task. The user is not interested in zooming and panning for their own sake, but in manipulating the map so they can see the area that they need to perform their task (adding a pole to the map, analysing neighbourhood, etc.). In an ideal world, the GIS will ‘know’ what area the user is looking for and will show it so there is no need to manipulate the map. However, we don’t have this so we must use zoom and pan…
Here is where the productivity issue kicks in. An average zoom or pan operation in a GIS application can take up to 30 seconds. Over a working month, this can accumulate into many hours for a heavy user of a GIS. A larger monitor (24 inch or even 32 inch) will reduce the number of zoom and pan operations, and thus increase the productivity of the user. Considering that a GIS analyst’s minute is costing about £0.30 (a conservative estimation), the large monitor will return the investment within 2 months.
But even more important is the issue of GIS interface design – this analysis emphasises why the decision on how much screen assets are dedicated to the map should take into account the user’s task, and not assume that they’ll zoom and pan!