Friday, November 09, 2007

Mapping the "Dark Continent"

Mapping services like mapquest, yahoo maps, google maps and map-based gps units do not work in most African countries. This is because there is no GIS data for these places. This is a problem that needs a tropically tolerant solution and I am glad to say that Google might have the answer.
Google is using crowdsourcing to solve this problem in India. What they are dong is providing software that allows local people to draw/overlay GIS data on top of satellite imagery. This project came to light at the Cambridge Conference in July. Michael Jones, CTO of Google Earth talked about this in his presentation at the conference. Phil Bridges has an audio recording of the talk in this post and the relevant part of the talk has been transcribed by Dan Karran in this other post.

I think getting the data is one part of the solution. The second part of it, is how the data is used. In Ghana, most of the streets do not have street signs. So giving someone directions based on street names and house numbers will probably not be a tropically tolerant use of the data. The question is will Google go the extra mile and provide directions that make sense in the appropriate cultural context ?

I am also curious about who ends up owning the data ? It will be great if Google allows the community to own all of the data or a portion of licensing fees, etc ?

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Thursday, August 30, 2007


In a comment to anti-social-bookmarking, Joitske Hulsebosch pointed out webmark - an online bookmark manager by Henry Addo.

Webmark tackles the bookmarking problem presented in anti-social-bookmarking without the secondary features of social-networking and folksonomy. The feature set is complete for managing and keeping bookmarks online. To use webmark, all i had to do was create a free account and then define some basic categories/tags.  I could then use a webform to submit urls. The FAQ provides a bookmarklet that can be used instead of the webform. In addition, webmark also allows users to post the same URL to This however requires the user to trust webmark with their credentials. I find this problematic especially since webmark makes no statements about the limits within which it will use the credentials.

Webmark, is a simple straight forward online bookmarking product. There is still some improvements to be made. It would be nice to have free-tagging. This means that a user does not need to define a category before saving a url under that particular category. Also, being able to save under multiple categories will be a good additional feature. There is also no clear definition of who owns the bookmarks. did a very good job of stating that bookmarks belonged to the users and provided a way for users to download/export the url data. I think webmark should implement this feature to make the product more attractive.

In conclusion, I think webmark is a good example of a tropically tolerant solution to bookmarking and I look forward to seeing it grow. I also hope this is the first of many more tropically tolerant solutions from Henry Addo.

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