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December 08 2011

18:30

Mapping the Story of Climate Change

For this week's climate meetings in Durban, the World Bank released a series of maps showing the predicted impact of climate change on the world between now and 2100.

The data is dismal. If climate change continues unmitigated as it has for the past century, temperatures around the world will increase 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100 -- the equivalent increase between today's climate and the last ice age. This change won't impact the world equally, with local changes varying from almost none to more than 10 degrees Celsius, depending on scenario, location and season.

All of these maps were designed using Development Seed's TileMill, an easy-to-use open-source map design tool that we've written about here before, and hosted on MapBox Hosting. TileMill is free to download and has loads of documentation to help people get started making maps. For design tips on map making, check out a blog post from Development Seed's AJ Ashton on the thinking behind the design of these maps.

Preparing for climate change

These maps tell the story of the anticipated impact of climate change, from the basics of where we'll see the biggest increase in temperature and fluctuation in precipitation levels to larger societal impacts on food security, countries' economies, and people's vulnerability to natural disasters. With these maps, the World Bank aims to not only show the urgency in preparing for climate changes, but also to target efforts to the countries and regions that will be most affected.

This map shows the expected worldwide temperature increases, assuming that global population continues to increase and regionally oriented economic growth is slower than in other scenarios.

Agriculture is expected to be one of the most affected industries, impacting countries' economies -- and only more so for ones whose GDP (gross domestic product) is made up largely of agriculture-related business. For example, agriculture is 61.3 percent of Liberia's GDP and 47.68 percent of Ethiopia's, while it's just 1.24 percent of the U.S. GDP.

Low-lying coastal areas will likely be more vulnerable to increased flooding, with countries such as Bangladesh, Myanmar and India at highest risk due to the huge populations that live there.

More details on the maps are available in this blog post by Development Seed's Alex Barth.

The data powering the maps is all publicly available from the World Bank, as part of its larger open data push with data.worldbank.org. This and other related climate data is all housed in its Open Data Resources for Climate Change. The World Bank is encouraging people to use this data and is hosting an Apps for Climate challenge to promote and reward this use. Check out the details, and be sure to submit your app by March 16.

July 28 2011

13:43

Visualizing 10 Years of Violence Against Journalists in Afghanistan

Internews and Nai, an Afghan media advocacy organization, have collected hundreds of reports of threats, intimidation, and violence faced by journalists in Afghanistan. We recently announced a new site, which features 10 years of these reports. While Nai's data previously resided in spreadsheets, the new site allows the public to access hundreds of reports through visualizations and to download it directly. With this site we're raising the profile of media freedom in a country often characterized as among the most dangerous in the world for journalists.

Violence Against Journalists - data.nai.org.af

A screenshot of data.nai.org.af.

The site is packed with functionality that allows visitors to interact with the dataset in a variety of ways. Visitors can quickly scan the map to get a national overview of the data. They can drill down on individual provinces and individual years, seeing charts that depict violence over time when they mouse over the dots. If a visitor clicks on a year, they can even browse the data itself in a table just below the map.

We've also allowed visitors to turn on layers that can increase contextual understanding, such as the number of active journalists in each province, the number of media organizations in each province, and so on. Finally, users can download the full dataset and easily generate the code necessary to embed the map on other websites, in electronic press releases, and so on.

We included all this functionality without compromising one of the most important and desirable features of the site: speed. The maps are composited ahead of time, significantly reducing the loading time in Afghanistan and other bandwidth-constrained environments. We've also included a bit of code that dynamically evaluates each visitor's connection and serves map tiles that reflect that visitor's constraints. At the end of the day the maps are fast in spite of poor connections and remain fully interactive.

Violence Against Journalists map featuring ten years of incidents (see the website for more data and details):

July 11 2011

16:02

How TileMill Improved Ushahidi Maps to Protect Children in Africa

In May I worked with Plan Benin to improve its Violence Against Children (VAC) reporting system. The system uses FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi to collect and visualize reports of violence against children. Ushahidi develops open-source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping. While in Benin, I was frustrated by the lack of local data available through Google Maps, Yahoo, and even OpenStreetMap -- the three mapping applications Ushahidi allows administrators to use without customization.

While these mapping services are great for places rich in geographic data, many places -- like Benin and other countries in the developing world -- are poorly represented by the major mapping services. Making matters worse is the fact that even when good data is available, slow and unreliable Internet access turns geolocating incidents and browsing the map into a frustrating, time-consuming challenge for staff and site visitors in-country.

In an effort to create a custom map with more local data, I tested out TileMill, Development Seed's open-source map design studio, with successful results.

An area of northwest Benin shown with Google Maps (left) and a custom map built with TileMill (right). Note the number of towns and villages that appear in the map at right.

With little hands-on experience with map design or GIS (geographic information systems), I was happy to find TileMill's Carto-based code intuitive and easy to use.

Because of the lack of data on Benin available through the major mapping services, I thought it would be interesting to visualize the VAC Benin data on a custom map using geographic data obtained by Plan Benin through CENATEL, the National Centre of Remote Sensing and Forest Cover Observation in Benin. I exported reports of violence from Ushahidi into a CSV file using Ushahidi's built-in export functionality. From there, I used Quantum GIS -- an open-source GIS tool -- to convert the data into GeoJSON, an open standard for data interchange that works very well with TileMill.

I then used TileMill to create a map that includes only the data relevant to Plan Benin's activities on this particular project, which helps users focus on the information they need. The map includes geographic data for Atacora and Couffo, the two "Program Units" where Plan Benin operates. (These are highlighted in light blue on the map.)

I also included labels for the important cities in both Program Units and, if you zoom in several levels, village names in Atacora. The red dots indicate reports of violence, and if you mouse over or click on a dot, you can see a summary of the incident. The reports were geolocated by hand using information sent via text message. The map also incorporates MapBox's open-source World Bright base-layer map, adding country borders, custom labels, population centers (in light yellow/brown tones), and other information to the map.

The Tip of the Iceberg

This is really the tip of the iceberg in terms of what TileMill can do. It would also be possible to add as many cities and villages as there are in the dataset, include multimedia-rich interactivity, use a choropleth scheme to indicate hotspots of violence, cluster reports, and so on.

With just a few design choices, this custom map dramatically improves the experience of interacting with data collected through Ushahidi. Highlighting the Program Units draws the eye to the important areas; using deep datasets and custom map labels solves the problem of missing local data; and the built-in interactivity means that visitors don't need to browse to multiple pages (a killer in low-bandwidth environments) to view information on individual reports.

Compositing, which was just rolled out on TileStream Hosting, helps the map load quickly, even in low-bandwidth environments (the maps are now faster than Google Maps), and this map can also be used offline via either the MapBox Appliance or the MapBox iPad app. Finally, TileStream Hosting makes it easy to host the map and generates embed code so the map can be widely shared.

Take a look at the map below and feel free to click over to the VAC Benin Ushahidi site to see the difference for yourself.

VAC Benin data collected with Ushahidi and visualized with TileMill:

Paul Goodman is a master's student at the UC-Berkeley School of Information and is spending the summer working with Development Seed.

April 22 2011

12:49

How to Design Fast, Interactive Maps Without Flash

Until recently if you wanted to create a fast interactive map to use on your website you had two main options - design it in Flash, or use Google. With the prevalence of mobile devices, for many users Flash isn't an option, leaving Google and a few competitors (like Bing). But we are developing open source technologies in this space that provide viable alternatives for serving fast interactive maps online - ones that often give users more control over map design and the data displayed on it.

TileMill, our open source map design studio, now provides interactivity in the latest head version on github. Once you design a map with TileMill, you can enable certain data in the shapefile to be interactive.

Map interactivity in the latest version of TileMill

When you export a map into MBTiles, a file format that makes it easy to manage and share map tiles and which you can easily export any map made in TileMill to, all the interaction is stored within the MBTiles file. This allows us to host interactive maps that are completely custom designed - including the look and feel and the data points - that are as fast as Google Maps.

An example of an interactive map using TileMill is the map in NPR's I Heart NPR Facebook App, an app that asks users to choose and map their favorite member station.

NPR Using TileMill

Yesterday, Tom MacWright gave a talk about designing fast maps and other emerging open source interactive mapping technologies, and specifically comparing them to Google, at the Where 2.0 Conference, a leading annual geo conference. If you're interested in learning more about this and weren't at the conference, check out his slides, which are posted on our blog.

June 16 2010

18:30

Announcing the 2010 Knight News Challenge winners: Visuals are hot, and businesses are big winners

They started out last year as a crowded field of hopefuls from around the world, each dreaming of a chance to perform under the big lights. Over months, their numbers dwindled as the level of competition rose; each successive round brought new disappointment to those eliminated and new hope to those left in the running. And now, whittled down to an elite few, they’re ready for the global stage.

Okay, I’m giving myself a yellow card: So maybe the World Cup isn’t the perfect metaphor for the Knight News Challenge. But the News Challenge is the closest thing the future-of-news space has to a World Cup, and while this year’s 12 winners — just announced at MIT — won’t be forced to battle each other for global supremacy, they do represent the top of a sizable pyramid of applicants — nearly 2,500 in all. You can judge for yourself which ones are Brazil and Germany and which are New Zealand and North Korea.

I’ve got information on all the winners below, but first a few observations:

Visuals seem to be this year’s theme: lots of projects about things like mapping, data visualization, video editing, and games inspired by editorial cartoons. Just one winner focuses on the business-model end of the equation (Windy Citizen’s real-time ads).

— This year’s new grants total $2.74 million. That’s up from last year’s total of $1.96 million, but still down substantially from the really big checks Knight was writing in the first two years of the News Challenge ($11.7 million in 2007, $5.5 million in 2008). The number of grantees is also up a bit from 2009 but well below earlier years (26 in 2007, 16 in 2008, 9 in 2009, 12 this year).

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Knight’s overall commitment has decreased over time. Many of its grants are distributed over multiple years, so some of those early commitments are still being in force.

— Despite extending this cycle’s application deadline in part to encourage more international applicants, the winners are quite domestic — 11 American winners out of 12. In 2008, there were six international winners, and last year there were two projects that, while technically based in the U.S., were internationally focused — Ushahidi and Mobile Media Toolkit. (You could argue that this year’s One-Eight should count as international, since it’s about covering Afghanistan, but through collaboration with the U.S. military. And while Tilemapping will focus on Washington, D.C., a version of its software was used after the Haiti earthquake.)

That said, the deadline extension was also about reaching out for other kinds of diversity, and that happened in at least one way: Knight reports that nearly half of this year’s winners are private companies, up from 15 percent in 2009. That’s despite Knight’s elimination of a separate category for commercial applicants last cycle.

Below are all the winners — congratulations to one and all, and my sympathies to the thousands eliminated along the way. In the coming days, we’ll have profiles of all of the winners and their projects. In the meantime, for context, you can also read all we wrote about last year’s News Challenge and what we’ve written so far about this cycle.

CityTracking

The winner: Eric Rodenbeck of Stamen Design

The amount: $400,000

The pitch: “To make municipal data easy to understand, CityTracking will allow users to create embeddable data visualizations that are appealing enough to spread virally and that are as easy to share as photos and videos. The dynamic interfaces will be appropriate to each data type, starting with crime and working through 311 calls for service, among others. The creators will use high design standards, making the visuals beautiful as well as useful.”

The Cartoonist

The winner: Ian Bogost of Georgia Tech and Michael Mateas of UC Santa Cruz

The amount: $378,000

The pitch: “To engage readers in the news, this project will create a free tool that produces cartoon-like current event games — the game equivalent of editorial cartoons. The simplified tools will be created with busy journalists and editors in mind, people who have the pulse of their community but don’t have a background in game development. By answering a series of questions about the major actors in a news event and making value judgments about their actions, The Cartoonist will automatically propose game rules and images. The games aim to help the sites draw readers and inspire them to explore the news.”

Local Wiki

The winner: Philip Neustrom and Mike Ivanov of DavisWiki.org

The amount: $350,000

The pitch: “Based on the successful DavisWiki.org in Davis, Calif., this project will create enhanced tools for local wikis, a new form of media that makes it easy for people to learn and share their own unique community knowledge. Members will be able to post articles about anything they like, edit others and upload photos and files. This grant will help create the specialized open-source software that makes the wiki possible and help communities develop, launch and sustain local wiki projects.”

WindyCitizen’s Real Time Ads

The winner: Brad Flora of WindyCitizen.com

The amount: $250,000

The pitch: “As a way to help online startups become sustainable, this project will develop an improved software interface to help sites create and sell what are known as real-time ads. These ads are designed to be engaging as they constantly change showing the latest message or post from the advertisers Twitter account, Facebook page or blog. Challenge winner Brad Flora helped pioneer the idea on his Chicago news site, WindyCitizen.com.”

GoMap Riga

The winner: Marcis Rubenis and Kristofs Blaus

The amount: $250,000

The pitch: “To inspire people to get involved in their community, this project will create a live, online map with local news and activities. GoMap Riga will pull some content from the Web and place it automatically on the map. Residents will be able to add their own news, pictures and videos while discussing what is happening around them. GoMap Riga will be integrated with the major existing social networks and allow civic participation through mobile technology. The project will be tested in Riga, Latvia, and ultimately be applicable in other cities.”

Order in the Court 2.0

The winner: John Davidow of WBUR

The amount: $250,000

The pitch: “To foster greater access to the judicial process, this project will create a laboratory in a Boston courtroom to help establish best practices for digital coverage that can be replicated and adopted throughout the nation. While the legislative and executive branches have incorporated new technologies and social media, the courts still operate under the video and audio recording standards established in the 1970s and ’80s. The courtroom will have a designated area for live blogging via a Wi-Fi network and the ability to live-stream court proceedings to the public. Working in conjunction with the Massachusetts court system, the project will publish the daily docket on the Web and build a knowledge wiki for the public with common legal terms.”

Porch Forum

The winner: Michael Wood-Lewis of Front Porch Forum

The amount: $220,000

The pitch: “To help residents connect with others and their community, this grant will help rebuild and enhance a successful community news site, expand it to more towns and release the software so other organizations, anywhere can use it. The Front Porch Forum, a virtual town hall space, helps residents share and discuss local news, build community and increase engagement. The site, currently serving 25 Vermont towns, will expand to 250.”

One-Eight

The winner: Teru Kuwayama

The amount: $202,000

The pitch: “Broadening the perspectives that surround U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, this project will chronicle a battalion by combining reporting from embedded journalists with user-generated content from the Marines themselves. The troops, recently authorized to use social media while deployed, and their families will be key audiences for the online journal steering, challenging and augmenting the coverage with their feedback. The approach will directly serve the stakeholders and inform the wider public by bringing in on-the-ground views on military issues and the execution of U.S. foreign policy.”

Stroome

The winner: USC Annenberg’s Nonny de la Peña and Tom Grasty

The amount: $200,000

The pitch: “To simplify the production of news video, Stroome will create a virtual video-editing studio. There, correspondents, editors and producers will be able to upload and share content, edit and remix with friends and colleagues — all without using expensive satellite truck technology. The site will launch as eyewitness video — often captured by mobile phones or webcams — is becoming a key component of news coverage, generating demand for supporting tools.”

CitySeed

The winner: Arizona State’s Retha Hill and Cody Shotwell

The amount: $90,000

The pitch: “To inform and engage communities, CitySeed will be a mobile application that allows users to plant the ’seed’ of an idea and share it with others. For example, a person might come across a great spot for a community garden. At that moment, the person can use the CitySeed app to geotag the idea, which links it to an exact location. Others can look at the place-based ideas, debate and hopefully act on them. The project aims to increase the number of people informed about and engaged with their communities by breaking down community issues into bite-size settings.”

StoryMarket

The winner: Jake Shapiro of PRX

The amount: $75,000

The pitch: “Building on the software created by 2008 challenge winner Spot.us, this project will allow anyone to pitch and help pay to produce a story for a local public radio station. When the amount is raised (in small contributions), the station will hire a professional journalist to do the report. The project provides a new way for public radio stations to raise money, produce more local content and engage listeners.”

Tilemapping

The winner: Eric Gundersen of Development Seed

The amount: $74,000

The pitch: “To inspire residents to learn about local issues, Tilemapping will help local media create hyper-local, data-filled maps for their websites and blogs. Journalists will be able to tell more textured stories, while residents will be able to draw connections to their physical communities in new ways. The tools will be tested in Washington, D.C. Ushahidi, a 2009 Knight News Challenge winner, used a prototype after the earthquake in Haiti to create maps used to crowdsource reports on places needing aid.”

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