WikiMap - Trying to fill a gap in the world of online mapping
Ever since Google Maps was introduced and the first mashups evolved I've been fascinated by how these mapping tools can add to our work in civic engagement. But even years later, collaborative or community mapping with Web2.0 tools is somewhat challenging. We recently hosted a Community Asset Mapping effort around education in Biloxi with a website as repository and channel for participation. But since our needs were more complex than what Google MyMaps and Web2.0 web applications offer in terms of the data that we wanted to collect, we had to build our own website on Drupal.
This approach worked fine, but highlighted the gap that exists between free and easy hosted mapping services and labor- or cost-intensive custom mapping platforms (even though Drupal does makes life a lot easier - I'm a big fan in case you haven't noticed).
Some of the free mapping services that allow users to create maps, like CommunityWalk.com, Google MyMaps and others do enable you to invite others to contribute. But each marker only has a title and a description field, that's it. What if you want to build a database with more information, like a url for each marker or contact information? Of course you can ask participants to squeeze that into the description field, but that usually gets messy and will require extra manual labor on your end. Or what about updating inaccurate information on other's markers?
And finally, what happens if some of the items you are collecting don't have a location? None of these mapping services will allow you to enter items that just appear in a list but not on the map.
I'm sure we're not the only ones that experience this gap, any asset mapping project, stakeholder analysis, spatial survey or any other kind of repository that requires specific input (more data fields than a simple description) from many contributors will face the same issue.
Earlier this week I actually discovered an approach to build a customizable collaborative map that only requires minimal web-savvy, is quick to set up and is completely based on free web services: Zoho Creator, an online database tool that allows us to build a flexible input type, Yahoo Pipes to map that input and Weebly, for the base website. All these services are free and in combination create a powerful and highly customizable mapping tool that fills the gap I outlined above pretty well. And best, it really is easy to replicate and won't take more than a half hour to set up.
I created a demo at http://wikimap.weebly.com that is fully functional and outlines the 10 steps necessary to build your own.
I'm curious to hear your feedback!
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