Mapping: A reflection on my experience

This experience of identifying objects in maps on both Mapswipe (mobile) and OpenStreetMap (laptop) captured my attention in a way I did not imagine. Personally I have never been a fan of cartography, however both of these applications have user friendly interfaces that leave newcomers such as myself in a welcome frame of mind.

I will start by mentioning Mapswipe. This is an opensource application that is a collaborative project in which a large and committed community of NGOs, academic institutes, companies, and most of all individual mappers, map vulnerable areas in OpenStreetMap. ( You can download to your mobile device. Because of this ease of access and mobility I found it a very enjoyable experience to navigate around. In order to use this application you must make an account. This was a hassle free experience as it simply asks for your email and a password.

Once inside the application you are greeted with five tile options of different places to map in the world. Additionally, each tile has a certain task to complete. These range from helping Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in different parts of the world to mapping to eliminate Malaria. Mapswipe is where the filtering process starts in finding vulnerable communities across the world that may need humanitarian help. Once you have chosen a task to complete, Mapswipe presents you with a wide overview of a large area. The picture is divided up into a grid of six parts and the application asks you to identify the squares that have buildings in them. One tap means that you are positive that there are buildings in that square, two taps means you are unsure and three taps means you don’t believe there are any buildings there at all. This is all explained to you in a guide when you first open the application. Additionally, when you are going to map a new area you are always given the option to walk through a tutorial before beginning so that you can be sure that you are comfortable with the process. This is always a friendly option to fall back on if you feel that you are unsure of the process involved in using this app.

Open Street Map on the other hand emphasizes local knowledge ( The initiative behind Open Street Map is to create and provide free geographic data, such as street maps, to anyone. ( Since part of Open Street Map’s objective is to create accurate data this is a community that is user driven and relies on peer to peer sharing and collaboration of data. Mapswipe covers a much bigger area but once organisations know where clustered populations are Open Street Map is able to give a more detailed overview of a particular area. Open Street Map involves mapping objects such as roads and buildings out in a certain area. In the top left hand corner of the screen there are three options given to you while mapping: Point, Line and Area. Each of these options refer to ways to map both roads and buildings in your chosen place. As well as being an effective way to map areas it is also quite a user friendly and intuitive way to do it. This is quite an important factor in the creation of this online facility as it is trying to reach a worldwide audience and hence must appeal to human intuition to avoid pages upon pages of instructions of how to use it. That said, there are some very comprehensive instructions available on this site about how to use it should anyone need further guidance on how to operate it successfully. (

I contributed to mapping an area of Sri Lanka while using this online facility. The main goal of the project that I took part in was to present a well-informed and action-oriented analysis of the state of urbanization of major human settlements across the island. ( By taking part in this project I was able to map out more buildings in the area which showed the extent of urbanization taking place there as we move farther into the 21st century. While many of the main roads in that area were already mapped out to some degree I was able to go over the detail with a fine tooth comb to give an accurate as possible representation of the network of roads there.

On a personal note, from using it I did feel I was contributing in some way to the positive progress of organisations such as MSF, among others. This feeling also included a feeling of inclusion to a worldwide community who are using this application and striving for improved mapping facilities for these charity organisations to help people who need it most. Because this is an online facility that relies on user generated content, there has to be some level of trust between the people that add information to this database of information. Since this facility is an opensource project it also led to a feeling of inclusion of contributing information to help anybody who would like cartography information on a particular area.

I did learn things from this entire experience, one being there are many people in the world who are willing to help with succeeding your goals. By providing them with an online space to accomplish these goals, in this case mapping the four corners of the world, the worldwide community will come forward and participate. This emphasizes the idea of an international community and peer to peer sharing of information. Another big learning curve in this assignment was the necessity of a user friendly interface. This concept plays a big part as to whether people will contribute to your project as the more user friendly it is, the easier it will be for people to access and contribute to it. There are also many ways that I can apply what I have learned from this experience in projects that I undertake in the future. Creating a metaphysical space for people to contribute is an incredibly powerful way to obtain a host of information. The task that presents itself to me in this scenario is to create an attractive metaphysical place that people will find easy to navigate and enjoy using. This principle can be applied across a range of projects that I might have to undertake throughout my lifetime and as technology evolves as will my ideas on how to create this space.


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