The aim of Transformap of making visible that “there are Plenty of Alternatives” and it’s promise of being “The Mother of Many Maps” makes it an ambitious and challenging endeavour. The alternatives are plenty and diverse, making it non-trivial to find ways to consistently collect and represent the geographical information and metadata associated to all of them - and hopefully contributed from a multitude of people and initiatives, from raw sources ranging from hand-written notebooks to input forms allowing for different categorizations. On top of this, a layer of complexity is added by the diversity of approaches, sets of values, narratives for economic transformation from movements and streams so intertwined and imensely diverse.
So, how do we create a mapping commons, that enables useful and legitimate representations of these narratives? One that makes sense of existing information that is currently dispersed elsewhere, allowing us to visualize, navigate and extend the narratives for economic transformation? One, that rather than attempting to build an universal truth about what the transformation looks like, promotes a peer process of critical dialogue between the diversal transformations?
At the Berlin marathon, while looking at the data available from SSEDAS and the different processes of taxonomy and ontology design (Transformap taxonomy group proposal to OSM community, SSEDAS, ESSglobal), we were getting very troubled on how to enact a process capable of engaging the community and not becoming exclusively an expert/technician/professional exercise (for context see also post on Erlenmayer flask model. Basically, we were exploring how the social process of designing taxonomies (and through it providing meaning on the data) can be supported, rather than limited by the technological developments of Transformap. The outcome was an engineering the following separation of concerns:
- the API allows for bulk import and basic transformations of the data, allowing for basically any points, as long as they are valid geodata, to be stored on the Transformap DB (achieved with the first API release.
- anyone - from collective efforts of networks or organisations, to single individuals - and, to the extent possible, independently of the technical affinity, can shape the information that is displayed, by working on filter sets (basically an aggregate selection of criteria of properties the filtered objects such have, such as e.g. specific categories, tags, sources of data, etc.)
This separation allows us to get a clear picture on where we have mostly a technical development (1) and where the social and politcal process takes place (2). Apart from simplifying and separating concerns on the technical and social development requirements, this approach brings an exciting aspect to the process of making meaning of geographical information: by putting the emphasis on how data is visualized and combined (through the filters) you are allowing a community of users to collaborate in generating meaning, in a sense portraying a story, a narrative, an interest or a set of values of an individual or a community. We are only starting to dream of how much collective intelligence and collaboration can be harnessed by allowing users to play with existing filters, and generate new ones on-the-fly, using simple visualization tools.
This is work in progress, and comments are most welcome.