Mapping as a commons (manifesto)

TITLE has changed, Manifesto version 0.3 can be found here.

#Mapping as a Commons, what does it mean? (0.2)

The following was prepared by @Silke based on the raw notes from Commons Space at WSF 2016 and an initial summary by @almereyda.

See the introduction on why these principles are necessary, how they came about and what they are for here:

The principles are the condensate of globally dispersed, locally found initiatives which collaborate for building and maintaining a shared mapping commons.

  1. Stick to the Commons: as a goal and a practice
    The challenge is twofold: contribute to the Commons as a shared resource and do it through commoning. Your mapping project is not a deliverable, nor a service-product to compete on the map-market. Hence, it is paramount to systematically separate commons and commerce and to integrate the insigths (patterns?) of successful commoning-practices into your mapping initiative. Strive for coherence at any moment!
    How to separate commons and commerce? Separate Commons and Commerce to make it work for the Commons

  2. Create syntony on the goal
    Discuss your common goal and your understanding of „mapping as commoning“ again and again. And again! Everybody involved should resonate on the essentials and feel in syntony with mapping for the Commons through commoning at any time.

  3. People’s needs first
    Maps provide orientation to common people but also visibility of power and policy-driven agendas. Make sure your map doesn’t feed the power-imbalances. People’s needs trump desires of institutions, donors or clients.

  4. Keep an eye on interoperability and use web technology
    To map as a commoner implies caring for other mappers needs and concerns. You will take them into account through dialogue with partner-mappers and make sure interoperability is a shared goal.

  5. Contribute to the Federated Commons
    Mapping the world through commoning is a double contribution: among commons projects and initiatives toward a Federate Commons and between commons projects, solutions or initiatives and other socio-economic alternatives.

  6. Provide open access
    Always. To everything.

  7. Use free software
    Work with free software at all levels is critical, as it is not about the freedom of the software, but about your freedom to further develop your mapping projects according to your own needs.

  8. Self-host your infrastructure
    Only use technology which allows to be replicated quickly, as to allow both collaboration and autonomy in the building up of infrastructure and services. This is the case of infrastructure as code (i.e. available in git repositories that anyone can fetch and deployed e.g. as docker containers). Often, you will want to eat your own dog food, as to progressively iterate and improve its quality through direct usage. Documentation is a key factor in allowing others to replicate, join and contribute to the commons: don’t leave it for after, do it often, transparently, be it in an etherpad, a permanent chat (e.g. riot or rocket), or a wiki. Make sure it is readable by others.

  9. Build on open technology standards
    Ensure your map(s), its data and associated mapping applications can be reused on a wide diversity of media and devices. Ergo: hands off proprietarian technologies and their standards. Don’t think about them not even as interim solution. If you do, you risk to add one interim to another and get trapped into dependencies.

  10. Make sure you really own your data
    ‚Mapping as a Commons‘ strives for mapping sovereignty at all levels. In the short run, it seems to be a nightmare to refrain from importing data for geolocation or copying & pasting what you are not legally entitled to. In the long run, it is the only way to prevent you being sued or your data being enclosed. Make sure you really own your data. It prevents you from the real nightmare of at some point loosing your data without being able to do something against.

  11. Use free open data licenses
    To own your data is important, but not enough. Make sure nobody dumps your common data back into the world of marketization and enclosures. What is in the Commons must remain in the Commons. Free licenses protect the result of your collective work at any moment. Make use of them. It’s simple.

  12. Guarantee the openness of taxonomies
    A taxonomy is incomplete as a matter of fact. It is one out of many entry points to complex social worlds. The more you learn about these worlds the better you can adjust your taxonomy. An open taxonomy allows your peer mappers and users to search it for a concept, link them -via tag- to a parent category, to add missing concepts if you allow for or to merge tag structures.

  13. Make the Data Commons thrive through your usage
    Link to WikiData and OpenStreetMap from the beginning! It’s just nonsense to maintain your single data set. There is so much to benefit from and contribute to the data commons. Explore abundance and contribute loads to our shared data.

  14. Care for your Data Commons
    Strive for accuracy and remember at the same time, that there is always subjectivity in data.

  15. Protect the ‚maps & atlasses commons‘ legally as commons
    Remember: each commons needs protection. Innovative legal forms help to prevent cooptation. Make sure the resulting maps and atlasses own themselves instead of being owned by any specific person or organization.

  16. Crowdsource your mapping
    Do so whenever you can and for whatever is needed: money, time, knowledge, storing space, hardware, monitoring etc.

Last resort

  1. Remember always why you are making the map and who you are making it for.
    Remember that everyone is a mapmaker. Share what you can and if everything looks dark: take a break, keep calm and continue commoning.

  2. Archive the map when it doesn’t work anymore for you.
    Others might want to build on it, somewhen.


We are the map, we are the mapped, we are the mapping. We are the unmap, we are the unmapped, we are the unmapping.

Jose Cortez de Basur IV, 1631

Do you mean distribution channels here?

I believe we are not only thinking of readership here, but also of an actual manual how to perceive what you call mapping as commoning.

I propose to keep it in imperative manifesto form. Then it can also be used as a guideline or checklist, to provide a quick analytical pattern to evaluate the commonness of a given map.

Manifestos of different form:

It may introduce TransforMap quickly as an originating context, but then divert from there. Brainstorm, also playing with words, feel free to remix:

From Mapping the Commons to a mapping of all alternatives, civic practitioners around the world create crowdsourced maps of self-organised activities within their environment. OpenStreetMap and many many maps record and showcase the vast diversity of local adaptations to climate change. In bringing all of these transformaps together, the commoned mapping effort TransforMap is curiously enquiring niches of socio-ecological transition.

Coming from the experiences of participating in a network of distributed mapping activities, the signatories hereby promote the pattern of Mapping as Commoning to underline and comment on the various traps which we learned to master during our collaborations. The declarations below are the condensate of globally disperesed, locally found initiatives which subscribe their work to building and maintaining a shared mapping commons.

We may start with the raw notes from WSF 2016. I have reordered them to according to my will, as I think the order is important and should build something like a linear stack.

  • Discuss your common goal again and again. And again! Everybody involved should feel in syntony with at any time. Make sure you learn how to systematically [Separate Commons and Commerce to make it work for the Commons separate commons from commerce].

  • Keep an eye on interoperability and use web technology!
    If you map as a commons you can easily contribute to the Federated Commons through dialogue with partner-mappers and focussing on interoperability. It is crucial to build on open technology standards, which ensure your map, its data and associated mapping applications can be reused on a wide diversity of media and devices.

  • Use free open data licenses!
    To own your own data is important, but not enough. You need to make sure nobody dumps your common data back into the world of marketization and enclosures. Remember: Free licences protect your collective work as a commons.

  • Make sure you really own our data!
    Even if, in the short run, refrain from importing data for geolocation or copy and paste what you are not legally entitled to seems to be a nightmare. In the long run, it is the only way to prevent you being sued or your data being enclosed.

  • Contribute to or devolop open taxonomies!
    A taxonomy as an entry point to complex social worlds will never be “ready” as a matter of fact. The more you learn about these worlds the better you can make your taxonomy. And an open taxonomy allows your peer mappers and end users to search the taxonomy for a concept, and if they can’t find it, link it -via tag- to a parent category or - if you allow for - fix the taxonomy themselves, eventually merging the tag structure into the “official” taxonomy.

  • Link to WikiData and OpenStreetMap from the beginning!
    Whenever possible, don’t maintain your single data set, but contribute as much as possible to already existing data commons.

  • Use free software at all levels!
    This is paramount, as it is not about the freedom of the software, but about your freedom to further develop your mapping projects according to your own needs.

  • Self-host your infrastructure
    Only use technology which allows to be replicated quickly. Eat your own dogfood, and document how you do it.

  • Develop innovative legal forms to make sure the resulting maps own themselves (instead of being owned by by any specific person or organization.)

An inspirational, similarily scoped collection of hypotheses had been written by @josefkreitmayer last year already:


hey, working on this before our call on Monday, sorry, but I am in a conference marathon: I will write a short (and easy understandable)intro and framing and use the info you’ve gathered here; will double-check the principles we’ve collected so far and eventually add a few items,
thanks for opening the thread
pd. I agree with @almereyda on the form it should take

Here is my draft proposal: I am sorry, could not copy and paste as all the formatting got lost, so I left it on my blog. Please scroll down to the principles, which are based on our discussions in Montreal, on @almereyda s summary and on a (my) critical review of the links provided here.
Please amend, comment (here or at my blog) and help making it better; I’d be happy to work on version 0.3; @alabaeye you can also put the second part of the article after my introduction at the beginning of this page. English natives highly welcome to convert this into a better read. So, here is the link:

@EllenFriedman @claudia.sakbe @Wendy @system @Scrumteam1 @Frederic_Sultan_fred @kevflanagan @kei @jnardi


Great @Silke, thanks for moving on!
how should we proceed? Should we work in Discourse to edit the text with the wiki function? I can copy Silke’s version on the top entry and turn it into a wiki (maybe changing also the ‘author’ of the comment to transformap). But that’s not great practice for collaborative editing.

Hi, @alabeye

yes, I suggest we move it on top of this thread, ok @almereyda, Can you
do it Adrien?
I would rather ask people to leave their comments there, collect
feedback for a while, say, 1 month and then I can come up with version
0.3… then let’s see how to move forward.
But for the moment it’s ok to collect feedback and make all the feedback
visible so that people can comment on it as well as on the text - here
and on my blog, or even on the P2P blog, where they will republish the
piece soon.

No need to open an extra space now. We can do this before we kind of
really launch it as a manifesto.


Silke (will move forward with the patterns workshop invitation before I
leave to Venezuela at the Beginning of next week)

done. Sounds good. I have quite a few comments/edits in mind. I’ll try to put that together between now and the end of the week. By the way, finally found the academic background where I can situate my research about Transformap:

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I believe we will not be able to frame the Mapping as Commoning argument without differentiating it against the wider constitutive outside of Mapping the Commons. In the end we may even conclude both depend on each other, if you take a second regard.

@EllenFriedman is never shy sharing her tabs on Twitter:


Transformap is a project of mapping alternative economiES. In plural because it include many representations of what can be an alternative to the capitalist economy often presented as the only possibility (“there is no alternative”). The commons is one of those alternative economies, it is one discourse.
At the begining, Transformap wanted to produce one representation of all those alternative economies what we thought were ‘good’. We ran into two problems:

  • what is good? who defines it’s good?
  • a map, like a discourse, being less a representation of something that exists (mapping understood as an epistemological action), but more a perfomative act of bringing into being what it describes (mapping understood as an ontological action), it means mapping is an action that is contested, highly normative, and less descriptive. Various movements will be reluctant to see their discourse be marginalized by a new representation (one map of all alternatives) that claims to be comprehensive (universal).

Based on those difficulties, the Transformap technical infrastructure reflects PLURALITY as a design principle:

  • an ETL (Extract Transform Load) module to extract data and their metadata (taxonomy) from existing maps
  • a taxonomy server giving an equal place for each taxonomy hosted on wikibase, a technology that enables plural views
  • a map viewer that enables the user to choose the data it want to view and how it should be structured (so-called FIDETO): i.e. allowing people to combine discourses at will.

Plurality cannot be realized with proprietary systems. Plurality can only happen if people have full power to leave one information system and change it to fit their own ontology, their own discourse. What is problematic when you map on Google Places is that the ontology being used is decided in undemocratic ways and you have no control over it. It will potentially filter out realities that do not fit the Google ontology: i.e. objects that do not fit a hegemonic capitalist understanding of the world. Or worse one may try to fit within that ontology. And because mapping is a performative action, doing so may well reinforce the growth-oriented capitalist discourse.
One alternative pathway is to understand mapping as a commoning process (a lively process as opposed to a given resource) and the technologies it requires and/or produce as (open) commons. Only then the mapping of alternative economies be transformative, and not be recuperated/remixed by the capitalist hegemon (see what happened to the “sharing economy”…).


yes, mapping as commoning is embedded in mapping as/for/through the commons, so to say. This can be made clearer; I agree, but on the other hand: we wish to keep it short and sweet, right? So… let’s further discuss and then probably come up with a long and a short&sweet version

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yeah ‘short and sweet’: means “ontology” or “performativity” are forbidden word. :slight_smile:
Let me try this:
A map is a discourse, it’s not THE reality. Discourses do more than describe a reality, they bring to reality what they describe. So do the maps. That’s why they’re loved by activists! But what if the mapping technology you’re using does not allow for the right nuance? (like it’s not a just a “shop”, it’s a “worker-owned coop”) The consequence is that activists need control over the information technology used to produce their discourses. Activists using maps to spread their discourses should therefore rely on commons rather than proprietary technologies.


yeah… that’s the direction we need to go! At the end we will come up with a long&bitter, a long&sweet a short&bitter and a short&sweet version :slight_smile:

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Amen to that.
I think people need help to be steered towards the right licenses to use. Many people (including myself!) defer providing licenses because it is a complicated issue. Which license to use? (There seem to be some many similar, but subtly different choices) Should my data and my software be licensed separately? (CC is for data, but not for software) etc.
I think it would be very useful to publish best practice for people to follow. Perhaps the manifesto is not the place for something so concrete? But would it be good to have a link to best practices?

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don’t understand this.

I would like to suggest an addition (not neceassarily linked to that paragraph about the need to contribute to existing commons such as OpenStreetMap and Wikipedia. Contributing to Wikipedia making sure there is a good definition of the various concepts that are used by your mapping may benefit other mappings, but also much beyond. Mapping as a commons implies your map will be nested within bigger commons (cartographic like OSM or semantic like Wikipedia).

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will have a look at it and explain/ reedit soon!

Some additional remarks:

I’d suggest to rethink a bit those two paragraphs towards a merge. I find the first one a bit too vague. It could be the place to introduce the following ideas:

  • Nest your mapping within bigger commons: use map data from OpenStreetMap and contribute back, use data from Wikipedia and contribute back. Leverage the power of successful commons, contribute to them, bring the alternatives to the mainstream commons. This may mean to improve existing Wikipedia pages, creating new ones.
  • Federate you mapping with other similar initiatives: sharing infrastructure, vocabularies, and data.

What about the use of capitals? There is a German flair to capitalizing Commons and some other substantives. I would suggest sticking to conventional syntax.

I’d suggest to talk about vocabularies. Beyond the fact that I think the word taxonomy is ‘untasty’ to lay activists/people, I think taxonomy sounds too vertical, to natural-scientific. By essence a taxonomy is suggesting a strict ordering of the world. Vocabularies on the contrary are social, malleable, shared and contested assets. Using vocabularies make the point much easier.
A quick attempt to reformulate the paragraph:

Use open vocabularies. Closed taxonomies are incomplete as a matter of fact. Ordering the reality you map through a closed taxonomy does not fit the malleable reality of social worlds. Thinking your map taxonomy as an open vocabulary is the shift that should encourage you to allow your peer mappers and users to search your vocabulary for a concept, link it to a parent category, and, if you allow it, to add missing concepts or merge existing ones.

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Who in this post would feel for a test drive of editing this document with
I could add a version of it as a test to the already existing within the next days.

I feel the current format (as a wiki page in Discourse with discussions below) doesn’t represent a proper workflow anymore, where one would like to set inline comments, but also have browsable versions with diffs. GitBook should be a convenient interface for collaborating on text.

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I’m in. Time to try.

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I have created said document at and linked it to Both places allow for inline comments and discussions, so we could even have a two-layered conversation about the text, i.e. form and contents.

@toka Would you want to place a CNAME record for to

It will then show
Later on we can render the Markdown source into something without the branded Published with GitBook link.

my suggestion is to close this thread and open a now one with “CHARTER” … refering to this history.