Field research summary for TransforMap: some insights about map commons

Over the past three months I've made close to 10 interviews with people behind the following: Living Lots (map of vacant land lots in NYC), Alliance Paysans Ecologistes et Consom’acteurs (CSA network in France), ESS Global/ (joint map for 3 solidarity economy national organizations), Velogistics (map of cargo bikes), Verbund Offener Werkstaetten (network of open workshops), Flaechen in Leipzig (map of vacant lots in Leipzig), Mundraub (German map of fruit trees), Falling Fruit (global map of fruit trees).

This post mostly compiles information from previous posts I made on Field reports #1 and #2 (#3 to come soon).

I have been focusing on understanding the way those maps are developed and maintained with a particular attention to their general governance and impact. Here are a few useful insights for TransforMappers and the likes!

Thematic maps vs one big map? While one big filterable map is unarguably something that many want, thematic maps, with their own website, own community are very important for many reasons:

  • Discovery/findability. If you are looking for a place to repair yourself your bike on a search engine you will probably easily find the map of open workshops where you can find a place in your city. A general map of alternatives is unlikely to show up in a specific search. Conversely, a big map bringing lots of different practices in one place may bridge communities.
  • Data maintenance. maps which display up-to-date data are backed by an organization, often with paid staff updating databases, or at least a dedicated community. It seems initiatives seldom update themselves their information even if they have their own editable profile.
  • in or out? maps' admins make sure maps stay relevant. It is easy for the admin of one thematic map associated with one community/network to remove points of interest (POIs) not complying with the thematic focus/definition.
  • Maps are parts of communities' identity. Communities/organizations want to retain ownership of their maps.

Licensing. What did you say? Not a single of the organization/individuals I interviewed about their maps had actually attributed a license to the maps' data. They generally don't think about it. While reuse is often welcome, most are reluctant to see their data used for commercial purpose, even though when they recognize the nature of the data is public ("more like a phone directory").

One common taxonomy. ESSGlobal put together a map application that displays data from three different databases. In trying to define common categories for various economic branches, there was so much dissent that the group used existing UN categories... This shows how difficult it is for different organizations with their own values, cultural and regional and linguistic peculiarities to agree on joint categories. Remember this was three organizations from three countries all dealing with solidarity economy...

Gender. Is there a woman out there? All the interviews I made were with men (except one where one of the two respondent was a woman)... like in many other fields involving IT there are very few women busy with making online maps.

Matching people through maps. Living Lots has a feature that allows people to start a conversation feed around an empty lot and receive updates when other contribute to enable people to connect onland (vs online).Tom Hansing from Anstiftung & Ertomis indicated they're working on a matching application for people interested in repairing.

Incremental development. It was once again confirmed that going one step at a time allows to keep in touch with the needs on the ground. Among others, interviews shown that using open software enable such incremental steps, reduces costs and vulnerability to third parties.

Should everything be made visible on a map? This question was raised by many in various occasions; people usually thinking about illegal occupations or things like guerrilla gardening. While interviewing the two urban harvesting platforms Mundraub and Falling Fruit I observed two diverging approaches: after receiving requests, Mundraub set up a "take-down button" for each POI so that private owner (or even in one case the city of Stuttgart) can get a POI removed from the map. Falling Fruit takes a pure apolitical and cartographic stand: every tree that is there, public or private, will remain on the map because it's there in the real world, and it will be indicated when the owner does not wish its tree to be harvested.

Print maps. Online maps fail to reach a large part of the population, reproducing, or even increasing existing information inequalities: what about those who don't have internet at home? Acknowledging this reality, Living Lots put a lot of effort to hang printed maps out in the streets to reach their targets (racial minorities, poor people) where they live.

Technical feats. ESSGlobal was a (small) technical feat, but lack of usability and the broad diversity of points being displayed kind of defeated it. The maps of the French CSA network, on the other hand, are a big mess (one different Google map for each region), but are the most visited section of the website...

alt Image: Living Lots map - Credit

SOME IMPLICATIONS FOR TRANSFORMAP * *Taxonomy. Compulsory categories being defined by a relatively small group will keep away most initiatives/organizations that already have their own categories. Forcing a taxonomy in TransforMap's mapping tools is not the way to go. Henry Story, semantic web expert, puts it nicely "Vocabularies [like taxonomies], on the internet as in languages, get spread if they provide a value to users". So let make our so-called taxonomy available, but not force it. If it's good it'll be used. If not, the crowd will provide better vocabularies if they have the opportunity to do so.

Decentralization. That's not new for most, realizing the vision of TransforMap, there is no way around decentralization. Many communities, organizations have an existing database and they cannot afford to duplicate maintenance of data: i.e. updating both their database and one or more maps. This means we'll need to pull data from different sources that are owned by different entities. Some organizations have shown their need for database software that would allow them to choose the degree of openness of each database field: allowing for example, to publish a public directory, but also enriched maps only accessible to members. There are sometimes financial resources for developing such services. Is there anyway to answer those demands while building Transformap's infrastructure?

Licensing. This will be a hard issue to overcome for TransforMap. As shown, existing maps' data is not licensed and many organizations are reticent to licenses that would allow commercial use... This means, a rigorous and convincing case needs to be written up and presented to convince stakeholders to opt for public domain (basically the exclusion of any license – emerged as the preferred solution to enable large reuse).

Gender. How can get around the gender gap? I observed that in the rare occasions women were involved, they were not focusing on technology, rather on community aspects. Could agile development with female product owners be some kind of solution to bridging the gap and avoid that the code (and therefore the governance) is set only by a male crew?

This post was originally posted on and is published under the license CC-BY-NC-SA.

Launching 15MMM

by Jon Richter May 2015

Coming from writing and submitting a project proposal to the European Commission, answering their call for Collective Awareness Platforms for Sustainability and Social Innovation by proposing co-Operating Systems, before loosely passing by London with these unMonkeys and an OSCE Hack Days drink-up around, the final milestone of this year's first spring-time journey now lies behind.
Not only did we publish the new TransforMap Welcome Page and the TransforMap remix of OpenStreetMap's iD editor for this year's Mapping Month May #15MMM, but also held the first true Ape'athon ever since #14mmm.
To understand the last sentence, you have to keep in mind MMM is a literal zoo at its centre.

This activity report is more explicit than former conclusions you may know

because this time we apes physically came together as a whole, instead of me moving inbetween.
Please keep in mind you can always run your own local events like

by just dropping a note in the community discourse.

Witzenhausen Hack Sprint

So we had this anonymous funding for the Mapping Month May accepted and nothing was set in stone. The very day after CAPSSI proposal submission in April, we were conducting another Mumble conference to debate how to assign our personal needs and collective requirements to the granted budget. Sure a lot changed in the meantime, but one important idea survived:
A preceding hackathon for 15MMM, aligning the existing map editing interfaces to an aesthetically pleasant landing page for TransforMap.

Day 1 29

~ arrival of the pioneers ~ soon followed by first steps together ~

Since we would be arriving from many places plus a decent amount of uncertainty taking part in playing the game of moving about, only some of the expected travellers made it to Witzenhausen the first day.

Laying out our different perspectives on work to be done, we dug a little deeper into the role of Semantic Data within the TransforMap---OpenStreetMap nexus and produced small


Day 2 30

~ further perpetual arrivals ~ rain and pizza ~

Waking up early led to a morning discussion about the overall structure of the starting page, followed up by thorough investigations of questions about naming things and modelling the global navigation bar.

The afternoon arrival of @thoka helped a lot in appropriating the iD editor codebase, where the night arrival of @1bcdefghi10 discarded earlier meteor_tests and subscribed to adapting iD, too.


  • content architecture for the landing page
  • intense focus on iD internalities

Day 3 01

~ sunny launch² time ~

After a notorious night shift, we had two trains to catch in the afternoon. Sleep deprivation and a self-set launch deadline still allowed us to go online with a modest and humble landing page at 13:00, followed by the editor around 15:00. Around that, we took the time to walk the talk with both departing friends and joined the ascension up to the mountain train station twice.

The following night was filled with rest, dubwise music, operas and classical music while still understanding iD bit by bit until 3 in the morning.


  • launch 1 : landing page 10:30--12:30 + 14:23 train I
  • launch 2 : editor remix 15:00--15:50 + 16:20 train II

Day 4 02

~ relieving sun in a constant state of arrival and departure ~

07:50 kitchen overtake
11:00 Witzenhausen brunch (rww-play)
13:00 beer + sun

Astonished by how quick our hackathon time together already passed, we were joined in the early morning by Ecobytes' president @gandhiano, who initiated a morning sprint for documenting and dispersing infrastructural responsibilities within TransforMap. But the Witzenhausen fair trade brunch and a rather philosophical beer garden tour, out in the sun, quickly distracted us from doing anymore tech at all this day.
With another departure in the afternoon, TransforMap time was sufficiently over.


  • TransforMap appropriation of its infrastructure
  • metastabilisation of deployment and development patterns
  • Ecobytes' role at stakes due to high load and minimal resources

Day 5 03

~ touching post launch PRs on a rainy afternoon ~ playing with kids ~

It is apparent we have to do a realignment of Ecobytes position within the group of TransforMap supporters, on one side by fostering agile practice and less bureaucracy while still working on an increased notion of civic patterns in our performativity. On the other side we know now for sure, that TransforMap needs more infrastructure than Ecobytes can provide alone.
Bearing this and possible outreach in mind, food and coffee in Transition House helped with packing and leaving, eventually leading to this subsumption.


  • this text
  • fear of Ecobytes being pushed out
  • web services which are currently used in production environments, maintained by and, in no particular order and with no guarantee on completeness:
    • Hackfoldr
    • Jingo
    • Discourse
    • Mailman
    • StackEdit
    • TransforMap Demo
    • TransforMap iD remix
    • Ethercalc
    • Etherpad
    • Piwik
    • ownCloud
    • GitLab
    • Ghost
    • django-wiki
    • GroupServer

summing up

It took me another month to finish this text. Leaving Witzenhausen for Berlin, only to get back to Paris for OuiShare Labs Camp, OuiShare Fest and CollabCamp within two weeks again for ten days was a higher travel frequency, than I am used to. But I'm already back for almost a week, so stay tuned for the latest updates.

15MMM moved along, many new and old cooperations realigned. And constant struggle on basic living conditions remain threatening results of the global crisis. The change will not wait for us, so we'd rather be clever.

12.02.2015 : Berlin : Federating Spatial Data Infrastructures

In continuation of our effort to federate spatial data infrastructures and in preparation of a data integration pipeline for the mapping the mappings directory (currently down due to privacy concerns in the public spreadsheet), we are appropriating another Meetup on February the 12th at 7pm for our case, to further evaluate the technological needs of TransforMap.

12.02.2015 : 19:00
CouchDB Meetup
c/o co.up
Adalbertstraße 8
10999 Berlin

Größere Karte anzeigen

Currently we're investigating the following questions:

  • How can federated spatial data infrastructures be implemented and maintained as a Commons?
  • How should the connections between OpenStreetMap, a GeoCouch Farm and Linked Data World (LinkedGeoData/Strabon + Linked Data Platform/Marmotta or even Hydra) be built for tempospatial data of varying scale?
  • Which role plays Wikidata in these contexts?
  • When the change is always implemented locally, how can we use the aggregated data to produce locally use- and printable, thematic maps?

Please always feel invited to dig deeper into the Discourse.

TransforMap has a working structure - Get involved!

alt On 11 and 12.02, the TransforMap community met in Potsdam, hosted by PIK for its General Assembly. One of the outcome was the agreement on a working and decision-making structure (check the wiki entry here). And that was no easy task! As a self-organized initiative agreeing on ways to take decision and organize is always a difficult endeavour.

So here it is!

Our General Assembly meets at least once a year decides on the working structure, and change our mission statement. It is our constitutional assembly.

Then work and most related decisions are distributed among 6 circles that are open to participation:

  • Collaborative Development Circle - and its ants set up and manage our communication infrastructure online and offline (websites, Trello, Discourse, offline meetings...)
  • Taxonomy and test mapping Circle - and its badgers coordinate all activities related to data vocabularies, licensing, and test mappings.
  • Engineering/technology - aka the monkeys program new pieces of code for TransforMap's set of inter-operable apps (input mask, vizualization tools, database structures...)
  • Funding and its hamsters coordinate funding proposals development and implementation. That's where money is managed (when there is some...).
  • Community Building Circle and its bees coordinate efforts to develop the TransforMap community. The community includes existing communities of practice or interest (like OuiShare, Solidary Economy, ShareAble, commons...), local circles (like the Berlin Circle), and individuals.
  • Communications Circle and its wood peckers make the TransforMap being heard and visible. That's where communications content is produced (Blogs, press announcements...)

Each circle should report every month to the Coordination Circle (or the Conference of the Animals). That Circle has authority to take all decisions that aren't the realm of the General Assembly. It should ensure work from various Circle are coordinated and that the TransforMap community is kept up to date.

Values. We insisted that work should be as transparent and accessible as possible, regularly documented. Circles should always be open to new comers, but require reasonable commitment from participants. Circles should work whenever possible together, and being a member in different circles is not only encouraged, it's almost unavoidable. We also use consent to take decision within all circles: this means we don't have to reach everyone's agreement, we ask whether everyone can live with a decision. That makes collective decisions easier and keep the ball rolling. Finally we want to be agile, because the nature of TransforMap requires constant adaptation of our plans.

So why animal names?
Good question! At the end of our two days intensive meeting, we must have gone completely berserk, and maybe agreeing on animal names helped us to cut the never-ending dicussion about Circles names short (other names could have been "working groups", "workshops", "fireplaces", "working desks", "teams", "hubs", etc.).

Why talking of circles?
We had some lengthy discussion about the kind of working structure we want. Somehow we wanted to show that circles aren't separate groups of people but rather poles that concentrate a set of activities and have regular participants that may overlap from one Circle on another. The "Circles" comes also from sociocracy from which we borrow the consent concept.

Wanna contribute? Check out the links for each circles. You'll find a link for each to the forum page, feel free to start a question. Or ping us on Twitter @TransforMap

Kick-off meeting of the Berlin TransforMap Circle - 5.02 - 7PM

Berlin is home to hundreds of individuals, organizations, communities that are exploring the potential of mapping for change.
How to catalyze this potential into the TransforMap movement? How can TransforMap contribute to make Berlin's thriving social innovation more visible?

To find out, transition>>lab and Jon Richter invite all in Berlin that have an interest in mapping positive initatives to get together:

Thursday 5th of Februar, 7PM

@At Spreefeld, Optionsraum 3

Please RSVP here !

Program (tbd)

  • Background on TransforMap: What has happened so far? What are the current plans?
  • Why a Berlin Circle for TransforMap?
  • Collective production of a Berlin activity and synergy plan (hackathon, map jams, etc.)

Looking forward to meeting you!

If you would like to contribute ahead of the meeting you can visit the Berlin page on the TransforMap forum


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