Mapping data for dog walkers: exploratory portfolio

MA Online Journalism: MED007 – Online and Mobile Newsgathering, Production and Distribution: Assignment 1 – Exploratory Portfolio

MAPPING DATA FOR DOG WALKERS

Introduction

Having launched a community website for dog walkers/owners in the Milton Keynes area – www.ralphie.co.uk – I wanted a clear way to illustrate the variety of walks and dog friendly attractions the area has to offer. I wanted to use visual representations to display collaboratively harnessed data aimed at the local dog walking community and to embed it on my WordPress.com-hosted site.

My focus, in terms of data, was on two key strands – local dog walks and dog friendly pubs/attractions in the area, and I chose mapping as a way to display this.

This assignment covers the research I did for this project, how I executed the project and my analysis, including what I would change or develop in the future.

Research

Mapping enables journalists, and others, to create “a patchwork of geographic information” (Goodchild, 2007, p211)[i] and to record information about where people have been, where they are going or to help them understand the area they’re in or visiting.

Maps have become a useful tool in an online journalism world for several reasons: not least because they can be added to easily by non-journalists and offer a way of finding information local to users (Bradshaw and Rohumaa, 2011, p126)[ii]. Maps offer an opportunity to start organising the world’s information geographically (Gibson and Erle, 2006: page xi)[iii] which is especially prevalent in this, a digital age, where journalists are no longer constrained by the rigour of traditional news media. According to Brown, 2006, mapping covers the following types of information[iv]: localised data, maps and routes, topographical views, relation of locations to photographs, statistical data, or a combination of information, known as a mash up.

Since Google announced Google Maps in 2005 it “changed the face of mapping” (Gibson and Erle, 2006, page 1)[v] and has been used to create infographics and location-based data visualisations ever since.

By now, most major news organisations, in the UK and across the globe, will have used mapping to tell stories, engage users and display often complex sets of data in an easy-to-consume way.

To start with I wanted to see what had already been created in terms of mapping ‘doggy’ data, to make sure I wasn’t reinventing the wheel. I found The Washington Post’s dog parks map[vi] with address, information and links. And at doggiepubs.org[vii] you can generate a customised map of any area in the UK and see all the dog friendly pubs in the vicinity with information similar to that of the The Washington Post map. Other maps went beyond links and information and included video[viii] or images, but these more advanced maps didn’t cover dog walking specifically.

I then looked at the wider use of maps. Maps have been used to chart information to aid the public and potentially save lives such as the case of the flash fires in Australia[ix], snow storms in the United States[x] and UK riot activity[xi]. In the case of the fires in Australia, people found the map so valuable they preferred it over the direct source of information itself[xii], the fire authority’s own website. So maps offer a more accessible way to consume information or news.

Maps are often used to display public data, such as crime statistics[xiii] and general elections[xiv] and The Guardian has taken mapping to a new level with its interactives[xv] covering everything from the timeline of the Middle East protests to the number of UK road casualties. And data can be used in real time map applications such as Planefinder.net.[xvi]

There are now numerous mapping tools available for public use, including the following:

I also looked at maps where data had been pulled from other applications (mash-ups) for which The Open University’s Tony Hirst is renowned[xvii], maps where data is aggregated by a single person or team of people and also maps where contributors/collaborators/community have help source or input data. The BBC and Guardian, for example, often use user-generated information to create informative maps[xviii] to give stories more impact and encourage engagement.

As well as including information, location and links on my map I wanted to import images to add to the visual display of information. This Earth Album[xix] mash up, for example, displays Flickr images from around the world on a Google Map.

As well as importing data I wanted to display it in a certain way and discovered that most mapping services offer some level of customisation, such as Google Fusions[xx], but many require a deeper understanding of code.

It would seem that anyone with a set of data could use mapping tools to help illustrate it and give it geographical context; the more technical ability you have, the more mapping options there are available.

But maps aren’t always successful. Highlighting the voting preferences of communities across the United States lead to death threats[xxi] and pulling in data from third party applications such as Twitter, for example, can lead to public misuse, as in the case of the Telegraph and the budget.[xxii]

Execution

In order to get as much information as possible into the map I started to collect data – via my ralphie.co.uk website; requests on Twitter and Facebook; asking people to retweet or share messages; posting notices on Facebook walls, for example The Black Horse in Woburn Sands; Google searches; posting a notice on the intranet noticeboard at work; and by sending some direct emails to local establishments. (See Appendix A-C)

I compiled the data, manually, into a spreadsheet, which I was to import into a map. I chose to use Google Maps as it presented me with several options for importing data, either directly onto the map or via a Google spreadsheet, saved as a KML file.

I created headings for each separate layer on the map – walks and dog friendly attractions, including name and address of venue, information about each, an image and a link for more information. The template also required latitudinal and longitudinal co-ordinates for each address which I had to look up separately.[xxiii]

My initial thought was to export the Excel spreadsheet as a KML file and load it to the Google Map. However, I discovered Spreadsheet Mapper for creating Google Earth and Google Maps placemark layers using spreadsheets created in Google Docs and copied my own data spreadsheet into the Spreadsheet Mapper template. (See Appendix E)

With the data now displaying on the spreadsheet I chose a different template to display dog walks and another for dog friendly attractions and customised the icons for each by playing around with the options attached to each template. This took some tweaking.

I then embedded the map using the embed code directly onto a page within my WordPress.com website.

Dog walks in Milton Keynes map 

Analysis

Although I successfully embedded the map on my website, showing all the data I’d added, there were several issues along the way and the project is far from complete. In order to more clearly reflect on this exploratory project, my analysis is split into three categories: data gathering, Google Maps as a mapping tool, and ongoing development.

Data gathering

The first issue is the lack of data, which proved time consuming to collect from varying sources, as well as styling, finding images and links and adding it all to a spreadsheet. So the amount of information on the map probably doesn’t reflect the time spent getting it there.

My approach was to use a gate-keeping strategy (Allan, 2006)[xxiv] by acting as the person hovering between the data and the map, tying it all together. While data has been collected with the help of others, due to time constraints – communities take time to build[xxv] – I didn’t take a wholly collaborative approach to compiling the map, just to sourcing the data. And because my site and the accompanying Facebook and Twitter profiles are in their early days, user engagement is currently low and some information is based on my own personal knowledge of the area.

There are possible solutions, one being to open up either the map or the spreadsheet to allow users to input data directly. If I was to open the map to the community it may be easier to gather contributions, however, this poses problems such as style and accuracy and verification. There have already been legal proceedings debating who is responsible for user-generated content on the internet[xxvi] and while dog walks and attractions is a ‘soft’ topic it’s something to bear in mind as the site develops.

Another way to bolster the data would have been to directly approach all pubs and restaurants in the area and ask them what their policy on dogs is, and to supply further details or images where possible. This wouldn’t, however, help with the local walks data which needs to come from the community of dog walkers and my own knowledge. I could also think more carefully about the ‘submit form’[xxvii] I have on my website and encourage users to supply data in a way in which it can be easily added to my spreadsheet.

I could also ask for a data exchange with doggiepub.org since we’re interested in the same types of information and it would be unethical to copy it (Friend and Singer, 2007)[xxviii]. As my site is on a hyperlocal scale and doggiepubs.org on a UK-wide scale, there may be a benefit in joining forces, rather than working separately to achieve similar goals, under the “do what you do best and link to the rest” mantra referred to by Jarvis, 2009, p26[xxix]

In time I’d like the map to be a more collaborative effort with the community helping to supply and update the data for the map, to plug the gaps and keep the map as informative as possible. One person’s knowledge is not enough to produce a truly all-encompassing picture in what Robert Scoble and Shel Israel, 2009, label a conversational era.[xxx]

Another issue is that the information I added to my spreadsheet would not remain accurate following the time of publication, remaining “permanently unfinished” (Bruns, 2005, page 54)[xxxi] as areas develop, venues change hands etc.

In the current scope of the project and given the content theme – a hyperlocal site for dog owners – there’s perhaps less scope for abuse but mapping can be a platform for negativity– ie political voting maps have lead to death threats to voters[xxxii]and this may be an issue if opening the map up to the public for collaboration or pulling information from other sources, such as Twitter[xxxiii] And whose information do we trust in the absence of a reliable way to measure reputation? (Gilmour, 2006, page 171)[xxxiv]

There’s also no guarantee that opening access to users would significantly increase the amount of information contributed to the site either, given Jakob Nielsen’s 1-9-90 rule[xxxv] showing one of per cent of users account for almost all contributions to a site.

Another issue was sourcing images to accompany the pins on the map. Some I had managed to take myself and pulled through from Flickr easily, but it was impossible to photograph each area myself, given timescales, and there are copyright issues in pulling images off other sites – although I did trawl Flickr for Creative Commons licenced images where possible. In some cases I’d like to feature an image slideshow but Flickr has a limit on the size of photographs you can load per month and I reached my limit within a week. In order to add lots of images on a more regular basis I’d need to upgrade to a Pro Flickr account which has cost implications[xxxvi]. The images I’m using from Flickr are also large file sizes and in some cases are slow to load when clicking on the Google Maps placemarkers, so this is something I’d need to consider for future development, given that people have less patience in this 24/7 news era.

Google Maps as a mapping tool

I decided to use Google Maps because of the “Google name, the philosophy and commitment to avoid doing evil” (Gibson and Erle, 2006, page 3)[xxxvii]and because I’m familiar with some of Google’s other tools. One clear hole in my research is that I didn’t experiment with other mapping tools before making my choice and was possibly led by my affinity with Google as a superbrand.

I could have used the drag and drop feature to pinpoint exactly where I want the placeholder to be, and input the data bit by bit but I thought it would be simpler and quicker to compile it in a spreadsheet and upload it. Completing the spreadsheet, however, proved time consuming, not least because Spreadsheet Mapper required the latitudinal ad longitudinal co-ordinates for each address, which meant using another web tool to locate them and a lot of tweaking was needed to get the styling right.

One clear benefit of Google Maps is Google Street View[xxxviii], allowing people to locate a particular walk or attraction and take a virtual walk around the area at the same time, locating nearby services or facilities, which would create a virtual image where I was unable to source my own, for example.

Using Google Maps also presented me with several options for importing data, either directly onto the map or via a Google spreadsheet and customisation was relatively simple (See Appendix F). It was also quick and easy to embed the map in my WordPress.com site in varying sizes. (See Appendix H)

Although I’m happy with Google Maps as a platform, I don’t have anything else to compare it to so part of my research should have included time experimenting with other mapping tools. If I’d had my data prepared earlier I could have used it to test different platforms before deciding; without that comparison I can’t be sure that Google Maps is the best tool for my project.

Why bother at all? Information on dog walks and friendly attractions can sometimes be discovered by going direct to an organisation or pub’s website, for example, but sometimes, even though the data is already there, mapping offers an easy visual solution and one-stop shop for local dog walkers. Information on forest fires in Australia was available through an official channel, the fire authority, but people chose to view it on the map because it was easier to consume and made more of an impact.[xxxix]

Mapping is the right format for the data I want to present, however, more experimentation is needed to confirm which mapping tool is best.

Ongoing development

To complement the dog walks and dog friendly attractions I would like to pull more data into the map to add tangible value to the user. I tried to source information on the location of dog litter bins in the area and trawled council websites and data.org but this proved difficult to source and latest information regarding penalty notices for dog fouling from DEFRA[xl] – also a potentially useful addition to the map – was only as recent as 2008 and so sparse for the Milton Keynes it was unlikely to add value.

I wanted to include links and images where possible to make a more visually appealing and informative map and to this end, the mapping has proved successful as I’ve been able to achieve both these things. But I want to expand on this to create a more wholesome and informative experience for dog walkers in or visiting Milton Keynes, including news items of interest, pulled in via RSS from local news sites, which are relevant to dog walkers[xli], as well as mapping local services etc, embedding image slideshows and videos of the area.

To develop the map along the lines of Adrian Holvaty’s Everyblock[xlii], the map could chart a range of information supporting dog walkers, including local crime statistics and live police reports, ie muggings or burglaries, pulling data from Police UK[xliii] or a live feed from Thames Valley Police reports.

In the longer term I’d like to look at Google Maps mobile and create an app whereby people can look up the area they’re in and discover information to help them, possibly connected to audio tours or historic information about the area as well as interesting dog walks and dog friendly attractions. Many exist but most are US-targeted[xliv] and not hyperlocal.

I’ve also forgotten the primary reason for doing this – to help the dog walking community – and as that’s my audience I’d want to encourage feedback on how the map works for them before developing it further, as Dell[xlv] and Starbucks[xlvi] have.

Conclusion

My exploration of mapping to enhance my community website has proved a success in that I have a working map embedded in the site, displaying a range of useful information that I – and the community should I choose to let them – can keep adding to. It’s also opened up the possibilities of developing the map further, including more data sets, further customisation and more integration with third party platforms such as Flickr, YouTube, AudioBoo etc. The possibilities in terms of mapping seem endless but I can’t be sure I’m using the best platform, in terms of ease of use for me, the project owner, or in terms of functionality and ease of use for the user, without trying other platforms. Once I have built on my data and have a more comprehensive set of dog walks and dog friendly attractions I’d like to import it into at least two other mapping tools to compare with Google Maps to be sure I’ve made the best decision. What’s clear from the exploration of mapping is that it’s a popular way to showcase stories and information in a user-friendly way and is the right way for me to highlight to the dog walking community of Milton Keynes and beyond, what the area has to offer.

 

Bibliography

Battelle, J.,2006, The Search, Nicholas Brealey Publishing

Bradshaw, P. and Rohumaa, L., 2011, The Online Journalism Handbook, Pearson Education Limited

Brown, M.C., 2006, Hacking Google Maps and Google Earth, Wiley

Bruns, A., 2005, Gatewatching, Digital Formations

Connor, A., 2009, 18 Rules of Community Engagement, HappyAbout.info

Friend, C. Singer, J. B., 2007, Online Journalism Ethics, M.E.Sharpe

Gibson, R., Erle, S., 2006, Google Maps Hacks, O’Reilly

Gillmor, D. 2006, We the Media, O’Reilly

Goodchild, M.F., 2007, Citizens as sensors: the world of volunteered geography, GeoJournal, Volume 69, Number 4, 211-221, DOI: 10.1007/s10708-007-9111-y

Jarvis, J., 2009, What Would Google Do?, Harper Collins

Kawamoto, K., 2003, Digital Journalism: Emerging Media and the Changing Horizons of Journalism, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Redish, G., 2007, Letting Go of the Words, Elsevier

Scoble, R., Israel, S., 2006, Naked Conversations, John Wiley & Sons

 

Online bibliography

All Things Spatial Blog – http://all-things-spatial.blogspot.com/2011/09/fun-with-planefindernet-app.html

Australia Fire Authority incident reports: http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/incidents/incident_summary.htm?tm=2016287570

Australia flash fire map: http://mapvisage.appspot.com/fires/FireMap.html

Craigslist housing on a map – http://www.mapcraigs.com/

Community Walks – http://www.communitywalk.com/

Data visualization tools – https://digitalresearchtools.pbworks.com/w/page/17801661/Data%20Visualization

Delicious bookmarks – http://www.delicious.com/paulb/maps

DoggiePubs.org – http://www.doggiepubs.org.uk/gmap/

Earth Album – http://www.earthalbum.com/

Everyblock, make your block a better place – http://www.everyblock.com/

Flickr – http://www.flickr.com/

Forrester Research, Bernoff 2007 – http://forrester.typepad.com/groundswell/2007/12/the-post-method.html

GeoChalkboard blog – Using Spreadsheet Mapper 2.0 with Google Earth & Google Maps http://geochalkboard.wordpress.com/2008/03/11/using-spreadsheet-mapper-20-with-google-earth-google-maps/

Google Earth and Flickr mash up – http://www.earthalbum.com/

Google Fusion Tables – http://www.google.com/fusiontables/

Google Earth spreadsheet tutorial –http://earth.google.com/outreach/tutorial_spreadsheet.html

Guardian, UK riots map – http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/interactive/2011/aug/09/uk-riots-incident-map

Guardian interactives – http://www.guardian.co.uk/interactive

Guardian, UK riots mapping with poverty – http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/interactive/2011/aug/10/poverty-riots-mapped

Hacking Google Maps and Google Earth – http://www.mendeley.com/research/hacking-google-maps-google-earth/

Idea Storm – http://www.ideastorm.com/

Journalism tutorial – http://multimedia.journalism.berkeley.edu/tutorials/using-spreadsheet-data/

Latitude and longitude tool – http://universimmedia.pagesperso-orange.fr/geo/loc.htm

Mapperz, The Mapping News Blog – http://mapperz.blogspot.com/

Media Bistro – http://www.mediabistro.com/10000words/6-ways-to-take-your-map-mashups-to-next_b365

Media Bistro – http://www.mediabistro.com/10000words/where-to-find-best-online-interactive_b362

MiltonKeynes.co.uk, body found in dog walking hotspot – http://www.miltonkeynes.co.uk/news/local/body_of_missing_man_found_in_woods_1_3136580

Milton Keynes Citizen – http://www.miltonkeynes.co.uk/news/local/body_of_missing_man_found_in_woods_1_3136580

My Starbucks Idea – http://mystarbucksidea.force.com/

POST method – http://forrester.typepad.com/groundswell/2007/12/the-post-method.html

Paul Bradshaw’s Slideshare, interactive maps – http://www.slideshare.net/onlinejournalist/interactive-maps-and-image-maps

Paul Rademacher’s Housingmaps.com, Craigslist housing on Google map – http://www.housingmaps.com/

Police UK – http://www.police.uk/

Spreadsheet Mapper – http://earth.google.com/outreach/tutorial_spreadsheet.html

Spreadsheet Mapper YouTube tutorial – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BlecrkM7w4&feature=relmfu

Speigel Online International, Privacy, Italian style – http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,606617,00.html

Siegel Online International – How Google Maps can save and disrupt lives: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,606669,00.html

Top 10: Pros and cons of Google Street View Maps – http://www.mattcornock.co.uk/top10/googlestreetview

The Londonist, The Dogs of London Map – http://londonist.com/2011/10/the-dogs-of-london-map.php

The Online Journalism Review, mapping technology – http://www.ojr.org/ojr/people/nonnydlp/201005/1851/

Tony Hirst’s OU Useful blog – http://blog.ouseful.info/

Top 10: Pros and cons of Google Street View Maps – http://www.mattcornock.co.uk/top10/googlestreetview

UGC on BBC map – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/8226019.stm

Voter preferences in the US elections, map  – http://maps.google.com/maps/mapplets?moduleurl=http://www.google.com/mapfiles/mapplets/iowacaucus/iowacaucus.xml

Washington Post dog parks map – http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/metro/interactives/dogparks/

WNYC Radio wins award for crowdsourced snow map http://www.mobilecommons.com/blog/2011/09/wnyc-wins-major-award-for-crowdsourced-snow-map-using-mobile-commons-platform/

WYNC mapping the snow storm clean up – http://www.wnyc.org/articles/wnyc-news-2/2010/dec/30/mapping-storm-clean/

Was There – http://www.whatwasthere.com/default.aspx

10,000 Words – http://www.mediabistro.com/10000words/where-to-find-best-online-interactive_b362

10,000 words – http://www.mediabistro.com/10000words/6-ways-to-take-your-map-mashups-to-next_b365

 

Endnotes


[i] Goodchild, M.F., 2007, Citizens as sensors: the world of volunteered geography, GeoJournal, Volume 69, Number 4, 211-221, DOI: 10.1007/s10708-007-9111-y

[ii] Bradshaw, p., Rohumaa, L., 2011, The Online Journalism Handbook, Pearson Education Limited, page 126

[iii] Gibson, R., Erle, S., 2006, Google Maps Hacks, O’Reilly, page xi

[iv] Brown, M.C., 2006, Hacking Google Maps and Google Earth, Wiley, page 4

[v] Gibson, R., Erle, S., 2006, Google Maps Hacks, O’Reilly, page 1

[vii] Doggie Pubs Custom Map Generator – http://www.doggiepubs.org.uk/gmap/

[xii] How Google Maps can save and disrupt lives, Spiegel Online International – http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,606669,00.html

[xiii] Police UK website – http://www.police.uk/

[xv] Guardian interactives – http://www.guardian.co.uk/interactive

[xvii] Tony Hirst’s OU Useful Blog – http://blog.ouseful.info/

[xxii] Telegraph’s wobbly experiment with Twitter and the budget – http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/pda/2009/apr/20/telegraphmediagroup-twitter

[xxiii] Latitude and longitude co-ordinates – http://universimmedia.pagesperso-orange.fr/geo/loc.htm

[xxiv] Allan, S., 2006, Online News, Open University Press, page 179

[xxv] Connor, A., 2009, 18 Rules of Community Engagement, HappyAbout.info

[xxvi] Siegel Online International, Privacy Italian style –http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,606617,00.html

[xxvii] ‘Submit form’ on Ralphie.co.uk – http://ralphie.co.uk/submit/

[xxviii] Friend, C. Singer, J. B., 2007, Online Journalism Ethics, M.E.Sharpe

[xxix] Jarvis, J., 2009. What Would Google Do?, Harper Collins, page 26

[xxx] Scoble, R., Israel, S., 2006, Naked Conversations, John Wiley & Sons

[xxxi] Bruns, A., 2005, Gatewatching, Digital Formations, page 54

[xxxiii] Telegraph’s wobbly experiment with Twitter and the budget – http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/pda/2009/apr/20/telegraphmediagroup-twitter

[xxxiv] Gilmour, D., 2006, We The Media, O’Reilly, page 171

[xxxv] Bradshaw, P., Rohumaa, L., 2011, The Online Journalism Handbook, Pearson Education Limited, page131

[xxxvi] Pro Flickr account – http://www.flickr.com/upgrade/

[xxxvii] Gibson, R., Erle, S., 2006, Google Maps Hacks, O’Reilly, page 3

[xxxviii] Top 10: Pros and cons of Google Street View Maps – http://www.mattcornock.co.uk/top10/googlestreetview

[xxxix] Siegel Online International – How Google Maps can save and disrupt lives: http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,606669,00.html

[xli] Milton Keynes Citizen, missing man found dead in dog walking hotspot – http://www.miltonkeynes.co.uk/news/local/body_of_missing_man_found_in_woods_1_3136580

[xlii] Everyblock, make your block a better place – http://www.everyblock.com/

[xliv] Mashable, iPhone apps for dog lovers – http://mashable.com/2009/12/27/10-iphone-apps-dog-lovers/

[xliv] My Starbucks Idea – http://mystarbucksidea.force.com/

[xliv] Idea Storm – http://www.ideastorm.com/

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