How to microblog in high heels

A geek girl's guide to social media and online engagement

Hyperlocal mapping: Tools and tips for geolocation storytelling

Recycling data by ward in Cardiff – created with Google maps and Zeemaps

One of the first things I did when setting up hyperlocal blog BournvilleVillage.com was to look at a local map of the ward area’s electoral boundaries.

Within the first few weeks of posting up blogposts of news and events in the area, it was evident maps and geolocation tools were integral to the internal mechanics of hyperlocal blogging.

I knew my ‘patch’ from the angles of road junctions, local landmarks by how they looked when I passed them on my way to work, the size of the park by the length of time it took to walk around with the dog, and where my house was in relation to everything else - a map of our local area is woven into the fabric of our day to day lives. Each story’s meaning to the reader is bound up with its geolocation – every line of each post had a longitude and latitude in her mind built through memory.

This post on gritting routes in Bournville written by Dave Harte included a few pars and a map showing the priority gritting routes for the council in times of snow and icy weather. Within minutes the post attracted a comment from a local asking what exact boundaries were considered Bournville – whether roads from neighbouring wards Cotteridge and Shirchley could not be included because many residents considered them part of ‘Bournville’ – location, for hyperlocal publishers and readers, is pumped with emotion.

Maps are part of the very idea of hyperlocal – but when is it best to use them to help illustrate a story – and when is merely adding the name of the road or postcade area enough for residents to get a geolocal grip on the content?

I’m preparing a blogpost on mapping tools and tips for hyperlocal publishers and would welcome your comments and ideas to feed into this practical guide – with perhaps some comment on how maps have been used so far and what should be avoided.

In a couple of weeks I’ll also be running the first Cardiff Students Social Media Cafe where we’ll be looking specifically at using mapping tools to illustrate or tell a story.

Indeed, one of the first things I think about when looking at how big media and local blogs are using maps is often that they are used in completely the wrong context – as a tokenistic nod towards data visualisation.

When used in the right way the map is the medium through which the story is told – or is a portal for readers to add to the story.

Great mapping tools I have used in the past include Google maps, Zeemaps, Open Heat Map, crowdmaps and a few others.

Which are your favourite tools for mapping and what are they good for? What stores lend themselves to a map, what problems can be solved with a map? When should we use maps in hyperlocal reporting and when have they worked well/not so well. Leave your comments below and they will feed into my future blogpost and workshops.

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Written by hrwaldram

January 16, 2011 at 3:08 pm

19 Responses

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  1. Good post Hannah, look forward to seeing your finished post. This post about using maps to help with telling stories about local council’s might be useful: http://www.edwalker.net/blog/2010/06/14/council-reporting-google-maps/

    Ed Walker

    January 16, 2011 at 3:11 pm

  2. I think of maps like I do images – something to help illustrate the story. Of course they can *be* the story too. I was too late in the end but I took the crowd-sourced locations of grit bins in Lichfield District and plotted them on a Google Map using the DataPress plugin for WordPress – providing a useful resource for people wanting to clear their roads & pavements.

    I used a Google Map to plot the route through the city which has been a big issue in Lichfield. Before that, it was only available on OS maps which didn’t do a very good job of showing homes and businesses affected.

    On Friday I went along to a viewing of plans for the new Friarsgate development that is to be built in Lichfield. Part of my write up will including transferring the plans to a Google Map for those who haven’t been able to attend the event or who would like to see the plans again.

    In short, maps sometimes make the details of the story more accessible or clearer – that’s when it’s a good idea to use them – when they add depth.

    Philip John

    January 16, 2011 at 4:07 pm

  3. The first thing I’d say is ditch the notion of boundaries, especially ward boundaries – and Bournville is an excellent case study as to why.

    For instance, where does the boundary between Bournville and Cotteridge lie – is it Franklin Road, simply because that’s where the two signs are? It would be silly to omit news from Ashmore Road merely because it’s ten metres over the state line, when that location ‘feels’ much more part of Bournville than, say, Alder Lane (where I used to live – technically in Bournville, but culturally more like Selly Oak). Selly Oak indeed is another reason to not be too hung up about boundaries, since most of what most people practically consider to be ‘Selly Oak’ is actually Bournbrook!

    simon gray

    January 16, 2011 at 5:28 pm

  4. I agree Simon – and hyperlocal publishers more than anyone will know the electoral boundaries of their ward don’t really represent how locals feel about certain areas. But sometimes maps of ward boundaries can help people when, for example, a local byelection is on and they’re not sure if they can vote in it or not. Thanks for your comments

    hrwaldram

    January 16, 2011 at 7:35 pm

  5. Thanks Philip – would be interested to know abit more about how you think the datapress plug-in works? I haven’t used it myself.

    I think making OS data through Google maps is a poignant part of the hyperlocal publishers blog because there just aren’t many accessible maps on that local level. And councils still haven’t started to use Google maps for showing planning applications etc – as you say – and often have incredibly slow and complicated mapping portals they expect residents to use (I still can’t get my head around some bits of the Cardiff one!).

    It’s great when maps can add depth to a story – and they can be the story themselves as you say. Do post up or send me the link to some of the maps you mention when they’re up! Thanks!

    hrwaldram

    January 16, 2011 at 7:38 pm

  6. Thanks Ed – I have indeed bookmarked that post and intend to link to it in my future blogpost – very helpful guide.

    hrwaldram

    January 16, 2011 at 7:39 pm

  7. Hi Hannah,

    CloudMade is worth a look at – it takes its mapping data from OpenStreetMap – and enables people to create location-based applications.

    One example is the Schooloscope application (http://www.schooloscope.com/).

    This application takes data from Ofsted to map the performance of secondary state schools.

    Quickly you can see the value this adds to publishers, residents and a reporter writing a piece on educational performance in a particular postcode.

    Hope this helps,
    Jonathan

    Jonathan

    January 16, 2011 at 9:08 pm

  8. Thanks Jonathan will take a look at those tools-appreciate your input. H

    hrwaldram

    January 16, 2011 at 10:35 pm

  9. Agree about the Cardiff mapping portal, it’s mental.

    Ed Walker

    January 16, 2011 at 11:02 pm

  10. Thanks for drawing attention to the Bournville stuff Hannah. I’m a bit ambivalent about official boundaries since some areas of the Bournville Village Trust aren’t in Bournville ward at all yet residents there would feel a connection to what we call the ‘Village’.

    Maps are great in adding context to a story but can take a bit of time, the gritting one is a good example of something taking too much time. Of course it could have taken less time if the council had made the data available in a usable format. When I decided to do the map they didn’t even have the list of roads in a spreadsheet format. They recently released a spreadsheet of grit bin location but with no geolocation information on it other than a description of the location. They’ve helped the open street map people by letting them have access to gritting route/bin locations but don’t seem to want to release the data more openly.

    The police are no better. After an FOI they issued me with a PDF of accident locations. It took me long enough to extract the tables from the PDF without then plotting their location descriptions on to a map.

    Every now and again I go and explore some new mapping tools but to be honest google maps works for most situations.

    Worth noting though that a map of Bournville from the 1890s that I published is one that I still get a lot of hits on – as Philip above says, sometimes it’s the map itself that’s the story.

    Dave Harte

    January 17, 2011 at 9:16 am

  11. Thanks Dave – really illuminating comments. I think the key issue is trying to get more councils on board in releasing data in useable formats – whether that be raw gritting data (with postcodes and everything) or their own maps of planning applications or development sites.

    For me Cardiff council seems to be getting there – they recently released a huge spreadsheet document of potential development sites, without any reporters first asking for this. But South Wales Police are still way behind in being open with their data – and it is almost always in a pdf document.

    Mapping can be time consuming and you are right to raise this point – it is especially problematic for hyperlocal publishers who simply don’t always have the hours to whittle away plotting. I am sometimes put off by just the thought of a map even thought I know it would help tell the story. But there are definitely some tools which can speed up the process if you know how to use them – hopefully I’ll be able to point some of these out.

    hrwaldram

    January 17, 2011 at 10:44 am

  12. As a hyperlocal site based in Kidderminster, maps are very important to us and the comments we receive from local residents. However I’m struggling to understand how to integrate mapping features into a wordpress.com site as ‘iframes’ seems to be the big sticking point.
    Any help or advise would be much appreciated.
    Thanks..

    ASCCUS

    January 17, 2011 at 11:51 am

  13. Thanks Asccus – and thanks for pointing me to your blog.
    The only thing I’ve found that works for wordpress.com blogs is to grab the Google embed code and bunk it in your html and publish the post (without saving – so best to add the map in after you’ve published the post the first time) – and then the map should appear. The problem seems to occur when you click save and wordpress tries to convert the embed code to an iframe which won’t appear on wordpress.com hosted sites. It’s a bit tricky but there definitely is a way of doing it. If anyone else had any tips that would be greatly appreciated and I’ll feed these into the blogpost I’m preparing.

    hrwaldram

    January 17, 2011 at 12:27 pm

  14. To clarify: the information on Birmingham’s gritting routes and grit bins provided to OpenStreetMap is no different to that available on the Birmingham City Council website to anyone else.

  15. [...] Hyperlocal mapping: Tools and tips for geolocation storytelling « How to microblog in high heels Maps are part of the very idea of hyperlocal – but when is it best to use them to help illustrate a story – and when is merely adding the name of the road or postcade area enough for residents to get a geolocal grip on the content? (tags: howto maps mapping beatblogging) [...]

  16. Taking a step back from mapping, it’s good to geo-tag your posts.

    In WordPress, this can be done with the Geotag plugin, which will then optionally display a map.

    If you’re confident editing your raw HTML, a geo microformat can be added. For example, in Will Perrin’s post, ‘Kings Cross typography design’:

    http://www.kingscrossenvironment.com/2010/12/kings-cross-typography-design.html

    he might write (I’ve made up numbers):

    Famous designer and art director, Jonathan Barnbrook, has designed a billboard poster on Goods Way (at 52.1234,-1.9876), all about the changing face of Kings Cross.

    The markup for this would be:

    ….Goods Way (at 52.1234, -1.9876), all about….

    and it’s trivially easy to source coordinates from Google Maps or OpenStreetMap.

    Another option is to add tags to your post:

    geotagged
    geo:latitude=52.1234
    geo:longitude=-1.9876

    in the same way that you use plain-text tags. The tag “geotagged” makes it easy to find all such posts, at once.

    You can see all my geotagged posts at:

    http://pigsonthewing.org.uk/tag/geotagged/

    for example:

    http://pigsonthewing.org.uk/wine-repugnant/

    None of these options are mutually exclusive; they can all be used at once, and each has its own advantages. Apart from the WordPress plugin, they can all also be used more than once in a single post.

    Andy Mabbett

    January 17, 2011 at 8:22 pm

  17. Oops. That markup should be:

    …Goods Way (at 52.1234,-1.9876), all about…

    Andy Mabbett

    January 17, 2011 at 8:24 pm

  18. Thanks for the tip Andy!

    hrwaldram

    January 17, 2011 at 10:12 pm

  19. Gah! That mark-up is still being stripped. Here it is, with square brackets instead of angle-brackets:

    …Goods Way (at [span class="geo"][span class="latitude"]52.1234[/span],[span class="longitude"]-1.9876[/span][/span]), all about…

    Andy Mabbett

    January 17, 2011 at 10:43 pm


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