Are YOU and me the future of city maps?

It’s Day 4 of the BMW Guggenheim Lab in Berlin and Jose is back enabling everyday citizens with technology to hack the city and make their own solutions to day-to-day problems. This evening the focus moved from ‘Making’ to ‘Doing It Ourselves’ (DIO)

John Schimmel kicked off the evening with a fascinating presentation about ‘DIO Community Values’. I’ve been working with John for the last three months developing an open-sourced crowd-sourced bicycle map. I talk to John at least at three times a week via skype and today we finally met!

Disability is created by society; we build inaccessible buildings, we build websites without colour contrasts and we make movies without captions. According to John, accessibility defines; who we see on the street, who we chat within a café and who we involve in community conversations. Accessibility results in presence and presence results in participation.

John has developed Access Together www.accesstogether.org. It enables and allows people – anyone – and their friends and neighbours to crowd-source community accessibility information by answering a few simple questions such as “Is there a wheelchair entrance?” “Is there a menu in Braille?” “Does the building have steps or a ramp?”  Access Together creates an accessibility data set. The data provides the community with the tools they need to improve access, to inform City Hall and ultimately to ensure everyone has access in their community.

John gave us his five top tips for what and how to collect crowd-sourced data:

  1. First decide what data you really need and want you are able to collec
  2. You’ll find it easier to work with smaller organisations because they are more agile
  3. Most of the tools you need are free… or relatively cheap, for example iphone app’s
  4. You’ll find your data is bigger than your project – share it, collaborate and ‘data dump’ on others
  5. Don’t wait to get permission… or for permissions you don’t need. The internet is already giving you permission to put data in the public domain.

The second speaker this evening was Raul Krauthausen http://raul.de/. I had watched a podcast of one of Raul’s conference talks last year and I have wanted to meet him ever since. Raul is one of Germany’s 1.6 million wheelchair users and the developer of http://wheelmap.org/.

Raul liked to meet his friends for coffee but finding accessible cafes in Berlin was a problem. Raul’s friend suggested that they should develop a tool to share information on accessible places, until then ‘experts’ had been sent from City Hall to measure, with a ruler, how wide doors were and how steep ramps were. Raul’s aim was to develop something that was easy to use and ‘without the nerdy stuff’!  Wheelmap focuses only on wheelchair access and so asks only one simple question “Is this place wheelchair accessible?” with the choice of one or two answers; “Yes” or “No”.

Raul gave us three challenges associated with collecting crowd-sourced data:

  1. Managing the quality of data
  2. Proving the truthfulness of responses
  3. Remembering that whilst the data belongs to everyone, some organisations don’t work ‘open source’.

Tonight has been fascinating and so today’s ‘FAB IN THE LAB’ is John and Raul. Crowd-sourcing is the future and as for you and me, well, we’re the future of city maps!

TOMORROW:  “Making Environment”