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A checklist for map builders

A checklist for map builders

Before you build a local community map, or map of projects in your area, there are a few essential factors to consider to make sure your map is easy for people to use and to minimise the effort of keeping your map up to date.

Follow the checklist below to ensure your mapping efforts don’t go to waste!

  1. Check if similar maps, or data already exists
    • Don’t reinvent the wheel! If a similar map already exists, get in touch with the maintainer and see if you can share data. Search the Murmurations map to find data that already exists in your area – you can easily pull in data from Murmurations, pick which profiles you would like to show, and add more of your own, to avoid having to start from scratch.
    • If you find other sources of data you can easily import it to Murmurations.
  2. Pick a mapping tool that enables you to collaborate with other mappers
    • The main problem with local maps is that they quickly go out of date because people move on and stop updating their maps and so the original effort is wasted. Other problems with centralised, closed source tools include
      • Difficulties sharing data between similar or overlapping maps
      • Organisations are required to update data on multiple platforms
      • Fragmented and incomplete data disappoints searchers
    • Ask yourself:
      • Who will update the map in 1, 2 or even 5 years time?
      • How will you encourage people to update the data on your map, as well as every other map and directory they want to be listed on?
      • How will you ensure your map has enough relevant and up to date data to be useful to searchers?
    • If you want your map to remain useful and up to date avoid tools which only a few people can edit, or with centralised, siloed data stores which mean mapping data cannot be shared. Picking a collaborative mapping tool is ESSENTIAL to the longevity and usability of your map.
  3. Use a mapping tool that enables others to add and edit profiles
    • It’s a classic problem: You make a map, add loads of places or projects and then someone emails you and says “Hey, we’ve moved, can you update our profile please?” or worse, they don’t email you. This is not a sustainable model. Very soon you will get fed up with editing other people’s profiles and your map will get out of date. People need to be able to update their own profiles on your map. With Murmurations you can add profiles to your map and if people want to add new data or update existing profiles they can, so that your map stays up to date with less effort on your part! 
  4. Use standard field names to make your data compatible with other maps
    • Again: don’t reinvent the wheel. When data is stored in a database it needs a field_name which can be read and understood by a computer. If you name a field “about_this_project” but other maps use a field called “project_description” it will be MUCH harder to share data with, and use data from other maps. Murmurations provides a standardised library of carefully designed fields for all types of mapping data which ensures the data which is collected is “interoperable” so that it can be used on multiple maps and directories.
  5. Use clear, descriptive tags to help identify profiles
    • Imagine you’re mapping all the co-ops in the UK. How will you enable others to add their co-op and find the new data? The answer is: by using tags. Murmurations provides a Tags field which can be easily used to find complex combinations of tags. So, to map all the co-ops in the UK all you need to do is search the Index for profiles tagged “co-op” with the country code “GB” and create an embedded a map or use the map builder to make a custom map. Then, if anyone else wants their co-op to be added to your map they can use the “co-op” tag so you can find their profile and decide whether to include it on your map.
  6. Use open data to maximise the value and minimise the effort of maintaining your map
    • How many times have you re-typed all your data in order to join a new network or map? Did you enjoy the experience? Do you think other people will enjoy being asked to re-create profiles for their projects / organisations just to show up on your map? They won’t like it – people already suffer from form fatigue. Asking people to create a profile JUST so they show up on your map is a big ask – but asking someone to create a profile which can show up on multiple maps and directories is a much more valuable request, because their effort will be rewarded in more ways than one! By using open data you will:
      • Be able to draw on pre-existing data
      • Be more likely to encourage others to create profiles
      • Be able to pull in updates when people update their profiles
      • Be adding to a growing commons, rather than working in isolation
  7. Plan for additional user needs
    • What will the people and projects and organisations that you add to your map, or the people in your community want to do once your map is up and running? First they will look for things they’re interested in… and hopefully find some useful info, but then what? Experience shows that once they’re on a map of local initiatives people want to share events, and opportunities such as Offers and Wants. Murmurations has been designed to cater for this need with an Offers and Wants schema as part of the core design – and a flexible, open source framework for sharing any other kind of data.
  8. Don’t reinvent the wheel
    • Once you have read all this take a moment to consider: Is it wise to build your own bespoke mapping tool? And, if this all sounds too complex and you’re staring to think “it’ll just be easier to make a Google map…” then think again. You can use Murmurations to create custom maps very quickly by embedding them in your website or using the WordPress plugin to build and curate highly specific maps which will avoid needing to reinvent the wheel.

Talk to us about your mapping questions and requirements. We have been working with online maps for decades and have designed Murmurations to solve the problems of closed source, centralised, siloed maps which invariably go out of date. We want you to benefit from the tools we have built and our experience. Murmurations is a non-profit, open source, volunteer led project and all our tools are free to use.

5 thoughts on “A checklist for map builders”

  1. Excellent advice. I wish I had read this before we started. We are however very pleased with our map and know that it is in use.
    Our map is hosted by Digital Commons so we can’t directly merge with you but it’s great that you have a link to our website.

    1. Perhaps some small team from the Murmurations extended family could take on the task of advising people how to merge? Of course, the ability to merge depends on compatible fields / tags / ontologies, and I would appreciate help in getting that message across: we need to develop methodology for ontological commoning, so that everyone feels comfortable enough. Beds of roses are probably elitist and unsustainable, but there is no need for torture on the rack, or a Procrustes approach!

  2. This would be a great opportunity to develop the practice of what I call “ontological commoning”, and if we can do this (I would collaborate naturally) then this would be groundbreaking in two complementary and synergistic ways

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