The Longest Now

Mapping global communities
Thursday January 27th 2011, 1:41 am
Filed under: fly-by-wire,Glory, glory, glory,international,metrics,wikipedia

We’ve been working on a few different visualizations of the OLPC community around the world.  The most enjoyable and colorful is olpcMAP, a collaborative mashup designed by Nick Doiron that blossomed after last month’s map sprint.  (Nick is an avid map hacker and long-time OLPC volunteer who has also written the popular Map activity for offline Map-creation and -marking using XOs.)

Before this map was launched, the sorts of global visualizations we had were limited to large established groups (mapping chapters and major deployments), average statistics by region, or thousands of scattered individuals without a coherent feel.  olpcMAP combines this with personal and class projects from hackers and teachers around the world, adds search and an API for reuse, and feels above all approachable.

At the moment you can import JSON data and can choose between Google Maps and OSM layers.  The search matches both on locations on the map and on keywords used in marker descriptions. It is designed around the Google App Engine, and the growing olpcMAP API lets you request images, iframes, or KML to use this as  backend for further remixing (say, embedding a screenshot or overlay of part of the map elsewhere on the web).

You can browse the olpcMAP code and try setting up your own instance.  The framework is quite general, and it is straightforward to brand it for other communities.

I would love to see this sort of map of Wikimedians around the world, for instance — I suspect that we would see a very different picture of ourselves as a community than our current self-image.  The distribution of 10th Anniversary events this month was a first step in this direction, and was a surprise to many people.

And it would be amazing to see comparative maps of different global communities — Firefox users, Ubuntu hackers, Red Cross volunteers — using this model.   If you’ve tried to set up your own olpcMAP instance (if this becomes a general community-mapping framework, perhaps we should pick a more universal name), or have features you would love to see implemented, please let us know.

A Brace of Copyright Dilemmas
Tuesday April 20th 2010, 12:14 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,chain-gang

Here are two copyright dilemmas that have come up over the past weeks.  I welcome comments and related stories from those of you with experience in these areas.

Streetmap of Cambridge, England

Map of Cambridge, England from OpenStreetMap

1. Can the locations of important places visible from a map, and paths traceable on a map, be extracted from a map to which one does not have copyright?  If so, what are the risks? Many different perspectives tangle with one another. One comprehensive blog posts posits that it may be alright under copyright, but not socially acceptable in open mapping circles (such as OpenStreetMap), nor a protection against being sued by mapping orgs with deep pockets, nor useful if you wish to convince map-data reusers that it is safe to build any sort of application on top of the resulting data without fear of hassle down the line.

Editors of Wikipedia and of OpenStreetMap don’t agree on how important these topics are, so Wikipedians regularly identify geoinformation from uncited map sources that OSM editors by default decide they cannot use.  If the two communities understood one another’s positions and agreed to take different stances, that would be interesting — but at present there are two separate conversations that aren’t considering the same criteria or audiences.

Coca Cola logo

Coca Cola logo, in the public domain

2. Is it risky for an organization that wishes to protect its trademarks (from confusing misuse and dilution) to license those marks under a free copyright license?  If so, what are the risks?  This is a topic that comes up every year or so for Wikimedia, and is recently a hot one, as many Wikimedia projects today refuse to host any images that are not available under a free license, to simplify bulk reuse of dumps.  The Swedish Wikipedians recently removed all instances of the Wikimedia logos from their project, since those logos are not freely licensed.  No clear answers have emerged about what the risks are; the only definitive statement we have worked out is that ”it does not improve one’s trademark protection to release marks under a free license”.  On the other hand, that could be said of most usability improvements we make to the projects, and it would improve overall distributability and reuse of page and media dumps & help avoid these tense annual debates.

For comparison:

  • Mozilla licenses its logos under the MPL and the GPL.  They don’t beat you over the head with that information, and make it abundandtly clear wherever the logos appear that they are protected by trademark; but they freely license them.
  • Debian licenses its logo under the GPL.  (Its community logo, which was designed as something free for the community to use, quickly became its central trademark.)
  • Coca-Cola and other older organizations have logos whose copyright has passed into the public domain.  They seem to remain protected by trademark.

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