By Matt Carroll
Online mapping has exploded in popularity over the past few years, driven by the easy-to-use of new tools. Almost anyone can quickly learn how to turn information into an informative map or post a map on their site from one of the many companies specializing in data visualizations.
A crowd of more than 30 journalists and technologists got a glimpse of some of those tools Tuesday night at a meetup called “Using mapping to inform the world.”
SeeClickFix allows people to easily report problems such as a potholes or graffiti to city officials, said Kevin Donohue, a community manager with the Connecticut-based company. The information is also displayed on maps that allow users to comment.
The app is popular with city officials, who can see which problems are generating the most complaints, and with online news sites. Boston.com has used the application in its hyperlocal section.
Donohue said residents in Oakland, Calif. used the app to leave 300 comments about a dangerous intersection, which led the city to make changes.
The MAPC, a regional planning agency for Greater Boston, takes a different approach. The agency, through its Metro Boston DataCommon, makes reams of data available to residents, who can simply view it or use it to create their own sophisticated maps. (No data uploads are allowed at this point.)
Some of the maps have been incredibly revealing, said Holly St. Clair, director of data services. One user mashed together income and the cost of housing and transportation to make a revealing map.
The MBTA Budget Calculator was created Christian Spanring, a developer with the group, and allowed users to experiment with trying to fix the MBTA’s budget by adjusting a number of costs and revenues.
The meetup, run through the Boston chapter of Hacks/Hackers, was held at Northeastern University and was organized by Dan Kennedy, an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern and author of Media Nation, the online journalism blog.