In a recent seminar I helped to facilitate, health organizations and online mapping experts came together to discuss how mapping could be used to address health disparities in California and the U.S.
Some current examples of useful online mapping tools in the health arena include:
Healthy City: Gathers census and other locally relevant data in Los Angeles and overlays that information on maps to provide insight on health, education, and social issues.
Health Map: Tracks global outbreaks and provides up-to-date information on diseases via a mapping tool
Whoissick: A user-generated site that allows anyone who has the flu, etc. to input their health status on a map which tracks national sickness trends in real time.
And there are some really interesting visualization tools which graphically represent information in new and interesting ways. Many Eyes allows users to post, rate and re-use various data sets leading to some excellent information mashups, graphs, and visually appealing maps. The site Gapfinder, by Hans Rosling, offers perhaps the best visual representation and graphing sites you will see out there.
Online mapping is also becoming more common in the news world. One of the best examples I have seen to date is Not Just A Number#. This is an award-winning online map done by a reporter at the Oakland Tribune who overlayed the pictures and stories of murder victims in East Oakland, and created a discussion forum around related neighborhood issues. The project was an attempt to highlight the human side of the incredibly high homicide rate in East Oakland. Numerous mapping tools are also being incorporated into neighborhood news and information sites like EveryBlock and Oakland Crimespotting.
IMHO, the next phase of online mapping will include the integration of mobile devices and the real time collection and presentation of information. One example is the AirBud device, which allows for instantaneous air quality monitoring via a cell phone attached to a small sensor device. While not currently being done, this is the type of information that can they be quickly uploaded and shared on a map to tell a story or highlight an issue.
As my colleague Leslie Rule points out Nokia and the iPhone are already making a push in this direction relative to GPS and non-GPS enabled real time reporting. Speaking of the iPhone, another interesting development is the so-called Geopedia which makes locally relevant information on Wikipedia easily searchable and available on your iPhone. Going back to Mark Glaser’s recent question about local advertising for community news, I see this as an obvious up and coming opportunity.
But back to mapping…the latest craze in location-specific social networking, as exemplified by such tools like myloki.com are bringing mapping and localization all together. Myloki allows the user to pinpoint his/her exact, real-time location on an online map based on wifi signals from a phone or laptop. That information is then made available to anyone invited to access the users personal location map on the Web. Another personal mapping tool to keep an eye on keep an eye on is Plazes, which helps the user to organize activities around a particular, real-time location.
Mapping is no longer just to help you find your way from one place to another. It has become a tool to bring places, and people and issues relevant to those places, to life.