MapSwipe: Create Crisis Maps While Waiting for the Bus

If you are like me, then you spend a lot of time waiting: for public transport, the plane or just generally while standing in line. Until recently, whenever that happened, I was killing time by checking emails, reading through Flipboard or Feedly or playing TwoDots (I’m at lvl 310).

For a couple of weeks now, I’ve found a new way to make these waiting times more interesting: MapSwipe.

MapSwipe comes out of the Missing Maps project and aims to streamline crisis mapping by asking smartphone users to tag buildings or roads on satellite images. So far 12,500 people have registered and collectively they identified more than 8 million tiles with interesting “stuff” in them. By farming this first level check out to the crowd, more experienced crisis mappers can then focus on areas where likely objects of interest have been identified and go about the work of tracing and classifying individual objects and turning these into digital maps. This makes better use of their time and means that useful maps can be produced more quickly for humanitarian and development projects in the field.

Screenshots. Images: Missing Maps

Screenshots: MapSwipe

Missing Maps is led by Doctors without Borders, the Red Cross and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap, which means that all mapping requests in MapSwipe are directly connected to operational needs. At the moment for example, MapSwipe contains a request to map parts of Botswana to fight Malaria.

While this information is very basic, it is nevertheless essential, as we have seen during the Ebola response. Back then it was extremely difficult to deliver aid to many locations because there simply were no maps that showed where all the villages were.

MapSwipe also includes a (very slow) offline mode, so you don’t have to use up your bandwidth to contribute while travelling. Unfortunately, this is a little buggy – at least on my iPhone – since it stops the download when my screen goes blank and I have to restart the download whenever that happens. There are a few little things like this that should be improved, but all in all the app works smoothly.

This is all very nice, but what makes me come back to MapSwipe is that it’s simply fun! I really enjoy scrolling through images from the different countries and marvelling at how different they look, how villages nestle between lakes and the crazy colours that the earth has in some places (Botswana is really cool!).

You can download MapSwipe from the Play or iTunes store or find the links here.

What apps are you using when you have some time to kill? Share them below!