The crowdsourcing movement to improve African maps

Chris Stein for Quartz: “In map after map after map, many African countries appear as a void, marked with a color that signifies not a percentage or a policy but merely offers an explanation: “no data available.”

Where numbers or cartography has left African countries behind, developers are stepping in with open-source tools that allow anyone from academics to your everyday smartphone user to improve maps of the continent.

One such project is Missing Maps, which invites people to use satellite imagery on mapping platform OpenStreetMap to fill out roads, buildings and other features in various parts of Africa that lack these markers. Active projects on åMissing Maps include everything from mapping houses in Malawi to marking roads in the Democratic Republic of Congo.Missing Maps co-founder Ivan Gayton said humanitarian organizations could use the refined maps for development projects or to respond to future disasters or disease outbreaks….

In July, Missing Maps launched MapSwipe, a smartphone app that helps whittle down the areas needed for mapping on OpenStreetMap by giving anyone with an iPhone or Android phone the ability to swipe through satellite images and indicate if they contain features like houses, roads or paths. These are then forwarded onto Missing Maps for precise marking of these features….Missing Maps’s approach is similar to that of Mapping Africa, a project developed at Princeton University that pays users to look at satellite images and identify croplands….People who sign up on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service are given satellite images of random patches of land across Africa and asked to determine if the land is being used for farming.

…One outlet for Mapping Africa’s data could be AfricaMap, a Harvard University project where users can compile data on everything from ethnic groups to mother tongues to slave trade routes and layer it over a map of the continent….(More)”