Qualitative Mapping on Wikimapia

By Christian Bittner and Stella Schäfer

In recent years a vast and, at times, confusing amount of literature about the developments of internet cartography has been published (relevant key terms are Geoweb, Neogeography Volunteered Geographic Information or Web 2.0-Mapping). Among those articles we often hear about the (potential) revision of standards and conventions of traditional cartography.

To our knowledge, studies of collaborative mapping platforms have widely neglected the Wikimapia project, compared with the now famous OpenStreetmap and GoogleMapMaker. However, we can explore interesting and refreshing phenomena here, which are way beyond official academic cartographic standards. What makes Wikimapia interesting in this regard, is the open design which guarantees the mappers a broad scope of opportunities. Existing categories of mapped objects, for instance (e.g. road, railroad, border etc. for lines), can be deployed, but this is not obligatory. Furthermore, every object can be supplemented by descriptions, external links and comments. This allows contextualization of spatial knowledge as well as debates between the users. You can find such cartographic curiosities via a search for descriptive terms in Wikimapia. In the following we present the results of a quick sample research we conducted for the German/English terms gefährlich/dangerous and schön/beautiful.

By using the German word “gefährlich” there are mainly hits with references to sportive leisure activities. One such entry suggests the level of difficulty of a hike path in Italy:

Descriptions with the reference „dangerous“ can contain social, political and personal background knowledge about places. E.g. we found one road in Basra, Iraq, with a comment on land tenure and their impact on the quality of the road:

The German category “schön” brought us mainly recommendations to visit a place. Almost all of those use “schön” either as a visual description or to characterise the flair of a place. Our example of the neighborhood St. Georg in Hamburg, Germany, even contains perceived social contrasts and a comment on the developments of the housing market:

However, the by far remarkable results came up for the term „beautiful“. We found, for example, a bizarre polygon, shaped like a cartoon character, which represents a “graffiti-allowed-area” close to Amsterdam, Netherlands:

As those brief examples prove, it is indeed possible to undermine traditional cartographic standards in the realm of web 2.0 mapping, especially on Wikimapia. Hereby maps become more fluid, casual and even emotional. Hence, as we argue, they also become more interesting in many aspects.

We will post more on this topic. Until then, we would be delighted about hints for further examples of, as we coin it in the lack of a better term, qualitative mapping!


Über Christian Bittner

I'm a PhD Candidate at the institute of Geography, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany. The subject of my thesis is "Web 2.0 mapping in Israel/Palestine", which is at the intersection of my research interests: Political Geography, Critical Cartography, GIS and the Geoweb. You'll find my 'official' academic profile here
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Eine Antwort zu Qualitative Mapping on Wikimapia

  1. cateturk schreibt:

    Intriguing stuff – thanks Christian and Stella!
    I also tried ‚martyr‘ – brought up Benghazi and Syria; ’suicide‘; ‚corrupt‘, ‚incompetent‘ and ‚ugly‘ – which all show some interesting results – I was in a dark mood!

    Also stumbled accross an arrow-shaped polygon in Pakistan- need to find more to piece together someone’s online treasure hunt…

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