Mapping the World through Commoning for the Federated Commons

Maps shape our perception, they direct our transitions and they inform our decisions. Whoever doubts the power of mapping, might think of Google maps impact on the lives of the many. But not all, because there is an alternative: Open Street Map. The difference between the two becomes crystal clear when asking: Who owns the maps? Who owns the data? And who reaps the benefits?

Open Street Map is based on free software. It is owned and governed by you. It is constantly in the making, and open to all those who wish to contribute to it on the basis of the collective Open Street Map community criteria. Open Street Map is the topographic sister of Wikipedia.

When TransforMap was initiated, back in 2014, the community sought to combine the Open Street Map approach with the ambition of making the plethora of socio-economic alternatives – TAPAS: There Are Plenty of AlternativeS – visible. We wanted to add to the many crowdsourced maps a possibility to see TAPAs unfolding at a glance, all at once, on people’s devices, in a user-friendly way without being patronizing nor concentrating data. That was and still is TransforMap’s ambition: to challenge both the dictatorship of corporate-owned data and the cultural hegemony of a an economy stuck in a neoliberal or neoclassical Market-State framework through bringing plenty of Alternatives to everybody’s attention, among them the Commons.

Countless mapping projects around the world have similar ambitions. Just like TransforMap, they are committed to enhancing the visibility and impact of all those projects, initiatives and enterprises that contribute to a free, fair and sustainable future. However, most of them receive little attention in mainstream media and general culture, because they are:

  •  utterly disconnected from each other
  •  partly enclosed on proprietary platforms – like Google maps
  •  built on different taxonomies, and
  •  (luckily) highly diverse in their mapping approach

In short: not interoperable.

Working towards the interoperability of the countless alter-maps is widely perceived as a key element for enhancing their impact. Thus, the need for  convergence and for atlasing maps based on a ‘mapping as a Commons’ as opposed to ‘mapping the Commons’. The former is a mapping philosophy and crucial for distilling the governance principle of emancipatory mapping projects; the latter is just one out of many ‘objects’ or ‘items’ to be mapped.

The following lines roughly sketch out our understanding of ‘Mapping as a Commons’. Later on, they might turn into a manifesto for ‘Mapping as Commoning’ for many, many maps and through a multitude of mappers. They are written in an un-imperative manifesto form, to be used from now on as a guideline or quick analytical tool to evaluate the own mapping practices.

Mapping as a Commons: what does it mean? (0.2)

The following is based on the raw notes from Commons Space at WSF 2016 and an initial summary by @almereyda. The principles are the condensate of globally dispersed, locally found initiatives which collaborate for building and maintaining a shared mapping commons.

1. Stick to the Commons,  as a goal and a practice
The challenge is twofold: contribute to the Commons as a shared resource and do it through commoning. Your mapping project is not a deliverable, nor a service/product to compete on the map market. Hence, it is paramount to systematically separate commons and commerce and to integrate the insights (patterns?) of successful commoning practices into your mapping initiative. Strive for coherence at any moment!

2. Create syntony on the goal
Discuss your common goal and your understanding of “mapping as commoning” again and again. And again! Everybody involved should resonate in the essentials and feel in syntony with mapping for the Commons through commoning at any time.

3. People’s needs first
Maps provide orientation to common people but they also provide visibility of power and policy-driven agendas. Make sure your map doesn’t feed the power imbalances. People’s needs trump the desires of institutions, donors or clients.

4. Keep an eye on interoperability and use web technology
To map as a commoner implies caring for other mappers’ needs and concerns. You will take them into account through dialogue with partner-mappers and make sure interoperability is a shared goal.

5.Contribute to the Federated Commons
Mapping the World through Commoning is a double contribution: among commons projects and initiatives toward a Federated Commons and between Commons projects, solutions or initiatives and other socioeconomic alternatives.]

6. Provide open access
Always. To everything.

7. Use free software
Working with free software at all levels is critical, as it is not about the freedom of the software, but about your freedom to further develop your mapping projects according to your own needs.

8. Self-host your infrastructure
Only use technology which allows to be replicated quickly, and document transparently how you do it. Transparent documentation means understandable documentation.

9. Build on open technology standards
Ensure your map(s), data and associated mapping applications can be reused on a wide diversity of media and devices. Ergo: hands off proprietary technologies and their standards. Don’t consider them, not even as interim solution. If you do, you risk adding one interim to another and getting trapped into dependencies.

10. Make sure you really own your data
‘Mapping as a Commons’ strives for mapping sovereignty at all levels. In the short run, it seems to be a nightmare to refrain from importing data for geo-location or copying and pasting what you are not legally entitled to. In the long run, it is the only way to prevent being sued or having your data being enclosed. Make sure you really own your data. It prevents the real nightmare of at some point losing your data without being able to do something.

11. Use free open data licenses
To own your data is important, but not enough. Make sure nobody dumps your common data back into the world of marketization and enclosures. What is in the Commons must remain in the Commons. Free licences protect the result of your collective work at any moment. Make use of them. It’s simple.

12. Guarantee the openness of taxonomies
A taxonomy is incomplete as a matter of fact. It is one out of many entry points to complex social worlds. The more you learn about these worlds, the better you can adjust your taxonomy. An open taxonomy allows your peer mappers and users to search it for a concept, link them – via tags – to a parent category, to add missing concepts (if you allow), or to merge tag structures.

13. Make the Data Commons thrive through your usage
Link to WikiData and OpenStreetMap from the beginning! It’s just nonsense to maintain your single data set. There is so much to benefit from and contribute to the data commons. Explore abundance and contribute loads to our shared data.

14. Care for your Data Commons
Strive for accuracy and remember at the same time, that there is always subjectivity in data.

15. Protect the ‘maps & atlases commons’ legally as commons
Remember: each commons needs protection. Innovative legal forms help to prevent cooptation. Make sure the resulting maps and atlases own themselves instead of being owned by any specific person or organization.

16. Crowdsource your mapping
Do so whenever you can and for whatever is needed: money, time, knowledge, storage space, hardware, monitoring, etc.

Last resort

17. Remember always why you are making the map and who you are making it for. Remember that everyone is a mapmaker. Share what you can and if everything looks dark, take a break, keep calm and continue commoning.

18. Archive the map when it doesn’t work for you anymore. Others might want to build on it, sometime.

PLEASE HELP US  TESTING AND IMPROVING THESE PRINCIPLES.

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