Another post

by Patrick Meier at his prolific iRevolution blog took my interest today. Posted back in June 2011, ‘A List of Completely Wrong Assumptions About Technology Use in Emerging Economies’ is about the situated nature of technology. I challenge anyone to read through the comments and still argue that maps aren’t local, situated objects of knowledge. Nothing intuitive, obvious or general about them. As Meier says:

In one of the training workshops we just had, I was explaining what Walking Papers was about and how it might be useful in Liberia. So I showed the example below and continued talking. But Kate jumped in and asked participants: “What do you see in this picture? Do you see the trees, the little roads?” She pointed at the features as she described the individual shapes. This is when it dawned on me that there is absolutely nothing inherently intuitive about satellite images. Most people on this planet have not been on an airplane or a tall building. So why would a bird’s eye view of their village be anything remotely recognizable? I really kicked myself on that one. So I’ll write it again: there is nothing intuitive about satellite imagery. Nor is there anything intuitive about GPS and the existence of a latitude and longitude coordinate system.


More wrong assumptions revealed themselves during the workshpos [sic]. For example, the “+” and “-” markers on Google Map are not intuitive either nor is the concept of zooming in and out. How are you supposed to understand that pressing these buttons still shows the same map but at a different scale and not an entirely different picture instead?

Good for thinking through how situated protest mapping is in the UK – built for specific reasons, terrains and people. Plenty of the comments draw on experiences in non-Western countries, but as one of them says, there is just as much variation in knowledge within Western countries. Using digital maps on mobile devices draws on a whole new world of required actions, and who’s to think the tap, pinch and scroll of touch-sensitive phones is anything like intuitive? New technologies always require a learning process.


‘Microtasking’ at Patrick Meier’s iRevolution blog.


A central component of digital humanitarian response is the real-time monitor-ing, tagging and geo-location of relevant reports published on mainstream and social media. This has typically been a highly manual and time-consuming process, which explains why dozens if not hundreds of digital volunteers are often needed to power digital humanitarian response efforts. To coordinate these efforts, volunteers typically work off Google Spreadsheets which, needless to say, is hardly the most efficient, scalable or enjoyable interface to work on for digital humanitarian response.


The challenge here is one of design. Google Spreadsheets was simply not de-signed to facilitate real-time monitoring, tagging and geo-location tasks by hundreds of digital volunteers collaborating synchronously and asynchronously across multiple time zones. The use of Google Spreadsheets not only requires up-front training of volunteers but also oversight and management. Perhaps the most problematic feature of Google Spreadsheets is the interface. Who wants to spend hours staring at…

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