Maps that can help tell more accurate stories

At the time of California fires this October, I read in the news somewhere that an area in San Marcos (a small town near San Diego) is one of the places that is burning. One of my childhood friends whom we hadn’t talked for a while lives on that area. I tried to reach her but her cell phone was strangely busy (It was strange because cell phones have call waiting and should not be busy.) So I got really worried. I saw in Mindy’s blog that LA Times has set up a Google Map application which shows the exact location of the fires along with some details. The map even had an option where you could get directions to or from the location of each fire. So, I put my friend’s address there and found out that they are four miles aways from the fire. That was really calming. Then I put the address of all my friends’ houses who live in the burning areas and found out that they are all safe, without the need to call like crazy everyone I know in California.

An article in NY Times in July 2007 talks about all the amazing new things you can do with Google Map and other online map applications that are now available, thanks to the competetion among search engines and some corporations to attract more users. These new services help us to have “a much richer description of the earth” as John V. Hanke, director of Google Maps and Google Earth, says in the mentioned article, since each user can now “geotag” various locations on the maps, by adding details and photos of each place, a sort of Wikipedia of places on earth.

But Google Maps and services simillar to it are not just useful for creating personalized geotags. These new services provide a great opportunity for journalists to offer vital information and details about a place that is covered in a news story. In the case of California fires, nothing could help me and so many other concerned people more than a map that exactly and accurately tells you where the fires are and how far they are from the location of your loved ones. Before seeing the LA Times map, I searched any news website and county websites I could find, to see if I can find out whether my friend’s house is under fire or not, but I couldn’t. A news story about the fires couldn’t help me and many other people at that time either, no matter how powerful those stories would be.

So, considering all the amazing things you can do with online maps, (such as this map that tells you about the places, times, and details of arsons in Chicago), many stories can offer much more additional – yet detailed and important – information. These maps can’t act as a replacement for news stories, but they would be great complements to put the news into a different perspective, most probably a more in-depth one. And of course, they are great tools to let you know if your loved ones are safe at the time of emergency.

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2 comments so far

  1. lichanos on

    They might put you at ease about the safety of your loved ones, but they might get your worried needlessly too. There are many problems with the accuracy and interpretation of much of the data that is available online.

    Still and all, it has great potential, as you say.

  2. Sanam on

    I see your point. But if the map is generated by a newsroom, and fact checking and journalistic accuracy is observed in making them , then we can be more confident about their reliability.


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